15 ways to beat cabin fever

Most of us can identify things that we love about being at home; such as the nook in the kitchen where you have your morning coffee, or your favourite comfy armchair. But too much time at home can be enough to make anyone stir crazy.

If you’re experiencing “cabin fever” as a result of the current lockdown, then your stress levels may also be higher than normal, from simply being at home too long. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the current situation is only temporary and it will pass. But, if you’re looking for a boost, and wondering how you can look after your mental health in the meantime, then the following 15 tips may help.

What is cabin fever and what are the symptoms?

“Cabin fever” is a term commonly used to describe the feelings that are brought on by being isolated in a space – either alone or with family – for an extended period of time. During this time you typically won’t spend much time out in the fresh air, or interact in-person with new surroundings or people outside of that which you live, causing you to feel under-stimulated.

Cabin fever is not a medical, diagnosable condition, but more of a common term that is used by psychologists to explain the symptoms of restlessness, boredom and claustrophobia that come with being stuck indoors. The term has been around since the early 1800s when American pioneers who migrated to the Great Plains – west of Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains – often lived in small cabins and went without human contact (or contact only with family members) for prolonged periods. They could be miles apart from neighbours and during the winter months, it was common for them not to see or hear from anyone at all. The American pioneers were the first to use the term “cabin fever” to describe the mental stress of feeling confined and living in isolation.

Other symptoms reported by those who are experiencing cabin fever, include:

  • Insomnia
  • Problems with concentration
  • Frequent napping
  • Irritability
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Lack of motivation
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Irregular eating patterns (including eating too much or too little)

1. Make sure you’re getting enough sunlight and fresh air

We’re currently allowed to leave the house to exercise once a day, so it’s important to make the most of this time if you’re able to. Whether you go for a walk, a run or a bike ride, being outside even for a short time, can have a significant impact on how you feel for the rest of the day. If you don’t feel comfortable going outside, or you’re unable to, then consider opening a window or two or getting outside in your garden instead.

The more oxygen-rich air we breathe, the more energised and alert we tend to feel.  Fresh air has also been linked to improved blood pressure, lower stress levels and a greater sense of wellbeing. Sunlight stimulates our bodies to produce vitamin D, which is a great mood-booster.

2. Keep busy

You might have found yourself becoming hyper-focused on every news headline and/or feeling that you’re unable to relax because of feelings of restlessness and anxiety about the future. If you are no longer stimulated by your surroundings and daily routine, then these anxious feelings can increase, as we tend to have more time to overthink and ruminate.

To avoid this, often the most helpful thing you can do is to keep yourself as busy as possible with tasks that do stimulate you and that offer a temporary distraction. This will work differently for each of us. Some may find that they can get totally lost in a task of organising the kitchen cupboards over the course of a few hours, whereas others may find it helpful to invest time in a new or existing hobby, such as blogging or baking.

The mind is a powerful tool and it will run wild if you let it, so it’s worth giving yourself a positive focus that can steer you away from anxious thoughts.

3. Keep a gratitude journal

If the coronavirus pandemic and everything that has come along with it, has brought up a lot of negative feelings, then it’s important that we don’t allow these feelings to consume us. One of the ways you could do this, is to remind yourself daily of what you’re grateful for.

Consider keeping a daily gratitude journal where you write down at least one thing everyday that you’re grateful for. This could be anything at all – from feeling grateful for the incredible work being carried out by NHS staff to help keep us all safe, to being grateful for your comfy bed, or the pretty plant on your windowsill. With so much negativity dominating the news headlines at the moment, it can be helpful to take a step back and remind ourselves of some small pieces of positivity, – no matter how small.

4. Practice self-care, even if you don’t feel like it

When we’re staying home everyday, it can be easy to shower less and sit in our pyjamas more. It can also be tempting to stop doing things like shaving or taking care of our hair or nails, because who’s going to see it? Whether anyone is going to see you or not, it’s important to consider each one of these tasks as an act of self-care, that will help to carry you through this period of uncertainty. There’s a lot we can’t control about the coronavirus pandemic. But looking after ourselves in small ways can make a big difference, and help us to take back some control of our lives. The way that you present yourself (even if no one else is around) can have a profound effect on your confidence and self-esteem, and can also influence your overall motivation levels throughout the day.

It doesn’t matter whether you have anyone around you to impress with a nice outfit, or freshly washed hair. Aim to impress yourself, and chances are you’ll feel much better for it.

5. Rearrange your living space

If you’re bored of looking at the same four walls, then it can help to change it up by moving some furniture around or giving the walls a fresh coat of paint. These may seem like small changes, but any positive change to your environment can offer new stimulation and mitigate feelings associated with cabin fever.

If you can’t move your furniture around, then spend some time thinking about other ways that you could make small, yet impactful changes to each of the rooms in your house. Perhaps you’ve got some paintings that you’ve yet to hang in your front room, or you’ve got a bookcase that needs decluttering and reorganizing in the bedroom. Whatever you decide to change, make sure it makes you enjoy your home that little bit more.

6. Reach out to others in the ways that you can

Humans are social creatures, who are designed to connect with others, so it’s completely normal to feel lonely or in need of fresh company from people outside your household, when you’ve been at home for a prolonged period of time. If you’re feeling a bit fed up, sometimes reaching out to others can feel difficult, but it’s important to do it anyway because chances are you’ll feel much better afterwards!

You could try video calling friends and family members, and/or joining an online community where you can meet like-minded people. Our Facebook groups – (Over 50s Job Seekers) and Later Life Learning, or the community forum on our website could be helpful places to start with this.

7. Start a project that you know will take you a while to complete

To help take the focus away from the length of time that we could spend in lockdown (which remains unknown), it can help to adopt a lengthy project (or several smaller projects) that will take you a few days, weeks or even months. Make sure that you choose something that you’re really interested in and will capture your attention for long periods of time. Having a focus and a sense of purpose during a period of uncertainty can be really important and help motivate you to get out of bed in the morning.

Some of our members are learning new skills or acquiring new knowledge during this time,  by taking free online courses that last a few weeks at a time. Our guide to free learning at home resources, will give you a taste of some of the different opportunities available.

8. Listen to music

Research has shown that listening to music can help to boost your wellbeing – both mentally and physically. When we listen to a song that we like, our brains release dopamine – a pleasure inducing neurotransmitter. Music has also been shown to reduce depression, and improve running performance and sleep quality.

We’ve all lost ourselves in a great song at some point – in the shower, while cooking dinner or when out driving. People often say that listening to music helps them to express themselves, feel less alone and temporarily escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, claustrophobic, bored (or something else entirely) consider putting some of your favourite tunes on full blast and letting yourself enjoy the moment. If you’re worried about disturbing others in your household, then use headphones. Just be sure to dance like no one’s watching!

9. Practice mindfulness

Staying present is one of the most effective ways to ward off feelings of stress, anxiety and hopelessness – which can often be exacerbated when you’re stuck  indoors. Rather than worrying about the past, or the future and what may or may not happen, try to take time throughout the day when you focus only on what is going on at that very moment.

For example, if it’s a sunny day, then try sitting at an open window early in the morning and focussing on the sound of the birds singing. Or when you lie down in the evenings, focus only on the breath entering and leaving your body. These calm moments can be practiced anywhere at any time and can offer a lot of relief from stress and anxiety.

Some people report that when they first start practicing mindfulness, they find it difficult to stop racing thoughts from rushing in. But this does get easier to manage with time. It’s best to start small, by trying to be mindful for 5-10 minutes a day. You can then build it up and will hopefully be able to use it as a reliable relaxation mechanism.

If you’d like to find out more about mindfulness and how to get started, then it’s worth having a read of our introductory guide.

10. Set yourself some post-lockdown goals

At the moment, there are a lot of restrictions on what we can and can’t do, and many of us have had to adapt to changes in our home and work lives. However, this situation is only temporary and one of the best ways to remind yourself of this is to set yourself some post-lockdown goals. This will help you look toward the future in a positive way and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It doesn’t matter whether these goals are big or small, as long as they give you hope. Perhaps you’d like to make a career change when the job market opens back up again, or reach a fitness goal, like signing up to a half-marathon. It might be hard to make any concrete plans during this period of uncertainty. But, there’s no reason why you can’t spend some time researching and thinking about your goals to familiarise yourself with the steps needed to reach them. This way, when the lockdown is over (or possibly even before depending on what your goals are), you’ll be ready to get started.

11. Search for inspiration

During difficult times, it can be really useful to search for sources of inspiration to help keep you going. This could involve thinking about some of your post-lockdown goals and searching for stories from people who have achieved great things, or overcome similar obstacles. These could take the form of autobiographies, documentaries or articles. This process can be incredibly empowering, and build hope for the future.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start then the personal stories section of our website might be of interest.

12. Avoid using things like alcohol or comfort food as an emotional crutch

It can be tempting to use things like alcohol or fatty/sugary food to conquer boredom, give you comfort or distract you from the current circumstances. But, these things generally only offer temporary relief, can form bad habits if repeated too often and may have longer term consequences for your mental and physical health.

There’s no reason why you can’t still enjoy a glass of wine or a sweet treat occasionally. But try to make sure you’re also getting enough water and eating healthy, balanced meals. BBC Food is a great place to look for inspiration. Jamie Oliver has also started a Keeping Cooking and Carry On series to help us create flexible meals using what we have in the freezer of the cupboards. He’s on Channel 4, every week night at 5.30pm.

13. Do some exercise (start small if you’re struggling with motivation)

You may have heard this suggestion plenty by now, but that’s because exercise really does have the potential to change your lockdown experience. As well as helping your brain to release endorphins (hormones that lift your mood), exercise can also help us to gain a sense of achievement and improve sleep quality. Getting started is often the hardest part, but it becomes easier if you make exercise part of your daily routine and as always, it’s best to start small – for example with a short, brisk walk or a 10-minute yoga routine.

Our guide, How to stay fit at home during the coronavirus lockdown, can offer you some guidance and inspiration on how to workout in the comfort of your own home.

14. Consider helping someone else through online volunteering

During a time when people are suffering, the desire to give back can be greater than ever. Even though we’re practicing social distancing, there are still many ways that you can help others from the comfort of your own sofa. When we help others, we tend to focus less on our own situation and can get a lot of reward from knowing that we’ve made a difference to someone else’s.

Our online volunteering article has a few ideas of ways that you can help others from home. From helping a blind person to read food labels, to offering motivation and support to children around the world who have limited educational resources.

15. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

The coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for people across the world and for many, this is a situation unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. It’s important to be kind to yourself during these difficult times by not putting too much pressure on yourself to adapt to the situation perfectly. Do what you can and congratulate yourself for the little things. If you did a home workout yesterday, but aren’t sure you’ll get round to doing one today, then don’t punish yourself for it – just aim to do one tomorrow instead, or go for a gentle walk locally. Just do your best and let that be enough.

A note for those who live with others…

Often one of the hardest things about being cooped up at home, is spending much more time with the people in your household than you normally would. Whilst it can be nice to spend more time with family (or your house or flat mate), too much time can sometimes lead to arguments and an increased desire to have your own space.

Even if you don’t have much room at home, it’s important to try and give each other space where you can. This could mean going out for walks at different times, working in different rooms or allowing one another half an hour to have a relaxing bath in peace. When living in such close quarters, it’s important to be open and honest with one another about when this space is needed.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that everyone will have their own way of dealing with this situation, but chances are they’ll be doing the best they can. So before you snap at your other half about not having done their share of the housework, consider whether it’s worth the battle. Try to be kind always, because it really does go a long way.

And finally...

Most of us who are social distancing and/or self-isolating at home will experience some symptoms of cabin fever at some stage – this is completely normal and we hope the steps above will help to lessen any feelings of boredom, restlessness and anxiety. However, if you find yourself getting increasingly low and you feel as though you’re unable to find a way through it, then it’s important to reach out for help. You could do this by speaking to a friend or family member about how you’re feeling. Alternatively, you can contact Silver Line on 0800 470 8090 or Samaritans on 116 123. Silver Line is specifically designed for older people and can offer information, friendship and advice. Both charities are available 24/7 to simply listen (and not judge), if you need someone to talk to.

Take care of yourselves in these difficult times.

Have you been experiencing cabin fever? Have you found any additional ways to combat it? We’d love to hear from you at [email protected] or on the community forum.

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7 thoughts on “15 ways to beat cabin fever

  1. Avatar
    Gill Stenton on Reply

    Such a huge relief to read this. I’ve been feeling rather low and lacking motivation and eating all the wrong things. Thought it was only me – thank you.

  2. Avatar
    Rosemarie Bell on Reply

    Very interesting article and user friendly.
    I have been doing some of this but it us also reassuring.
    I like the way you can dip in and out of the sections too.
    I will keep it and go back to parts now and again.

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