The universal advice (and in many places, a government mandate) is that everyone should stay in their homes as much as possible to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
It's a simple action that has an important positive impact, but that doesn't mean it's easy! Spending long periods of time in isolation can have a very real impact on your mental and emotional state. There's even a name for it: cabin fever.
We'll take a look at what cabin fever is, and offer some strategies for combating its effects in the coming weeks.
What Is Cabin Fever?
“Cabin fever” isn't a disease at all. The colloquial expression refers to negative emotions and distress related to confinement and isolation, such as irritability, hopelessness, lack of focus, and even simple boredom.
The name is of uncertain origins but may date back to the early 1900s when it was used to describe the effects of spending the winter in an isolated cabin. Others point to a hundred years prior, suggesting that the term was used by those who were stuck at home with typhus fever.
Cabin fever isn't dangerous in and of itself, but your mental and emotional health does have a measurable impact on your physical wellbeing. For example, prolonged periods of exposure to the stress hormone cortisol hamper the bone remodeling process.1
Not everyone experiences cabin fever the same way — your personality, temperament, and experience all play a part. While some people are immediately gripped with anxiety, dread, or restlessness upon being isolated, others tend to direct their minds and emotions elsewhere.
But for most people, long periods of isolation can be a real challenge.
Cabin fever is a colloquial name for the feelings of restlessness, irritability, hopelessness, and boredom that can accompany isolation. The experience is different for everyone, and while cabin fever isn't an actual disease, prolonged stress can have real consequences for your health, including loss of bone quality.
Cures For Cabin Fever
If you're starting to go a little “stir crazy”, use some of these strategies to reduce your stress levels and regain your sense of control and composure.
1. Set A Routine
Make a schedule for yourself to follow each day and try to stick to it. Structuring your time will give you a sense of order and control.
2. Accept Discomfort
It's useful to acknowledge when things are difficult. Accepting that a situation is scary or uncertain validates those emotions, and makes it easier to move past them.
3. Stay Mentally Active
Solve a crossword puzzle. Play a game. Listen to a podcast. Find ways to keep your mind active during isolation.
4. Find Ways To Connect
Start a quarantine book club, or just set a daily time to video call your family and loved ones. Phone old friends you haven’t heard from in ages. They'll be happy to hear your voice.
5. Protect Your Alone Time
If you live with someone else, it's especially easy to get on each other's nerves when there is nowhere else to go. Set aside time for engaging in separate activities in separate rooms to give yourselves space.
6. Keep A Journal
If you are feeling locked in, you can escape into an empty page. Write a daily diary, keep track of dreams, or take the opportunity to chronicle fond memories.
7. Tune In
Listen to the radio or watch TV and follow world news. It's good to stay informed and remember that you're not going through this alone. But if you tend to obsess over stressful news and updates, set limits on when and how much you read or watch.
8. Eat Good Mood Food
Be sure your diet contains lots of vegetables and fruit and a little bit of chocolate. The food you eat impacts your mental health too. Make your favorite bone-healthy dishes, and savor the food you eat.
9. Make Up For Lost Sun
Take plenty of Vitamin D3 to make up for missing out on the sun's rays. It's important for both your bones and your mood.
10. Rearrange Your Closet
Sort out your clothes and separate all that doesn’t fit anymore to give to charity. And just because you're staying in doesn't mean you can't dress up — try on that outfit you love but haven't worn in a while.
11. Read A Good Book
Nothing is quite as transporting as immersing yourself in great novel. Escape into the pages for a little while each day.
12. Plan Your Summer Vacation
Having something to look forward to can help you make it through feelings of hopelessness. You can't travel now, but you can make plans for all the places you’d like to visit and the things you hope to do once the crisis has passed.
13. Movie Night
Stream movies and have a movie night. You can even coordinate movie-watching with friends, then have a group video call to talk about it the next day.
14. Keep Active
What This Means To You
Even if you're not feeling antsy, implementing the advice above can help you maintain good spirits (and healthy habits) through this period of isolation.
It's easy to feel alone when we're physically separated. Take a deep breath right now, and think about all of the people doing the same thing as you are and taking precautions to protect each other. Even though we're apart, we need each other to make it through this together.