Coping with Cabin Fever
“Cabin fever” is an expression that has been around for well over 100 years. Originally, it described the irritable feelings of people who lived way out in the country and who were stuck in their “cabins” due to winter cold and snow, without the ability to get roads plowed. Without phones, mail, email, or social media, country people in those days often lived in isolation for weeks, even months at a time. Their only social interactions were with the people they lived with. Over time, people got restless and irritable. They felt sick with loneliness. No wonder it was called a “fever.”
Fast forward to today: The pandemic has got us “snowed in” big time. Staying at home and separate from others is not something we expected or are used to, which is making it all the more stressful. A great many people have come down with modern day cabin fever.
Cabin fever is not an official diagnosis. It is not listed in the DSM-5, the manual of mental illness used by mental health professionals. Nonetheless, it is generally acknowledged by mental health professionals as a very real thing.
“Symptoms” include feelings of restlessness, irritability, lethargy, and impatience. Often it triggers sleep disorders with people either sleeping too little or too much. Anxious people are likely to become more anxious. Depressed people are likely to become more depressed. People who are extroverted and social, social, social feel upset and stressed. People who are scared of someone they live with walk on eggshells so as not to set off the problem person (who is also irritable and impatient). Some people start to become distrustful, even paranoid, with the people they live with, the people on the news, and the news media itself.
The limitations on lifestyle caused by the pandemic were already a lot to deal with. Cabin fever in 2020 has become an additional real and challenging issue. Many people feel stuck between their fear of getting sick and their fear of “going crazy” from the isolation.
The key to withstanding this challenging time is to control what we can. We can’t control the pandemic, but we can control how we respond to it by obeying the rules of social distancing. We can’t control feelings of cabin fever, but we can control what we do when our four walls begin to feel like they are closing in.
How to Cope with Cabin Fever
Establish a routine: It adds stress to your life if you have to figure out what you will do each hour of every day. Before COVID-19, you had some kind of structure, even if it was pretty loose. Give yourself a schedule of sorts with times for getting up and going to bed, mealtimes, and times set aside for projects and for maintaining contact with others.
Get outside: If you live where it is safe to go for walks or to get out in the yard, make a point to do so for an hour or so every day. If all you have is a balcony, get out there. If you don’t have that, open windows and breathe in the fresh air. Connecting with nature, however you can do it, is healing.