With the threat of catching Covid-19 keeping people more isolated, it can be easy to succumb to feelings that you may not be used to. Feelings of isolation, anxiety, and listlessness are just a few of the words to describe how it feels for some. Let’s face it, it’s not just Jack Torrance who got cabin fever in The Shining. It is a real condition that affects many and with social distancing rules in place, here is how to keep from getting cabin fever during the pandemic.
Here is a neat photo but if that one is not your preference, here is another
The first thing to know is what exactly cabin fever stands for. Popular Science describes cabin fever in the following statement:
Cabin fever is a folk term, not an official medical diagnosis. In fact, even people trained in psychological analysis have overlapping but not precise definitions of this term. Still, researchers have determined some common symptoms that tend to go along with being trapped in the house during a winter storm (or otherwise stuck indoors). These include irritability, restlessness, boredom, excessive sleepiness, and a feeling of dissatisfaction.
Now, all of those descriptive words seem relatively innocent. Everyone gets bored, irritable, or restless sometimes. Yet, in extreme cases people have lashed out in unhealthy ways. Even those isolated together in work environments have sometimes seen those who have let cabin fever get to them to the point of doing dangerous things – to themselves or others.
One of the unique factors of cabin fever is that it affects those alone and those isolated with others, especially when the other people are family members. Some believe that it is due to having a specific routine but the main factors come down to boredom and lack of socialization. And while our generation as a whole has not experienced this kind of isolation, in the 1800s it was known as Prairie Madness.
Being without the ability to socialize is one thing but when you add to it the boredom factor, it can become more serious. People need distractions and this sometimes leads to activities that are risky.
Psychologists have even researched into the fact that these risky behaviors seem fun to those in isolation and can cause extremes in behavior – from political extremes to other problematic behavior. And once you combine this tremendous boredom along with a lack of social interaction, it compounds the situation. And if you are a person who suffers from anxiety or other mental health issues, cabin fever may become even worse.
It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms. In fact, there is no need to scoff at how you are feeling or state that everyone else is in the same boat. Your feelings are unique to you and recognizing when there is a problem helps you be able to mitigate the issues faster.
Not everyone suffering from cabin fever will experience exactly the same symptoms, but many people report feeling intensely irritable or restless. Other commonly experienced effects are:
Now these are simply examples. Each person has symptoms unique to them. It can be a combination of these, just one symptom, or sometimes, hardly any at all. The other thing to note is that these symptoms listed are also indicative of other mental health issues and are not always related to being isolated. Yet, all of them can also be symptoms of cabin fever and isolation.
One thing to keep in mind is that cabin fever is not a recognized psychological condition. This also means there is not a traditional treatment for it. However, talk to any mental health professional and they will tell you that the symptoms and the condition is valid. So, just because it is not on the spectrum of a traditional condition does not mean it doesn’t exist. Your feelings are more than valid.
There are a few things you can do that will help you minimize some of the effects of cabin fever.
While we cannot all run down to the beach or to a restaurant, you can spend time in your own yard if possible. Spending time outdoors helps raise cognitive function and works to help minimize stress, improve your outlook, and make you feel better overall. Play with the kids, spend time in the pool if you have one, or even do yard work to keep your mind occupied. If you cannot go outdoors due to where you live during the pandemic (such as an apartment, condo, or high rise), try to open up the windows to let in some of the fresh air and sunshine.
If you can, there are other ways to bring in the outdoors. Get a bird feeder for in front of your window or place fresh-cut flowers in the house. Both of these things may prove difficult with our current situation but if you have access, these are a few good ideas that will help out. Even growing plants or herbs in a window sill are things that give you a little glimpse into the outdoors.
Not all routines are bad when it comes to isolation. In fact, some help you maintain more of a sense of being. Due to having no rules when you’re stuck indoors (unless you are fortunate enough to work from home) can cause a lot of issues. It disrupts your sleep pattern, can cause problems with eating habits, and can make you feel like you have no purpose.
Even if you simply create an outline of what you want to do with your daily routine gives you a sense of accomplishment and can make the day seem more meaningful. Plan the times you want to work, eat, have recreational time, and your sleep schedule.
While you cannot meet your friends in-person right now, there are still other ways to socialize. As stated on Healthline:
Use real-time video streaming services, like FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype, to chat with your friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Face-to-face chat time can keep you in contact with the “outside world” and make even your small home feel a whole lot bigger.
Connecting with others who are in a similar situation can also help you feel that you’re not alone. Sharing your thoughts, emotions, and challenges with others can help you realize that what you’re feeling is normal.
Connecting with others may even help you find creative solutions to an issue you’re grappling with.
Keep in mind while you’re on social media that others are struggling too. You may want to ignore certain posts or comments that anger you. Know that some of those people are feeling helpless and may be lashing out. There is no reason to lose a friend over something temporary.
One of the only positive things about the pandemic is it gives us time to do more things like being creative. There is no better time to allow your hobbies to flourish than when you can’t be outside or going places. Whether it’s painting, drawing, model building, playing a musical instrument, or knitting – all of these creative outlets allow your mind to stay occupied on something positive. It helps negate some of the boredom and feelings or restlessness and isolation.
While the gyms are closed right now, there are other ways to get exercise. There has been research into anxiety and exercise and it has shown that those who get regular exercise are less prone to issues with anxiety. The reason for this is that exercise lowers stress hormones. The other thing that exercise does is to release endorphins. These are the same things that are released when someone uses opioids. The difference is that exercise is a healthy way of getting more endorphins released.
You may not be able to go outside but there are plenty of videos available where you can work out in front of your television. If you do not have any exercise equipment, you can use resistance bands or do things on your own like pushups, squats, and lunges. Some areas are allowing people to get out and exercise so if that is possible in your area, practice social distancing and safety measures and enjoy your time in the fresh air.
You might think that while in isolation, spending time alone would be counterproductive. Instead, being surrounded by the same people day in and day out can be stressful. Make sure that you take some “me” time and do something for yourself. Whether it’s reading a book, quiet time with music, or just taking a nap – you do not have to be constantly with others. This is because cabin fever can actually intensify during time spend with the same people in isolation.
Many of these suggestions incorporate keeping your mind busy but this is especially important so it bears another look. Yes, watching television is being busy to a degree but do things that make your mind think. Complete a puzzle or crossword, play board games, read a book, or even play a video game. All of these things stimulate your mind and keep it busy and creative.
Don’t think that you’re alone and should ignore severe issues with cabin fever. It is important to get help for your symptoms if you see that they are causing issues with your everyday life or that you are having thoughts that are not the norm – or even harmful. A counselor or therapist is there for you so that you can get a grasp of what to do to minimize the effects of cabin fever. And if you already have anxiety issues or other disorders that are exacerbated by being isolated, that is all the more reason to seek help.
Right now, it is important that you keep yourself safe and keep your mind safer from cabin fever. We realize that isolating yourself and not being able to socialize is counteractive to us as human beings. Except right now it is for the greater good and to keep yourself and others safe. It is imperative that we heed the strict guidelines given by the CDC to help minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The best course of action is to look at some of the suggestions and try a few that work for you. You don’t have to do every single suggestion on the list. Even if you simply try a couple of them, it may help lessen the symptoms of cabin fever and ensure that your mental health is healthier and more stable.