Activities making a comeback during social distancing

Written by:
May 15, 2020

Activities making a comeback during social distancing

Life under stay-at-home orders looks very different than before the coronavirus took over the country and so much headspace. Many Americans are turning to activities that were popular in the past to entertain themselves, connect with others, and stay physically and mentally healthy during these stressful days.

Several undertakings making a comeback help people feel a sense of control, reduce anxiety, and offer comfort in an uncertain time. Not surprisingly, activities that have commonly emerged during times of crisis in the past are resurfacing now.

Some in lockdown are doing tasks they once paid others to do for them but, at least temporarily, can no longer. On the flip side, people are likely diving into hobbies they have long wanted to pursue but couldn't when their lives were much busier.

Stacker used news reports, consumer studies, purchasing data, and social media to compile a list of 30 activities that are gaining mainstream popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Separately they can provide insights and inspiration for those social distancing. Together they are a record—a time capsule of sorts—that chronicle how resourceful and creative Americans are behaving in ways that mimic the past.

Some may become habits that are hard to break in the new normal, but at least a few are more likely to drop away. Chances are professional hairstylists will have good job security after the coronavirus finally goes away, for instance, and some activities will prove too time-consuming when commutes, late nights at the office, and youth sports emerge again.

Read on to see snapshots of how Americans sheltering in place are spending their time and money.

Baking bread

Baking bread checks two boxes for the homebound: comfort food and a way to fill all the hours spent in isolation. Dollar sales of baking yeast rose more than 300% for the week ending April 4, 2020, compared to the same week last year, according to Nielsen, and the product became hard to find. Meanwhile, Google searches for “banana bread,” “sourdough,” and “making bread without yeast” have all increased during the outbreak.


Reuters reports bicycle sales are surging as people hop on for exercise and as a means of getting around without using public transportation. Oakland, California, and New York City are among the municipalities that have closed some streets to offer more space for cyclists and pedestrians.

Workout videos

With gyms closed and group exercise classes a wistful longing, many people are now following instructors on screens, just like they did in the '80s and '90s. Consumption of fitness content via video on demand was up nearly 150% year-over-year for March, according to Comscore.

Jigsaw puzzles

Puzzles were an escape during the Great Depression and they’re playing the same role now for adults and kids, big time. Ravensburger’s U.S. puzzle sales were up 370% year-over-year in late March.


Even before the CDC began recommending Americans wear cloth face coverings in public and some officials mandated them, people started sewing masks for health-care workers and first responders. The uptick in sewing projects is keeping sewing machine repair professionals buzzing, as well.


With fewer opportunities to eat out and a watchful eye on finances, many families are taking meal prep into their own hands. A 2020 Hunter food study found 54% of surveyed Americans are cooking more during the pandemic, and 35% say they’re enjoying cooking more than ever.


Gardening has historically soothed and nourished during uncertain times like the first and second world wars. Seed sales are up during the current upheaval as green thumbs plant victory gardens or grow plants indoors.

Grocery delivery

Daily downloads of grocery delivery apps have jumped as many people take advantage of the convenient alternative to shopping in stores. Though it seems like a modern luxury, having goods hand-delivered to homes isn’t new: It was common in the early 1900s in areas as diverse as New England and Texas.

Writing by hand

Americans are working their longhand muscles these days. They’re penning notes of well wishes to nursing home residents, creating positive messages with sidewalk chalk, and chronicling daily life during the pandemic. All this hard work may even come with health benefits.

Drive-in movie theaters

Sitting in separate cars is a perfect way to watch movies together while social distancing. Some drive-in theaters that were able to stay open during the pandemic have seen jumps in revenue, according to Donovan Russo of CNBC. Even some restaurants are getting into the movie game by showing features on large screens in their parking lots and serving food to guests.

Home manicures

With many nail salons forced to temporarily close, patrons who once deemed them essential are making do at home. Nielsen reports online sales of nail polish were up 335% during the week that ended March 28, 2020, versus the same period a year ago. Nail artists are offering inspiration via #QuarantineNails on Instagram.

Raising chickens

Though raising chickens isn’t an idea hatched during the pandemic, egg shortages in grocery stores—and a sudden abundance of time—have incentivized people to build and fill backyard coops. Some hatcheries are struggling to keep up with demand for chicks.

House cleaning

Once pandemic fears set in and people learned that keeping surfaces clean can prevent the spread of the coronavirus, cleaning supplies swept onto the list of highly in-demand products. While cleaning has long been a regular chore for many folks, it’s become a fresh toil for those who had to stop paying professionals to keep things sparkling and fresh.


Students learning at home is part of our nation’s history—it was common in the South during the 1600s and 1700s when family members or tutors taught kids, for example. Last spring an estimated 2.5 million students were homeschooled in the U.S, according to The National Home Education Research Institute. Another 55 million began home studies once COVID-19 led to school closures.

Chain letters

Chain letters once arrived in mailboxes as handwritten notes and reemerged in digital form in the '90s. A popular one going around today promises you’ll get 36 recipes if you send a recipe to someone you’re assigned to, tweak the original email per the instructions, and forward the email to 20 friends. Scott Campbell, professor of communication and media at the University of Michigan, told CNN chain letters are helping participants stay connected and in control.

Home haircuts

There was a time when women who didn’t have servants to maintain their manes would do the trims themselves. With many salons closed, some women and men are channeling their inner stylist. Nielsen found sales of hair clippers were up 166% the first full week of April compared to the year before. Success, however, isn’t guaranteed.


Home canning peaked in the United States in 1943 but became less popular as more homes gained refrigeration. Interest in methods to preserve food is renewed, with sales of books on canning and preserving up 17% for the year-to-date week ending March 14, 2020, according to NPD.

Family dinners

Family dinners have declined by more than 30% over the past three decades, according to a 2014 study by the American College of Pediatricians. That’s due in part to time and schedule challenges, but with those two barriers lifted for many sheltering in place, the family dinner is having a heyday. Some restaurants have introduced family meals to ease a third common impediment: food preparation.


Knitters mobilized to help soldiers during the Civil War, World War II, and other conflicts. Many are working their needles during this crisis too, perhaps as a way to relieve stress, either alone or with others through video apps.

Watching local news

Local TV news has been on the decline, but with the coronavirus affecting communities differently, many viewers want to hear from their local anchors. Nielsen has seen a spike in local news viewership during the pandemic, and Pew Research Center found local news is a major source of COVID-19 information for 46% of the public.

Playing board games

Interest in the simple pleasures of new and classic games has been high as families isolate. Board games helped boost toy sales in the U.S. during a five-week time period of the pandemic, according to NPD. Hasbro, which sells Monopoly, reported strong demand for its gaming products in the first quarter of 2020.


Eating breakfast

While many brands have pulled back on TV advertising during the pandemic, ad spending is up for breakfast products, reports MediaRadar. Meanwhile, though skipping breakfast had been prevalent before the coronavirus, cereal, dairy, and eggs are now appearing on grocery lists of those who presumably have more time for an early meal.

Being less eco-friendly

Reusable products had a relatively brief run replacing single-use ones but COVID-19 fears are making consumers pause their sustainability efforts. Grocery stores are banning reusable bags, for instance, Starbucks won't fill reusable cups, and restaurants may consider switching to disposable plates, cutlery, and menus.


The pastime of bird watching originated in the late 1800s. Then, as now, the hobby offers a peaceful and even convenient diversion from the news of the day. Sales of bird feeders, nesting boxes, and birdseed have risen, as have downloads of bird identification apps.

Embracing natural scents

Deodorant wasn't popular more than 100 years ago and without outsiders to see—or smell them—some people in lockdown across the globe have also begun going au naturel under their arms. Unilever told the Financial Times the company expects to see reduced demand for deodorant.

Eating frozen foods

Frozen TV dinners have their place in American gastronomy, but interest in the broader frozen food sector began to cool over time. COVID-19 is reversing the trend: Mid-March sales of the food that can last a while soared 94% compared to a year earlier, according to the American Frozen Food Institute. Frozen pizza has joined the list of high-demand products.

Ham radio

Amateur radio, which is also called ham radio, is both a hobby and a means of communicating in emergency situations. A licensing prep program saw a more than 700% increase in sign-ups in early March compared to the same period in 2019. The number of hams who obtained licenses from the Federal Communications Commission was also up that same week.

Spending time in nature

Americans went on 1 billion fewer outdoor outings in 2018 than they did in 2008, according to a 2019 report from the Outdoor Foundation. Also, just under half the U.S. population did not participate in outdoor recreation at all in 2018. Now, many people are leaving what may seem like confining spaces to go on healthy fresh-air excursions. An April 2020 CMB survey of U.S. adults found that 61% are spending more time outside during the pandemic.

DIY hair coloring

With many hair salons closed, people dismayed by the natural color of their growing locks are taking matters into their own gloved hands. E-commerce sales of hair coloring products soared 310% during the week that ended March 28, 2020, versus the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen. Still, a social media campaign called #showyourroots has emerged as a plea to hold off on home coloring and leave the job to the professionals.

Being neighborly

In 2018, Pew Research Center found that among Americans who knew at least some of their neighbors, only 25% said they had face-to-face conversations with them at least several times a week. Amid the outbreak, many people seeking interaction are stepping out their front doors to chat with neighbors from a safe distance and join them for nightly salutes to those on the front lines.

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