You’ve been stuck inside for days … weeks … years? Time can seem meaningless in the age of COVID-19 and sheltering in place. And the term “cabin fever” sounds altogether too quaint to describe your serious case of stir-craziness.
You’re not alone. “Across the globe, people are self-isolating to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus,” says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “It can help to remember that literally billions of other people are in the same boat.”
If that doesn’t take the edge off, Dr. Bea offers these tips might help relieve some of your pent-up cabin fever.
Stick with a routine
No, it probably won’t look exactly like your pre-coronavirus routine (especially if you’re now pulling double-duty as a work-from-home parent). But Dr. Bea says consistent routines can ease anxiety and help shush the nagging voice in your head that keeps whispering, “What am I going to do?!?”
Add these healthy habits to your regular schedule:
- Eat nutritious meals: There’s a time and a place for brownies, and quarantine is that time and place. But neglecting nutrition will only leave you feeling sluggish, Dr. Bea says, so enjoy comfort food in moderation.
- Exercise: It’s important for about a gazillion reasons, and mental health is one. “Regular activity can improve stress, depression and anxiety and help you sleep more soundly,” Dr. Bea says. “Try daily walks or jogs outside, or stream an online exercise class.”
- Protect your slumber: Try to go to bed and wake up at your usual time. Minimize naps, which can make it harder to get a full night’s sleep.
Try something new
Novelty is the opposite of boredom, Dr. Bea notes. Try something totally original — or just do the regular things in fresh new ways.
- Have a picnic: Take your family, pack up some favorite food and spread a blanket in your yard – or on the living room floor.
- Learn a new skill: Sign up for an online art class, learn to speak Mandarin, try baking French macarons or teach yourself a chord on the guitar you bought seven years ago and never learned to play. “The options are almost endless,” Dr. Bea says.
Loneliness and social isolation contribute to mental and physical health problems, from depression and sleep troubles to heart problems and dementia, Dr. Bea says. But you don’t have to be shoulder-to-shoulder with someone to reap the benefits of connection.
In the age of social distancing, use virtual connections to fill the gap:
- Schedule a happy hour: Plan a regular time to video chat with your friends or family members. “The phone works too, but there’s something especially soothing about a smiling face,” Dr. Bea says.
- Write letters: Texts are practically essential during self-isolation, but it’s fun to channel your inner Victorian. Dust off your fanciest stationery and write a longhand letter to someone you love. Bonus points if you actually remember how to write in cursive. (Encouraging your kids to write letters can help them practice penmanship and stay connected to their friends, too, Dr. Bea says.)
- Open up: When talking with your loved ones (in person or virtually), you don’t have to put on a brave face. “Being honest about your worries, fears and future dreams can bring you closer and make your relationship stronger,” Dr. Bea says.
Find moments of zen
There’s a lot of overlap between cabin fever and an anxious, racing brain. Find soothing ways to peace out:
- Take up meditation: Mindfulness and meditation practices can reduce stress and anxiety and even improve your attention span — a definite plus when your mind keeps wandering to the daily news reports, Dr. Bea says. Meditation apps abound.
- Get some alone time: If you’re at home with other people, the constant togetherness might be making you extra antsy. “Take a solo walk, or set your alarm to wake up before the rest of the household for some much-needed quiet time,” Dr. Bea says.
Use your brain
Days at home can feel aimless, Dr. Bea acknowledges. But solving a problem or meeting a professional challenge can give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction:
- Do something you’ve been putting off: There’s no time like the present to tackle a project you’ve been putting off because it’s too challenging or time-consuming. “Start your novel, make albums of your family photos or organize your disaster of a basement,” Dr. Bea says. “The feeling of checking something off your to-do list will give you a boost.”
- Read a book: Too much media can crank up stress levels during troubling times. Escape into a meaty novel, or learn about a new person or place with some great nonfiction.
- Make plans: Start dreaming up the things you’ll do with friends and family, and the amazing places you’ll go (even if it’s just to the park across town), once things start returning to normalcy. “You probably won’t be going on vacation next month, but someday this will end — and eventually, this cabin fever will become a distant memory,” Dr. Bea says.
Some of these tips — like eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, staying connected — are good for all of us. But, Dr. Bea says not everyone needs to stay super-busy to avoid going stir-crazy. Some of us are already stretched thin. (“I’m supposed to find time to learn Mandarin while working, home-schooling and feeding everyone all day??”)
“There’s no shame in curling up with a good book or just going to bed an hour earlier,” Dr. Bea says. “After all, there is no blueprint for this. We’re all making it up as we go, so find the cabin-fever strategies that work for you.”