As we congratulate ourselves on making it through a very long, very bleak January in isolation, another month of lockdown stretches out in front of us.
We know that staying home is essential to protect ourselves, our loved ones, those around us and the NHS, but it’s no secret that yet another lockdown is taking its toll on the nation’s mental health and wellbeing.
What is cabin fever and what are the symptoms?
“Whilst cabin fever is not a real diagnosis, many people at the moment are becoming tired, listless, and irritable from having to stay home for so many months – and this feeling is certainly real,” explains Lucinda Gordon Lennox, psychotherapist and trauma specialist at TRC Group.
“We are social creatures,” Lucinda continues, “and the lack of social connection is greatly contributing to this, along with lack of purpose, lack of routine, lack of predictability, a loss of sense of time, and the loss of our ‘normality’.”
This isn’t abstract sociological theory; we are biologically wired for social interaction.
Lucinda explains: “Physiologically, our ventral vagal nerve – otherwise known as the social connection system – is not being activated nearly so frequently as when we live our ‘normal’ everyday lives in the company of other humans. When the ventral vagal ceases to be activated, the dorsal vagal steps in and, basically, we feel down in the dumps. If this continues, we can feel even more low.”
Here are Lucinda’s top tips for tackling cabin fever:
Seriously, go for that walk
Getting out of the house for a walk really helps to process our emotions from the day, and if we process them rather than leaving them stagnant in our bodies, we will feel better. Running is good if you’re a runner, but no need to put pressure on yourself to start running if you’re not.
Activate your social connection system
Help activate that ventral vagal nerve we spoke about earlier, and thus move away from the dorsal vagal. To do this, try any or all of the following:
- Any diaphragm activation, such as singing or breathing (breathe in for 4, breathe out for more – anything longer than the count of the inhale).
- Laughing (try searching laughter yoga on YouTube, or check out GLAMOUR’s pick of the best comedies!)
- Connecting through the eyes (schedule in regular FaceTimes with loved ones).
- Stretching both arms really high above the head with the hands clasped together, feeling the stretch of our entire torso, and then releasing.
Plan a socially-distanced walk with a friend
I cannot emphasise enough our need for connection as humans. Our head might be telling us we don’t need to make the effort, but our system will thank us afterwards and we will feel a bit better. Even introverts need a certain level of human connection to prevent the dorsal vagal from taking over.
Look for purpose
Find a sense of purpose; even if it’s a small one and even if it feels a bit silly to you. Do it anyway. It might be a big purpose, it might be a small purpose – it doesn’t matter. It might help to try doing something for someone else. Is there anyone in your street who needs shopping delivered for them? Sometimes, stepping outside of our comfort zone and our now ‘cabin fever zone’ to help another person can help us, too.
Make a schedule
Write down your daily to-dos and create a routine of some sort, even if it’s as bonkers as: ’10am – make a cup of tea; 1.30pm – make soup; 5pm – watch Netflix after work’. It will help provide a sense of structure and normality.
Move your body and meditate
Moving your body helps everything, whether it’s a short workout in your front room, a lunchtime walk outside, yoga, dance – whatever works best for you. Meditation is also fantastic. If you’re new to mediation, just taking time to notice how it feels sitting on a chair, or feeling the washing up liquid on our hands as we do the dishes – this is mindfulness mediation in action. If we have done mediation before, now is a great time to get back to it. Regular mediation teaches the amygdala (our threat and danger detector) to not react so quickly or so often.
Don’t forget to check in with yourself
Every morning, see if you can listen to what you need in today. It might be different to what you needed yesterday. We have different needs on different days.
If you’re struggling and feel unable to cope, speak to your GP or call the Samaritans on 116 123.