By Kiana Prinsloo

For those still staying or working from home during COVID-19: Has social distancing and being isolated in self-quarantine got you feeling abnormally irritable, restless or even demotivated? Here’s what it means to have “cabin fever” and how to overcome all the negative emotions associated with it.

WHAT IS CABIN FEVER?

Originating from staying in a remote area or inside a cabin during the wintertime in North America, cabin fever is a common term used to describe feelings of being isolated or confined for a lengthy period of time whether it was expected or not. It can also refer to the symptoms one experiences while being isolated. Cabin fever can’t really be diagnosed as a psychological disorder but that doesn’t mean that what you are feeling isn’t real.

Cabin fever can be due to a variety of different circumstances like not having transportation, the outcome of a natural disaster or from social distancing during COVID-19.

There are a variety of different symptoms that one may experience during isolation. However, it is important to keep in mind that each person is different and will therefore experience different outcomes. This includes what symptoms you may experience or how these symptoms affect you. Your personality and temperament also play a large role in how cabin fever affects you.

Paul Rosenblatt, a psychologist and professor emeritus of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota said: “Those who see self-quarantine as a way to finally clean their home, sort out bills, organize their closet or pursue a new hobby might take longer to reach cabin fever, if they ever do.”

Symptoms of Cabin Fever:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Decreased motivation
  • Food cravings
  • Hopelessness
  • Distrust of people around you
  • Lack of patience
  • Lethargy
  • Sadness or depression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irregular sleeping patterns (including difficulty waking and frequent napping)

Please take note: if these symptoms impact your functionality or start to worsen, it might be possible that you may have a diagnosable disorder. Contact a mental health professional regarding this to determine whether you have a treatable disorder.

HOW TO COPE WITH CABIN FEVER:

Even if you do have the case of cabin fever, have no fear! There are loads of suggestions and advice on how to go about lessening the effects of the symptoms mentioned above. The most important thing is to try to keep a positive and grateful mindset in order to keep a healthy and happy mind. You can do this by keeping a gratitude journal and write down every day what you’re grateful for. You can also say daily affirmations to inspire you to lead a fun and productive day for example: “I will use this time… to recharge, reset and re-invent myself; to become a better version of myself; to ultimately become the best person I can be.”

Here are other mood boosters and hints for overcoming cabin fever:

The Great Outdoors:

Get up and out of the house and enjoy the weather outside in nature! It is recommended that you should have at least 20 minutes of sun every day so why not dust off your camping chair, put your sun hat on and grab a magazine or drink on your way out to enjoy your version of a summer holiday. Being outside in the day time allows your body to regulate its cycles.

Getting your hands dirty while gardening can also be great fun and an ‘excuse’ to get the kids off the computer and into the outside world. It is important to note any restrictions the government has put in place and keep to them while you’re doing this.

If you aren’t able to go outside, here are a few things you can do instead:
  • Open your windows to let in clean, fresh air. This can also help your home feel more open and spacious.
  • Place a bird-feeder outside your living room window to bring nature to you.
  • Order or buy some freshly cut flowers to add some life to your space (and get the spring spirit going) or invest in some houseplants.
  • Grow small plants on windowsills, patios or balconies. Small cacti are a great option as they are easy to look after and don’t take up too much space.
  • As ironic as this might sound- turn on your TV. Indulge in some nature documentaries like Planet Earth and embrace the views and sounds of nature that your telly may bring.
  • There are many playlists available to create some nature ambience like the sounds of waves crashing at sea, raining thunderstorms and even birds chirping to help you relax or boost your mood.

Being outdoors and in nature has many benefits including boosted cognitive function, improved mood, alleviated stress, as well as boosted feelings of well-being.

Keeping Active (Mentally and Physically)

Mind:

It is important to keep your mind going and to continuously learn new things. Using your brain is an essential part to reduce feelings of helplessness and to becoming a better you. Although the TV is a great distraction during this time, make sure not to over-indulge as it’s relatively mindless. Instead, work on some crossword or sudoku puzzles or read a book (or ten). You can even get your housemates to play some board games with you. Keeping a visual calendar will help you keep aware of the date, which can be helpful when setting routines. Try to get your right brain working with creative activities, such as painting or scrapbooking. Being creative is a great way to use your brain but keep relaxed at the same time. It’s also a great way to pass time.

Body:

Get moving! As simple as it may seem, exercise releases endorphins to make you feel happier and really put you in a good mood. Being physically active also lowers your body’s stress hormone, cortisol, making you less prone to anxiety. Going for a walk or jog around your neighbourhood is a great way to get you outdoors and keep you fit. Consider bringing your dogs out with you to make your time out more enjoyable. If you aren’t able to go outside, there are many indoor workouts you can try, including those you don’t need gym equipment for. If exercising isn’t your cup of tea, try some light yoga or spice things up with online dance fitness workouts.

Here are some workouts you can try at home that require no equipment:
  • 20 minute full body workout for beginners by Pamela Reif:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UItWltVZZmE

  • 15 minute full body HIIT workout for beginners by Pamela Reif:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1skBf6h2ksI

  • For those with a goal, here’s a 2 week Abs Challenge (Abs in 2 weeks):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pLT-olgUJs

Setting Goals and Keeping Routines

Get a routine going and stick to it. Remember to take this time to become a better version of yourself. Keeping motivated and productive is the first two steps towards doing that. Make sure you have time in your day for work/house projects, cooking and eating time and even some relaxing or downtime. Keeping a routine allows you to maintain order and structure in your home. It also helps to keep your eating, sleeping and other activities undisrupted.

Working from home when you’re feeling particularly demotivated and sluggish can make things difficult and you’ll start to dread getting up in the morning. To avoid this, wake up at the usual time you’d normally wake up for work, shower and get dressed as you normally would do too. This helps you start your day on the right foot as you would have already accomplished three objectives for the day just by getting ready. You can use that as your motivation to keep going. It is advised to change out of your sleepwear and to avoid long afternoon naps in order to keep the momentum going.

Even though you are working from home, it is important to schedule out coffee breaks and a lunch break to give your mind time to reset. Instead of immediately switching on the TV during these breaks, rest your eyes from technology screens and have a look outside instead. Doing some light stretches in this time to get your body moving is a great idea too.

Set daily and weekly goals whether it be for personal or work-related objectives and keep a journal to track your progress on them. Make sure your goals are reasonable and as precise as possible so that you’re likely to achieve them. Once you finish a goal, you’re more than welcome to reward yourself on your hard work. Pizza or ice-cream perhaps? Creating a vision board is very inspiring and can remind you of your goals. Hang it somewhere that you will see it often to remind you that even though the future is unclear, there is still a future to dream of.

Eating

As busy and productive you may (or may not) be getting, it is important to keep to your normal eating routine and pattern. Being stuck at home may give you an excuse to indulge in junk food or to not eat at all. Eating right and getting all the nutrients your body needs is vital in staying motivated and keeping your energy levels high. If you aren’t exercising as much, you are more likely to eat less than usual, but take note of your eating habits and make sure to get in all your food groups. Also, remember to drink plenty of water!

Keeping Connected and Recreational

Even if you don’t necessarily want to visit people during this time, it is important that you maintain a social life.

You can do this by:
  • Engaging with your housemates by playing games and eating together. Even doing household chores can be much more fun with some company.
  • Setting aside a day and time to reconnect with old friends or extended family by calling or FaceTiming them.
  • Set a specific day to order take out food once a week so that you have something to look forward to during the week.
  • A great way to relieve stress is by doing wellness or relaxation exercises.
Here’s one you can do right now:
  • Sit somewhere that is quiet and comfortable.
  • Name 5 things that you can see (e.g. in the lounge you might see a TV, your dog, curtains, coffee table and a book)
  • Name 4 things that you can feel (e.g. sitting on your couch you may feel the clothes you are wearing on your skin, the pillow behind your back, the couch under your bottom and the warm coffee cup you’re holding in your hand)
  • Name 3 things you can hear (e.g. the cars on the road passing your house, kids playing and the sound your fridge is making)
  • Name 2 things you can smell (e.g. the coffee you currently hold in your hand and the perfume you put on this morning)
  • Name 1 thing that you can taste (e.g. the coffee taste in your mouth from taking a sip of your coffee earlier, your toothpaste or you may not taste anything)

Your Space

You’re also allowed to have some time away from others to relax. Reading a book, meditating or listening to a TED Talk are great ways to relax and centre yourself. Creating some me-time for yourself is vital in order to reflect on your day, what you’ve accomplished, what you still want to accomplish and something you’re proud of. Being mindful is balancing and rejuvenating. Consider taking a mindful bath and listen to some guided meditations specifically for while you’re in the bath. You can download apps or even stream some on YouTube. If you suffer from insomnia it can be overcome by doing some gentle yoga. Yoga is also very helpful in calming your nervous system.

Redecorating your space or home can be a great way to keep you preoccupied and inspired.

Quick advice and inspiration to keep in mind and get you going:

How to Travel Without Leaving the Comfort of Your Couch:

Books and movies– actively reading a book or watching movies can transport you to a different place, time and even a different realm!

Magazines– can inform you about different ideas and aspects of life. For instance, if you choose to read something specific on how celebrities run their lives, you could for a while be a part of their world.

Virtual museum tours– there are now online museum tours that you can experience without having to leave your home. Here’s a link to escape to the National Museum of Natural History to get you started: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/visit/virtual-tour

Google street view– this is a fun tool to play around with. Downloading the Google Street View app allows you to zoom in to any part of the world. If you get lucky, you may sight something unusual or funny (like someone caught in the motion of falling down their front doorsteps). Some sea life may also be seen.

Cooking– cooking or baking meals from foreign countries may ‘spice’ things up a bit. Basic examples include curry (India) and Beef Stroganoff (Russia).

Learning a new language– whether it be French or German, keep your brain active while you experience other cultures in a different way.

Start planning your next trip– nothing is more mood-boosting and gets you more excited!

 

SOME COVID-19 HOTLINES YOU MAY NEED:

COVID-19 National Crisis Helpline: 0800 029 999

SA Police Service Crime Stop: 08600 10111

SMS Crime Line: 32211

SAPS gender-based violence service complaints (SAPS): 0800 333 177 complaintsnodalpoint@saps.gov.za (link sends e-mail)

Stop Gender Violence: “Anonymous, confidential and accessible telephonic information, counselling and referrals, in all 11 official languages” 0800 150 150

GBV (Gender-Based Violence) Command Centre: 0800 428 428   /   *120*7867# (free from any cell phone) SMS Line: 32312

Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Helpline: 0800 150 150

Childline: 0800 055 555

Suicide Helpline: 0800 567 567 or 0800 456 789

Substance Abuse Helpline: 0800 12 13 14

 

Sources Used in This Blog:

https://www.verywellmind.com/cabin-fever-fear-of-isolation-2671734

https://www.healthline.com/health/cabin-fever#what-is-it

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/19/health/coronavirus-cabin-fever-definition-quarantine-wellness/index.html

https://www.gov.za/coronavirus/contacts

https://www.travelzoo.com/ca/blog/how-to-travel-without-leaving-home/

https://www.curiouscuisiniere.com/food/main-dishes/30-minutes-or-less/

 

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