Spending too much time alone or confined indoors can bring on cabin fever. The term cabin fever is not a medically diagnosed illness, however it is a recognised condition. The lockdown we are experiencing in our homes due to COVID-19, apart from going out for essential services, can bring on cabin fever.
I believe most of us are aware of the importance of following the COVID-19 regulations, including social distancing, to keep us all safe from the virus. That is, apart from the young woman at the supermarket, when I asked my One & Only (O&O) to step back at the checkout, told me it was all a load of rubbish! That explains why the highest number of confirmed cases are in the 20-29 years age group in Queensland. This cohort of people (20-29-year age group) either have a laissez faire attitude or are suffering from cabin fever.
When we are confined for too long or in isolation we can all suffer from cabin fever. The condition can cause a person to make irrational decisions. Perhaps that is what happened in the quiet cul-de-sac in East Toowoomba last weekend? My local state Member of Parliament, Trevor Watts, was chatting to neighbours across the fence when they decided to have a drink later in the afternoon at the edge of their property boundaries.
Apparently, Mr Watts took out his camping chair and instead of keeping it on his property he placed it in front of his mailbox, which was a breach of COVID-19 legislation. I know Mr Watts is aware of the regulations as I received an email from him on Monday 30 March which said, ‘Last night, further closures and social distancing measures were announced following a meeting of National Cabinet. These include: Public gatherings, excluding household members, should be reduced to a maximum of two people.’ So, what happened? Did Mr Watts make an irrational decision due to cabin fever? Therein is the explanation! Similarly, the same cabin fever affected his neighbours, two of whom are police officers. They and another 111 Queenslanders received a $1334 fine last weekend for breaching the COVID-19 restrictions.
Isolation and Mental Health
Isolation and a lack of contact with others has an impact on our mental health. Even though I love spending time at home, I do not like having restrictions on my freedom of movement. In Queensland as of 2 May 2020 we are allowed to travel for recreation within 50 kms of our home. That is good news, as we can now go for a drive, apart from travelling to the supermarket to buy groceries.
We can also have two visitors in our home as long as we practice social distancing. We can also go on a picnic and have one friend join us. Nonetheless, we cannot be complacent.
The public health directive tells us to stay at home unless it is either ‘necessary for you to do an essential activity OR for recreation within 50km of your home.’ While we are at home we have plenty of time to work out whether we are suffering from cabin fever.
Signs of Cabin Fever
There are a range of symptoms that comes with cabin fever. But the common ones are feeling down or depressed; having a sense of hopelessness; tiredness; lack of patience; food cravings; increased alcohol intake; changes in weight and an inability to cope with the stress of changed circumstances outside your control.
Once one or more of these feelings are identified it is time to take steps and look after ourselves. The first step is to keep connected with others even when isolated at home. If this cannot be face-to-face then we have to opt for the phone, FaceTime, Skype or Zoom. This week I had a Zoom ukulele jam session with another 20 people. A new experience for all of us!
But not everyone knows how to use the technology. I find it incredibly sad looking at the imagery on TV showing people waving to their loved ones in aged care through gates and windows. I am pleased my mother, who passed away just over a year ago in her aged care home, did not have to confront COVID-19. She would not have coped with the isolation from family.
There are many people not coping with the isolation and the economic impact on their lives. We hear it, and see it, and it is real. Not everyone has extended family support. My son, who lost his job due to COVID-19, has immediate family he can live with. For the time being he is staying with us and looking for another job. But when that family support is absent how do people cope? At times like this the simple words ‘Are you Okay?’ can make a big difference to someone’s day.
Coping with Cabin Fever
I find that the best way to cope with cabin fever is to keep busy. Even a few small goals each day to break up the routine.
To achieve this, I am spending more time in the kitchen. Last week I mentioned the ancient grain bread, Spelt and Rye Pan Carre. I made the bread, proving it overnight, and then again the next day. However, it was an overcast day and finding a warm place for the dough was difficult. I was convinced my loaf pan was not large enough, so I made two loaves. It was not the easiest of bread to make so the next day I tried a new recipe, Sundried Tomato Bread and baked it in a cake tin. This was not my idea. I just followed the recipe. Delicious! This is now one of my favourites. My time in the kitchen was made more enjoyable listening to music.
My O&O likes to live the quiet life but he too is not liking the movement restrictions. However, he is equipped with a range of strategies due to his life experiences. He is keeping busy on his laptop (writing another book), listening to music via his noise cancelling headphones and out in the garden doing great things! He and Matt have been pruning. When Spring arrives, our garden will be blooming lovely.
Until then and beyond, all of us need to take care of our mental health while we manage the coronavirus confinement restrictions. There is information at our fingertips, thanks to our digital age. To take care of our mental health two organisations that can help are Beyond Blue and Lifeline. If we need it, there are resources to help us with our cabin fever.