Hello, from the trenches. 

Almost one year from the initial COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, we’re still… at home. And now, as the vaccine rolls out and our fatigue from months of sacrificing our livelihoods takes its toll, new variants of the virus have been reported that are even more contagious. This means we have to stay vigilant, friends, which is why my clinic STRIDE Community Health Center aims to test and vaccinate as many people as we can to slow and prevent spread. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve tested an estimated 40,000 people! On top of that, we’ve vaccinated 6,000 people since Jan 4, 2021, and our goal is to vaccinate another 6,000 between now and the end of March. 

I plan to increase that number more and more. But until it’s available to the general public, let’s discuss other ways to take care of ourselves.

Safety restrictions have become normalized changes to our day-to-day, so it makes it all the more necessary to check in with our routines. With more of the same ahead — and an unforeseeable end — it’s common to experience cabin fever as a result of becoming more familiar with your couch than you ever thought possible. 

What is Cabin Fever?

Most often associated with winter months of solitude or confinement, cabin fever is the feeling of isolation you experience when you’re confined in your home for an extended period of time. While it’s not an official diagnosis, it’s still a real thing!

To say the least, this pandemic has been a tumultuous event: It’s forced out social interactions with people outside of our bubbles, prevented many people from following routines, drastically cut travel opportunities, and kept us in our homes for weeks and months at a time.

Do these COVID-19 restrictions keep you and everyone around you safe? Absolutely. However, it’s not unusual to find yourself feeling distressed and claustrophobic, especially with so many confusing messages about the pandemic. 

In fact, it’s expected. 

The Connection Between COVID-19 & Cabin Fever

Since we were first impacted by the effects of COVID-19, we’ve learned a ton about the virus — and our knowledge grows more every day. We’ve learned how it spreads and how quickly, who’s most vulnerable to the virus, ways to reduce our risk of contracting it, and more.  

Although we now have more clarity around these precautions, they changed rapidly and inconsistently in the beginning. On top of that, our lives seemed to transform beyond recognition overnight, all the while daunting news about overwhelmed cities and hospitals and significant fatalities spread like wildfire. 

Due to the sudden changes and isolation requirements spurred by the pandemic, the emotional effects of cabin fever naturally became prevalent: feelings of irritability, boredom, restlessness, and impatience. 

If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, know you’re not alone, and there are ways to help.

Side Effects of Cabin Fever 

Everyone experiences cabin fever differently, but keep an eye out for these common side effects:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lethargy
  • Loneliness
  • General feelings of discomfort
  • Muscle pain
  • Restlessness
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Weight gain

Cabin fever can lead to many physical and emotional struggles. Inadequate access to sunlight due to remaining indoors can result in a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause extreme fatigue and muscle pain. Reduced interactions in social settings may heighten feelings of social anxiety. Plus, limited mobility options and a diminished routine make it easy to develop additional health issues. 

When life as you know it is turned upside down, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions you’ve experienced — on the other hand, stressful events may intensify depression and anxiety symptoms that were already present. 

How to Cope — Ways to Relieve Cabin Fever Symptoms

Although cabin fever is an unfortunately common side effect of the COVID-19 safety measures, the great news is there are plenty of ways to counter the symptoms through daily routines and practices.

If you don’t know where to start, try by taking a few moments each day to check in with your routine to ensure you engage in activities that boost your overall wellbeing.

During stay-at-home precautions, a key way to combat the slow creep of cabin fever is to start your day with as much structure as you can commit to. For instance, follow a morning hygiene routine and get dressed (maybe something other than sweatpants?), regularly eat balanced meals, and go to bed at a time you consider normal. According to Mayo Clinic, a good rule of thumb is to try to give yourself at least seven hours of sleep per night. 

Here are a few other ways to cope with the effects of cabin fever:

  • →  Take a walk. For at least a few minutes each day, try to get some fresh air by taking a walk, or you can open your windows and let the sun filter through! Ward off cabin fever by replenishing your body with vitamin D.
  • →  Prioritize exercise in your daily routine. If stay-at-home guidelines and social distancing hinder your usual exercise patterns, walk around the block with your mask on, join a virtual exercise class, or follow an exercise routine on YouTube or other apps. 
  • →  Get (virtually) social. Schedule Zoom calls with friends and family or join a virtual hobby group. Tons of online groups were created during the pandemic to support social interactions and connections from home, so try it out to safely interact with new people.

It might be difficult at first, but try to build structure into your day step by step. 

However, if these tips don’t help, reach out to a mental health professional for support and guidance. Telehealth opportunities and virtual health care sessions are available through many mental health practitioners.