Stuck at home? How not to let cabin fever take hold

If you’re cooped up at home because you’re in coronavirus lockdown – or just because it’s too cold and wet to venture outside – here are some ways to spice up your life.

Many households had only just packed away the 1000-piece puzzles and DIY mosaics when the Victorian government ordered a second round of COVID-19 lockdowns in greater Melbourne.

With enthusiasm for jigsaws and family UNO games waning, and the prospect of weeks on end inside four walls, it will be no wonder if cabin fever sets in.

Is cabin fever a real thing?

Often used to describe feelings of restlessness or irritability when stuck in a confined space or area for long periods of time, cabin fever is not actually classified as a mental health disorder.

But common feelings associated with cabin fever are:

  • Frustration
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Low mood
  • Lack of motivation

And if it is experienced in a transient way, over a few hours or days, it is not a cause for concern, says clinical psychologist and Macquarie University research fellow Dr Gemma Sicouri.

How cabin fever rises

Feelings of cabin fever might arise if people feel a loss of their sense of independence and control over their environment, or if they’re shut off from their social connections.

“If they have restricted access to their usual routines and activities that can make them feel powerless,” says Dr Sicouri.

“Also it can reduce feelings of being productive and effective, and that can increase feelings of low mood or anxiety.

“Evidence shows that when people withdraw form their normal activities and their social contact, this can have a negative impact on mood.”

Managing cabin fever in lockdown 2.0

Feelings of cabin fever during this time are understandable says Dr Harry Nespolon, of Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

“This is a difficult time for many communities but there are steps you can take to improve your wellbeing,” he says.

Dr Nespolon says key to managing cabin fever is looking after yourself.

He offers these top tips:

  • Make a routine and stick to it
  • Eat regular and healthy meals
  • Exercise at least once a day
  • Stay in touch with loved ones
  • Consider taking up a new hobby

You’ve got this

Dr Sicouri says it can also be useful to remind yourself you’ve gone through this previously, so you have the skills to get through it again.

“Build on your previous coping – what worked well last time, what didn’t work well, and problem solve around that,” he says.

Remind yourself of the greater good

Dr Sicouri says remembering why you’re in lockdown helps give purpose to the actions you’re taking.

“Try to reflect on the positive impact of staying at home, that you’re helping to maintain public health and safety,” she says.

Can cabin fever harm your mental health?

While cabin fever is normally not considered a concern, Dr Sicouri says if feelings persist over several weeks or months it can become a mental health worry.

“If it begins to interfere with someone’s ability to function day to day – their ability to complete their work, or care for their family, or it affects sleep, appetite, or concentration, it may be time to seek help because it may become a mental health concern.”

For those worried what they’re feeling is more than cabin fever, Dr Nespolon recommends contacting your GP.

“GPs are there to help through every step of this pandemic,” he says.

“Most practices have adapted to video and telephone consultations and we also have interpreter services available.”

Written by Claire Burke.