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.
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.