Karl Jaspers, the German psychiatrist and philosopher, once wrote that “humans become aware of themselves in boundary situations.” The spatial and temporal restrictions placed on us by the Coronavirus pandemic will have an enormous effect on our psyche. Many are no doubt experiencing the “cabin fever syndrome” under forced confinement.
Are you suffering from Cabin Fever?
Generally speaking, the “cabin fever syndrome” can be described as a claustrophobic irritability or restlessness which we may experience when stuck in confined indoor spaces for long periods of time. Of course, the informal name of cabin fever may have originated in the olden days in North America when settlers would be confined to their log cabins during the long winters.
Although it is not an official syndrome, the social distancing and isolation designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus can pose a serious threat to our general wellbeing . Taking an evolutionary point of view, all of us are foremost social animals. From paleolithic times onwards, we require regular contact and cooperation with others for the purpose of survival. Isolation can negatively affect our mind and body, as many astronauts and polar station explorers can testify . Social isolation contributes to a sense of loneliness, a fear of others, negatively impacting our self-esteem, and creates problems in everyday living.
Typically, the symptoms of the “cabin fever syndrome” involve a range of distress signals such as restlessness, irritability, impatience, feelings of lethargy, difficulties concentrating, low motivation, food cravings, and sleep disorders. In particular, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness correlates with a high risk for depression and other mental health conditions, possibly even suicide. In some instances, isolation, exacerbated by anger and frustration, can also contribute to greater alcohol and drug consumption as well as domestic violence. Add financial concerns and uncertainty about our future to this volatile mix, and well-being takes a toll.
Ways of coping
You’re certainly not alone if you’re beginning to feel the pressures of being cooped up at home. If you feel the anguish of “cabin fever” settling in, what can you do to cope? Here are a list of suggestions:
If these activities don’t give you sufficient peace of mind—if the “cabin fever syndrome” continues to severely impact your mental health, it is advisable to seek professional help—even if it is only virtually, under the current circumstance. Mental resilience is critical to navigate these difficult times.
While it may seem difficult to find mental serenity in the middle of this perfect storm, it is imperative that we find the strength to do so. Our challenge will be to mindful of the pressures that we are experiencing and to find ways to work through them.
And remember, as has happened with previous pandemics, this too will pass.
 House, James S. (2001). Social Isolation Kills, But How and Why? Psychosomatic Medicine. 63 (2): 273–4.
 Muller H. K., Lugg D. J., Ursin H., Quinn D. and Donovan K. (1995). Immune responses during an Antarctic summer. Pathology, 27, 186-190.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic:
Photo credit: Olivier Guillard on Unsplash
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