By Callie Albaugh, MA, LAMFT
“All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.” After five weeks of isolating in quarantine, I’ve done my best to steer clear from becoming Jack Torrance from The Shining. Although, I must admit it hasn’t gone by without its moments of challenge. This so-called “Cabin Fever” is real, even in the Minnesota spring and especially so amidst a COVID-19 pandemic. I am a therapist, and yet very human. I write this out of validation for all the emotions, thoughts, and experiences we have through this.
- Cabin Fever is Exhausting – Contrary to what you may believe, staying in your house for over a month is utterly grueling. Restlessness seeps in as you find yourself confined to the physical limits of your house and unable to safely venture out to places you would normally spend time. Stress is debilitating. Our bodies interpret physical and emotional stressors similarly, overworking our bodies to find a standard of maintenance and upkeep. We have all found ourselves adjusting to new ways of working and schooling from home, finding ways of minimizing contact with the outside world as we run our necessary errands and maintain relationships. Mix that with the seemingly constant stream of negative information coming our way from news sources, the media, and our close ones talking about the pandemic we live within. It feels as though we can’t escape, running in circles to find a path towards relief and we haven’t found it yet. We’re still on the journey, and it’s exhausting. It is okay to feel exhausted.
- Prioritize Your Relationships – Relationships are the key to surviving isolation. We all need reminders that we are not alone in this. We are all weathering the same storm, albeit on different boats. Connection and intimacy need to continue to be priorities in life. We cannot face the challenges in our life without a support team, whoever that may include. Relationships look different now, don’t they? That doesn’t mean they lose any significance. This is the time to make the phone calls, to Facetime your loved ones, and check in regularly with the relationships that are meaningful to you.
- Vitamin D is Your Best Friend – Get outside. Seriously, get outside each and every day – even on the cloudy days; actually, especially on the cloudy days so you appreciate those sunny days that much more. Take a step out your front door and breathe in the fresh air, even it’s for a few minutes, a few times each day. Better yet, take a walk around the neighborhood. Try new routes each day and explore the area you live in with a different lens. Fresh air and Vitamin D are not overrated – they are essential to our mental and physical health.
- And so is Your Routine – As I mentioned in #1, Cabin Fever is exhausting. Which makes #4 extremely difficult to maintain. I promise you out of the five points on this list, #4 is most likely the most important (but don’t tell the other four points I told you that). We thrive off of structure in our daily lives; and when that has been temporarily taken away from us, we need to create it for ourselves. Structure your household as if you were still leaving the house to go to work and school, as much as you are able. Wake up on time and make breakfast; have a definitive end point for work and school. Maintaining a routine helps mediate lowered motivation and help our bodies follow a stable rhythm.
- Everyone Needs Playtime (Even the Adults) — The starting quote says it all. We need play, whatever that may be. Spend time with your kids playing with them, finding puzzles or exploring the backyard. Make room in your day to read a book, talk with your best friend. Give your brain a break from the chaos of work and the inevitable ups and downs of our current real world. Prioritize this. This is essential.
This time of isolation will pass. I promise this will all come to an end. I encourage you to journal about your experience each day, noting where you find yourself struggling and where you find yourself finding peace. When we take time to pause and understand our experience, we can create ways to support ourselves and our loved ones during this difficult journey.