Feeling lonely, bored, sad and lethargic? Unable to cope with feelings of isolation? You just might be experiencing claustrophobia and cabin fever.
Cabin fever is usually related with bad weather during the monsoons or a blizzard during winter. However, during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic most of us are feeling the weight of cabin fever due to social isolation. Staying home is important for saving lives. But staying inside all the time is leading to claustrophobia and making us unmotivated and irritable.
What is cabin fever?
The term cabin fever refers to feelings of claustrophobia that we can experience after being confined to a single location for a long period of time. It makes us feel distressed, irritable and restless. It is not a medical diagnosis but a series of emotions and symptoms that may occur in such situations.
Associate professor and holistic healthcare expert Dr. Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT explains, “Cabin fever is a series of negative emotions and distressing sensations people may face if they’re isolated or feeling cut off from the world.” She adds “Cabin fever isn’t a recognized psychological disorder, but that doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t real. The distress is very real.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of us are feeling the effects of self-quarantine and social distancing. Not only is it making us feel isolated, it is also making us feel stressed and anxious. Dr. Wilson believes that the “feelings of isolation and loneliness are more likely in times of social distancing, self-quarantining during a pandemic, or sheltering in place because of severe weather.”
Symptoms of cabin fever
Cabin fever goes beyond the feelings of boredom. They are based on strong feelings of isolation and claustrophobia. Identifying the symptoms can help us understand how to cope with self-isolation in a better way.
Although not everyone will experience the same symptoms, here are some of the most common effects of being isolated for too long:
- Decreased motivation
- Lack of patience
- Insomnia/change in sleeping patterns
- Difficulty waking up
- Lack of concentration
- Food cravings
- Distrusting others
It should be noted that some of the symptoms mentioned above could also indicate other serious disorders. If you believe that these symptoms are affecting your disorders, it’s best to consult a mental health professional.
How to cope with cabin fever
Dr. Debra Rose Wilson writes “The coping mechanism that works best for you will have a lot to do with your personal situation and the reason you’re secluded in the first place. Finding meaningful ways to engage your brain and occupy your time can help alleviate the distress and irritability that cabin fever brings.”
There are certain things we can do to combat feelings of claustrophobia and cabin fever if our symptoms are comparatively mild. The following steps can help us improve our state of mind and feel better about ourselves.
Here are a few ways you can start coping with the effects of long-term isolation:
1. Step outside
It might be a bit difficult to go outside freely under the present circumstances, and that’s not something that is recommended. But if you can get out of your house and go outside, make sure to take advantage of it, even if for a short while. Get some sun when you go out for groceries or for other essential work. Also try to spend more time in your backyard and soak in some daylight.
Research shows that exposure to the sun can help to manage our body’s natural cycles, produce endorphins and make us feel better naturally. In fact, spending time in nature is good for our mental health. One 2019 study found that “a growing body of empirical evidence is revealing the value of nature experience for mental health.”