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Stuck inside during coronavirus outbreak, many are using the downtime to tap into new and old skills

These people are taking advantage of the fact they barely leave the house.

Jackson Barnett, a law student at Boston University and a classical pianist, decided to pick up playing the guitar with his spare alone time during the coronavirus outbreak.
Jackson Barnett, a law student at Boston University and a classical pianist, decided to pick up playing the guitar with his spare alone time during the coronavirus outbreak.Matthew J. Lee/GLOBE STAFF

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are in this for the long haul.

In the interest of public safety, the rules around what we can or can’t do, who we can or can’t see, and where we can or can’t go are getting stricter by the daily press conference, as the novel coronavirus continues to rapidly spread.

Realizing that, for the foreseeable future, we’ll be resigned to hanging out indoors, people are tapping into new talents that they otherwise wouldn’t have time to explore under normal circumstances.

They’re learning new languages, or signing up for virtual gym classes. Dormant baking sheets and forgotten cookbooks are reemerging. At the same time, others are rediscovering passion projects they’d long ago abandoned, or broadening their horizons when it comes to their favorite hobbies.

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“Right now is the time that people are starting to really take a hard look at how they’re spending their time, since they’re now spending all of their time at home,” said Megan Teggart, director of communications for Sh*t That I Knit, a Boston-based knitwear company that has sold more than 1,400 “Quarantine Kits” geared toward new and existing customers.

“They’re doing things that they really wouldn’t give themselves the time to do were it not for this quarantine," she said.

Cambridge City Councilor Alanna Mallon has of course been busy during what she called “an unprecedented public health crisis."

But the global pandemic also has Mallon checking her phone maybe too often, sometimes out of nervous habit. So she’s turned to teaching herself how to cross-stitch, a pastime she’s always wanted to learn but never tried. It’s keeping her hands occupied and her mind at ease.

“Our local craft store Gather Here had full cross-stitch kits, online ordering and curbside pickup so I could do it safely,” she said in a message to the Globe. “It’s definitely helping. It’s giving me that mental space to be better at my job, which is critical right now.”

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Janna Koretz, a licensed psychologist and founder of Azimuth, which is advising people during this “truly novel and weird situation” to try something new, says it makes sense that people are seeking these outlets.

“To shift over into something that’s either creative, or more personal and meaningful, or interesting, or fun, is just a really good way to exercise a different part of your brain and maintain that brain balance,” Koretz said. “In general it’s a positive thing, but especially in a time of uncertainty” like we’re experiencing now.

She said people should take advantage of this opportunity if they can.

“Another way to look at it is, it’s sort of a luxury,” she said. “You’re home, and you have this time to do things like craft, or pick up exercise, or whatever it is ... that’s very, very rare. This is time-limited. It doesn’t feel like it is, but COVID-19 season will pass, and we will go back to our lives, and it will be very busy.”

Over on Pinterest, a website that acts as a digital “inspiration board” for users, searches for certain at-home projects have soared recently, the company said this week, including planning how to cook and grow vegetables.

Besides cooking and crafts, which can offer a meditative moment of clarity, people also are finally living up to those fitness resolutions that may have been shelved weeks into the New Year. With gyms closed, at-home workout videos are becoming a must. In some cases, it’s easier than ever to get access to trainers and classes that would otherwise require a pricey membership.

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For Matt Bonacci, it’s been all about perfecting his left and right hook. Shortly before the coronavirus began shuttering businesses and sending people packing from their offices downtown, the Cambridge resident had purchased FightCamp, interactive boxing equipment that allows people to learn how to spar from home.

“I’m currently ‘work from home,’ so on my lunch breaks I go down to my basement and get in a 30-45 minute workout," he said in an e-mail to the Globe. "It’s been huge having it because I’m able to keep working out when everyone else is closed.”

Others are taking this unparalleled moment in history to fine-tune what they’re already good at.

Take Jackson Barnett, for example. When the Boston University law school student was shut out of his school and church due to the spread of the coronavirus, he no longer had access to a piano.

“I have played consistently for an hour or so a day for the last six years,” the 24-year-old said. “It was the thing that was keeping me sane in my first semester of law school, and I was bummed to have lost that because I don’t have a piano in my room in Boston.”

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To supplement the sudden loss, he recently ordered an acoustic guitar on Amazon. It arrived Tuesday morning. Within hours, his fingers had already gotten a decent workout.

“I was listening to Kacey Musgrave music earlier and playing along with it, which was kind of nice,” he said of learning a new instrument. “Hopefully this will fill the musical [void] that I’m currently experiencing.”

But for every new inspiration or new beginning, there can also be some minor setbacks.

While people are undoubtedly exploring new hobbies and activities, they’re also letting certain aspects of their lives unravel.

Whether it’s letting their thumbs more regularly slam down on that “buy with one click” button on Amazon, cutting themselves a bit of slack when it comes to dietary restrictions, or sleeping in a bit longer since the office is steps away from the bedroom, being cooped up is likely to blame.

But that’s alright, said Koretz, especially given these abnormal circumstances — just try not to take things to the extreme, and get into a space where you’re not taking care of yourself.

“For a couple weeks, if you’re eating the cookies, you know, that’s OK,” she said. "It’s going to be OK.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.