The Walls Close In
With pandemics sweeping the globe and governments responding more and more frequently with total societal lockdowns that stifle all civilian movement, non-essential businesses and much of the comings and goings of commerce…
…many citizens are for the first time experiencing being under what is effectively house arrest for the first time: allowed to leave only for the most essential tasks such as medical care or retrieving groceries.
With work, voluntary gatherings and weekly itineraries completely shut down for the duration of the current viral pandemic crisis, we will be seeing more and more people suffer the effects of mental and emotional breakdown brought on being kept inside for too long.
Some people are fortunate enough to have family or roommates they enjoy the company of to help stave off the loneliness, but a great many people will be home alone.
All alone. And as they will soon find out, the voice inside your head is not great company without the home and chatter of daily life to drown it out.
Cabin fever is not a joke. While it may itself not have medical community recognition as a proper disease, its effects are well-known, and affect a great many people who are forced to persevere in cramped or isolated conditions.
If trapped inside for too long, especially in a situation with little stimulation people become irritable, restless and sometimes properly claustrophobic, describing an intense urge to get outside or get away from their confinement.
The effects can get worse, with some people suffering from a bad episode reporting insomnia or extreme drowsiness, paranoid delusions and distrust of the people around them culminating in depressive symptoms and even suicidal thoughts.
There are many historical examples of people who have gone plumb stir-crazy and done terrible things to themselves and others. Clearly, the mental toll that isolation extracts upon certain personalities is very steep.
Beating back cabin fever is fairly simple, but that does not mean it is easy. Dealing with isolation is a mental and emotional game. It requires a fair amount of discipline for most people, especially those who are highly extroverted and highly mobile in their day-to-day lives.
Introverts, homebodies and bookworms are far less likely to suffer from cabin fever, or at least suffer from it as quickly as social butterflies, movers-and-shakers, and people with a lot of pent-up energy.
You will need a plan if you are going to be isolated or quarantined for any length of time if you hope to stave off the effects of cabin fever. Any good prepper knows the importance of planning, and more importantly of sticking to the plan when the chips are down. You would be well-advised to do the same thing in this situation.
In the sections below I’ll be laying out 7 tips for doing exactly that. If taken all together they will make for a pretty rock-solid plan for holding off cabin fever.
I cannot promise that following them to the letter will keep you from becoming a little restless, but it will definitely keep cabin fever at bay if you stick to the plan.
If you are entering quarantine, or being forced into isolation over some other existential threat, it is absolutely essential that you take the time to learn everything you can about the risk to you, the overall threat and its impact on your area, on the region or on the nation.
You have to obtain this info from legitimate, trustworthy sources, parse it yourself, and understand it.
Getting sound bites from the news or trying to understand the situation through memes on social media is only going to frustrate you, and badly warp your perception of what is actually happening. You can afford neither.
The human mind abhors a vacuum. Have you ever known about a secret but you didn’t get let in on it? That’s a terrible itch that takes root, one you just can’t scratch.
A similar effect happens when something has you scared or worried, and your brain cannot take in enough information to put together a complete picture of the threat.
In the absence of information, your brain will start inventing stuff in the form of baseless fears, hand-wringing worry and doomsday prophesying.
All of those reasons are why it is so important that you take the time to do the homework in order to understand precisely what you’re up against, what you need to do about it, and how long you can expect it to last.
This will form the bedrock of your planning and hopefully provide a solid if not entirely certain beginning and end-point of your isolation. Being able to mark off the days on the calendar, as it were, is helpful for keeping morale high.
Failing to do this will let fear take the wheel and if you are operating in a condition of fear you certainly won’t be thinking as clear as you could be. Over time, those fears could take root, turn into delusions, and after delusion, madness.
The next most important thing you can do to set yourself up for success and sanity during a period of isolation is just setting a goal or establishing a mission for yourself.
I know what you’re probably thinking: if you’re cooped up inside your own home or they have locked the door to your cell in quarantine and thrown away the key, what goals could you possibly have, what mission could you set for yourself that’s anything like worthwhile?
That’s a fair question, and chances are you haven’t considered what the proper answers are. Under the circumstances, a goal or mission can be anything you want it to be so long as it is mentally engaging and will be a good investment of your energy.
You need to be thinking of something that is complex, stimulating, and requires a lot of effort, energy and mental power to work through, digest or perform. Tasks that are the equivalent of mental potato chips are not going to do the job.
You need something that is the brain power equivalent of a double porterhouse steak with all the trimmings; man it is delicious but it takes effort and a certain commitment to get through it!
What are some good goals or missions for someone under these circumstances? Okay, how about any projects you might be working on?
These could be something like a home improvement project, any kind of DIY undertaking that requires planning, multiple steps and so forth or could be something as simple as learning a new hobby, preferably a classical skill like a new language, learning to play an instrument, learning to do woodworking, blacksmithing or something else like that you can really dig into.
One terrific and effective undertaking serves as something of a force multiplier in this situation, and that is embarking on a massive self-improvement project, physically, mentally and emotionally.
If you are out of shape, it is time to get in shape and you can do that using nothing more than your bodyweight if you lack fitness equipment. If your diet sucks, time to get on board with proper meal programming, and to clean up your act.
If you were carrying around a ton of baggage and have some personality flaws that you have recognized as things you don’t like or they no longer serve you, time to get rid of them.
All of the above are heavy duty, deep dish undertakings that require consistent effort, focus and serious engagement.
That’s what you want because it will keep your brain from picking and pulling at the situation at hand, which is you being cooped up inside a comparatively small space with nowhere to go even if you wanted to.
You’ll have to tackle any of them and several distinct phases: planning, execution, assessment, adjustment, and follow through. These are things that will not happen in the span of a day or overnight, typically.
That means they have enough “meat on the bone” to keep you occupied for the duration.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop and an idle, unquiet mind is fertile soil for lies of all kinds. The ancient proverbs have definitely nailed this one.
Your worries, fears and troubles will rarely be able to keep pace with engaging work of any kind, but the more time you spare for sitting around, navel-gazing and watching dust motes float on the sunbeams, the higher the likelihood your thoughts will turn in dark directions, and as your thoughts go, so go your actions.
Thinking about how boring and bad it is to be isolated from the people you care about and all the activities you used to enjoy away from where you are will lead to a feeling of missing out on things.
From there it is only a short hop and a skip to feeling bitter about what you are going through. Once you start doing that you will start to pity yourself and your situation.
After enough pity parties you will start to feel angry, and then you will start lashing out. With no one and nothing concrete to properly lash out at your wrath and resentment will eventually turn inward, and that’s when you’ll have real problems…
You must not give in to this idleness at any cost! Certainly there will be times for rest during your isolation, but that is not what I’m talking about.
You have to plan your day, schedule your hours, and apply yourself just like you would in normal times when you could come, go and roam freely.
Any of your goals and projects you have scheduled up above must be tended to on a strict schedule with a hard deadline, or at least realistic milestones that you must hustle to meet.
If you give yourself all the time in the world, you will take all the time in the world and nothing will get done.
This applies the menial tasks and chores during the day also. Don’t put off things like hygiene, chores and other components that are part of your typical day.
If you start to slack off on making your bed, that is likely the beginning of the end. When your alarm goes off in the morning, get up, freshen up, get dressed and then attack your schedule for the day.
For the duration of your isolation you must communicate correctly, both with yourself and with other people, assuming you have anyone around, family or otherwise.
In any kind of stressful situation it is a very easy thing to start getting snippy, snide, melodramatic and withdrawn when talking to people.
Is there anything more contagious than some viral pandemic it is a bad attitude. Panic, anger and finger-pointing are all contagious. But then so is steadiness, calm and compliments.
Your first priority in pursuing correct communication must be carefully metering your own self talk, which is really your internal emotional metronome. When you tell yourself things, they often become reality.
So that little voice inside your head tells you that you are freaking out, losing your temper or a giant dumbass for getting yourself into this situation will start to manifest in both your attitude and your actions.
But if you tell yourself that you’re handling things well, doing what you need to be doing and generally really keeping your s*** together that will also become your reality.
This is doubly important when dealing with other people since the way you interact with them is likely to start fueling a cycle of reaction and reciprocation that goes nowhere good if it takes a turn for the worse.
Also approach this with an understanding of nuance. This does not mean you can’t discuss anything that is scary, negative or upsetting, you just have to do it in a positive, proactive way.
Don’t turn things into screaming matches. Be honest about your position and your feelings, and don’t give in to fear about the situation at large.
Sometimes, it helps to talk about things like adults and get things off your chest, just don’t let it become the only thing on the station if you take my meaning.
Depending on why you are facing isolation it might seem impossible to relax, let off some steam and have fun, but assuming you are not clinging to life battling some extraterrestrial germ in a level four hazardous disease containment facility, you should definitely take time out to relax, engage in a little recreation and enjoy yourself.
Funny, it sounds just like a normal week. Funny how that works.
I know you won’t have full access to the typical battery of activities that you enjoy.
You won’t be going out for any bike rides, you won’t be going to hang out with friends and watch the game, or meeting them down at the pub for a pint waiting for the situation to blow over.
All that being said, there’s still plenty for you to do while in confinement.
If you are a reader, this should be an easy home-run for you as you can get a stack of books, and pretty much retreat from the world for the duration of your isolation.
If you enjoy another hobby like gardening or botany, woodworking, model building, painting, writing or journaling, working out, playing an instrument or anything else at all that is fun for you on your own terms you should definitely make time to do that.
If the world is not completely falling apart and you still have electricity you can watch shows or movies, play video games or just start researching topics on the internet that you enjoy, and aren’t necessarily the most engaging or complex.
The point of all this is you need to do something that is a stress reliever for you, something that you do not have to justify against the energy budget, the greater survival situation or anything else. “Diversion” is the objective here.
This tip is somewhat controversial but I’m a believer in it. It doesn’t matter where you get your news from you can rest assured that the situation is always doom, gloom and sky-is-falling end of the world as we know it prophesying.
All this negative drivel and banter along with pearl-clutching and hand-wringing is bad enough for your psyche in kinder times but it will be positively devastating for if you are facing isolation or quarantine.
Don’t keep the news going in the background, either on the TV, on the internet or the radio. Turn it off.
If you must watch it, strictly limit your intake to grabbing the news first thing in the morning or in the evening just to catch any essential updates, and even then try to get them from a modern news source which does not make it a point to lead with fear- or rage-inducing headlines.
A far better plan if you can set it up is to set your phone or email to only bring you the most essential emergency updates so you can stay abreast of the larger situation.
In this category you can also include personal contact or conversations with those people who have notoriously negative attitudes or do nothing but spread fearful rumors and trembling whispers.
Fear is always a liar, but enough exposure and listening to enough of them over and over and over and over will start to sow the seeds of doubt in even the most resolute mind.
You don’t need what passes for news in our era. Turn that crap off.
You may not have any say-so over why you’re in quarantine or isolation, and you may not get a choice in whether or not you get to have personal contact with the people that you care about, but unless the situation is truly dire you should have a way to reach out to your friends, distant family members and other loved ones.
Using phone, text, chat or email you can keep in touch with the people that care about you, and that you care about. No matter how alone you may feel don’t neglect this crucial step.
A conversation, a kind word of encouragement, some news from the outside world or within your social network or a funny shared story can make all the difference in your state of mind if you can’t actually be with that person.
Even better, if you have access to it make use of FaceTime, Facebook Messenger with video or some other video call app so you can put a face and expression to the conversation.
Just seeing the face of another person we like does a great deal of good for our mental and emotional equilibrium.
Enjoy those conversations, make those phone calls, reach out to the people you need to reach out to and, most importantly, remind yourself that this too shall pass, and pretty soon you all will have a new story to tell about this terrible trial over drinks or dinner.
Being forced to endure quarantine or isolation is a severe test of spirit for many people, and especially hard on those who are extroverts with many social connections that they depend on for their well-being.
Trying to tough it out, power through or just sleep through it is not a recipe for success.
You need a plan, one that will give you the mental and emotional nourishment and engagement necessary to keep you from turning on yourself in a bout of cabin fever.
Use the seven tips I provided above, all of them together, and you will have a solid plan for dealing with the metal effects of isolation.
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