Dealing with COVID Cabin Fever

Dealing with COVID Cabin Fever

If you find yourself being forgetful, easily irritated with people around you, unable to get to bed or get out of bed, feeling bored or helpless, walking around in daze, or having sudden food cravings shortly after a meal, you might be dealing with the negative effects of being quarantined.

“Cabin fever” is usually associated with a type of claustrophobia and S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It is a term especially used during the winter months when it’s cold, the sun rarely shines, and we can’t easily get outside. Most of us can deal with cabin fever especially when we know there is a predictable end in sight. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 authorities don’t know a specific end to our new “Shelter in Place” lifestyle. A lot depends on the population following prevention and isolation measures.

Some say it can get worse and, like in Italy, people may only be allowed out for very limited purposes and might even be given a fine for violations. Being chronically away from our usual activities, friends, family, and co-workers seems to worsen that feeling of being cooped up.

The Stresses of Isolation

During this pandemic, where social (i.e. physical) distancing is the rule, almost everywhere, the stress of isolation brings with it some personal problems. Among them are loneliness, fatigue, motivational problems, hopelessness, unwanted weight gain, anxiety, depression, mental inflexibility, apathy, inadequate nutrition, lack of fresh air, sunshine and exercise. These symptoms may show up in clusters or one at time and there is no uniformity to them between people (just like the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection).

With more people out of work, or working from home, and with school and entertainment venues closed, isolation can certainly set in, making our ability to get through quarantining even more difficult.

Coping Skills

If you notice that you have some of the above symptoms and they seem severe, it is best to reach out for help right away. We are fortunate that there are MDs, therapists, lifestyle coaches and others available online to support you during this turbulent time.
If, though, you see only a few of these symptoms and they are mild, there are things you can do now to make your situation at home better. Here are some coping skills to manage the result of being stuck at home:

  • Bed is for bedtime: Sleeping longer at night, taking longer than needed naps and hiding out in bed will add to your sense of helplessness, as will working in bed during the day. Force yourself to get up and dressed on schedule and act like you are ready to go somewhere important even if it’s just on a brief walk.
  • Put yourself on a schedule: Establish a daily routine; it is especially good if you are restless or don’t know what to do next.
  • Convert hopelessness into helpfulness: There is someone out there that you can call on and let them know that “I am here for you and want to help.” For instance, the blood supply is low now so if you are healthy think of donating blood.
  • Get a Natural High: Open the curtains, or door or take a walk outside. The combination of vitamin D, fresh air and exercise does a lot to help pep you up.
  • Limit your sugar and high fatty food intake: Start monitoring what you eat. Try to manage the tendency to overindulge by prepping your meals and eating at regular times at a table rather than in front of the TV, phone or iPad. Adjust your food intake if your activity level is lower than normal.
  • Reward yourself: This is a great time to set achievable goals, track your progress and celebrate your successes. When you make of point of completing things you set out to do, you are climbing that wonderful ladder of self-esteem.
  • Be your hobby: What better time to (re)find a craft, hobby or skill. This will help you feel less boxed-in and give you a sense of accomplishment.
  • Be active indoors: Especially when the weather is not the greatest, try embracing indoor exercise. There are many free workout videos being offered online. Kids love to participate, and it helps burn off excess energy.
  • Learn new skills: Turn off the news, your social media and sitcom reruns. Here is your opportunity to learn something new and challenge yourself. The internet is a treasure trove of learning material.
  • Reach Out: If you can’t be near your loved ones, call/text/Skype/Facebook to find out how they are doing. You will both feel better!
  • Remember to celebrate milestones: Even if you must Skype or Facetime with family and friends, don’t forget to celebrate milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Plan a theme. When we get our brain cells going, the four walls won’t feel like they are closing in on us.
    • See my Blog “Coping with COVID-19” and other Blogs on practical mindfulness, as well as my resources page.

Be positive! Problems can also be opportunities! Consider that, however bad it may get, metaphorically, this is the world’s method of resetting itself. We will have cleaner air and water, less traffic accidents, more time to develop new skills, and more to time enjoy our loved ones. Now let us try to reset our own personal priorities and habits. This means putting more effort into our own health and interactions with the people we live with and love. Mankind has survived many pandemics and other calamities in the past and we will do so again.

We are all in this together and can all do our part to make this a better world.

Arlene Unger, PhD is a Dana Point CA based Clinical Psychologist in private practice. Her approach is using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with Mindfulness an Acceptance Commitment Therapy. She is the author of numerous articles (www.drarleneunger.com) on the practical application of mindfulness.

She now concentrates her practice on Telehealth. She works with numerous platforms including Telemynde, Betterhelp and Talkspace and accepts most forms of insurance. Dr Unger has 20 years’ experience with Telehealth as an early adopter and has lectured on the topic.

Coping with COVID-19

Note: Dr Unger is now offering Phone or Video sessions instead of office visits. Dr Unger has been using phone or secure video (i.e. telehealth) for therapeutic sessions since 2001. Contact her through your normal channels if you are an existing client to get instructions to set up phone or video options.  California residents only please.

Are You Overly Anxious?

If you have a history of anxiety, specifically around health issues this article is for you. Of’ course exercise, yoga and meditation through apps can help but, with all the dreadful news and social media posts surrounding coronavirus, we need to put some things into perspective and find ways to come together emotionally.

“Social Distancing” is Really Physical Distancing

It is totally normal to have some fear response to COVID-19 since it has been declared a global pandemic and humans have neither “herd knowledge” nor “herd immunity” since it is a new virus. When we are confronted with an unknown threat like this our initial response is to be fearful.

Some fear (or “concern”) is rational if the threat is real. However, turning our fear irrationally into willful ignorance, xenophobia, hoarding, or panic solves no problems. In fact, it creates more problems for the community than it solves. For example, face masks are in short supply for health workers because of panic buying by the public.

The internet is wonderful; the internet is terrible! While the internet can be a wonderful source of factual information, it can also contribute to fear and panic because there is both innocent as well as intentional spreading of incorrect or malicious information, as well as people trying to profit off of the fear and panic.

Check your sources! Only trust news outlets known for objective reporting. Do not trust social media unless you know the source is objective and not politically motivated! Avoid extremist and conspiracy theory based sources!

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) {https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html} says to stay home if you are sick, keep up your sanitation (especially hand washing) and exercise proper social (i.e. physical) distances (6’ and only fist or elbow bump if necessary). This will help prevent the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 has a longer incubation period during which people can still unknowingly infect others as well as a high infectivity rate; the virus also attacks the lungs directly in advanced cases. These are some of the main “problems” with this virus compared to the common flu (which has a short 2-3 day incubation and lower infectivity). COVID-19 therefore can be spread to many others by people who are unaware they are infected.

The virus appears to be spread mainly by coughing which spreads droplets and some aerosolized particles (much smaller particles which last a little longer in the air, but not indefinitely, and travel a bit farther). It appears to last on various surfaces from a few hours to a few days. Therefore, cough into your sleeve and clean any surfaces you or others may have touched, keep your hands away from your face and well sanitized.

Elderly with underlying health issues are most susceptible.  Younger people may have “mild” cases (ranging from typical mild flu-like symptoms to just short of needing a respirators in a hospital), but are still infectious.

Thus the need for a community based response of avoiding interpersonal contact as much as possible.

Coping Skills

We all react to stressful situations differently but, if you know you are easily anxiety prone, keep your logical and coping mechanisms “on” at all times. This includes keeping to a routine, focusing on learning something new, bonding emotionally with those close to you or even something simple like cleaning out and reorganizing a messy space in your home. These actions can turn an anxious mind into a hopeful one.

If we don’t have hope it is probably because our social, economic, and local support systems are not strong enough. If they are not, this emergent time may be the time to make them stronger.

Here are some symptoms of fear that are not obvious:
• Perseverating on negative thoughts or ideas
• Changes in sleep or eating patterns
• Difficulty concentrating
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Here are some tools to help ease your worries:
• Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19 and only listen a few times a day to reliable sources to get factual updates. Avoid highly political or extremist or alarmist sources.
• Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or use apps to help you stay in a peaceful place. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade with time. Try to do some other activities you enjoy to take your attention off the negative.
• Connect with others at home especially if you are family quarantining. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships (but physical distance).
• Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. Society has survived pandemics in the past such as the terrible 1918 influenza, SARS, Bird Flu, etc!
• Most importantly, if you are self-isolating with a roommate, partner or spouse use your sensibilities and adopt a civility rule. This means to accept that may be some topics are off limits and we use what San Miguel taught about the four agreements: speak your words with kindness, impeccably and truthfully, no assuming or judging, and of course put your best foot forward. Use your own sense of what you is the right and kind thing to do now. It is easy to get caught up in “Herd Mentality” whether it is to run out and buy a product or to ignore warnings based on fact. Bring up neutral topics with those you are living with and try to put a halt on correcting others or being right. Keep telling yourself we are all in this together and are all taking a hit now.
• Seek professional help (mental health, help lines, etc.) to help get yourself focused and calm mentally if the above doesn’t work.

Conclusion

This is a time for all of us to act as a community and take care of one another emotionally. Stress will just make you more vulnerable to illness. There are many trusted online sources, apps and skilled counselors out there to walk you through this. It is all a matter of reaching out and being open and flexible to possibilities (which you can control) rather than overfocused on calamities (which you can’t control). If everyone did just that we would be better equipped to handle the worst of anything out there.

We will all face this rough patch … but this will pass.

About

Arlene Unger, PhD is a Dana Point CA based Clinical Psychologist in private practice. Her approach is to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with Mindfulness and Acceptance Commitment Therapies.

She is the author of numerous articles (https://drarleneunger.com/resources/) on the practical applications of mindfulness.

She now concentrates her practice on Telehealth. She works with numerous platforms including Telemynde, Betterhelp and Talkspace and accepts most forms of insurance.