Surviving cabin fever

cabin fever

Sitting at home, so wracked with boredom you could chew your own arm off in despair. You’ve watched eight episodes straight of The Wire so gazing moronically at the TV isn’t an option, unless you’d like your eyeballs to dissolve in their sockets. Too exhausted to go out, yet too twitchy to nap or read a book, you pace restlessly around the living room, waiting for the sweet anaesthesia of sleep to release you from another excruciatingly dull day.

Is this familiar?

Depression and anxiety can disable you to the point that you physically can’t get out into the world. Staying active is a key part of getting better, but there are times when you’re so debilitated you can’t work or socialise so you end up alone for vast expanses of time. Despite the naively peddled misconception that depression sufferers are lucky to have so much free time to pursue their interests, being confined to your home is no fun.

When you’re barely functioning as a human being it’s hard to use all that spare time to, I don’t know, write a novel, take up tai chi or learn to play the nose flute. Sometimes just finding a way to pass the hours in a way that requires little concentration (you have none) and helps you to survive another day, is hard.

Depression makes it so difficult to focus. While trying to immerse yourself in an activity it’s easy to get distracted – whether from outside noise, intrusive thoughts or your own foot. When I’m walking the tightrope between being intolerably bored, agitated and having the attention span of a gnat, there are very few things that will keep me occupied and quell my urge to climb the walls like a tree frog.

But, I have learned a few tricks along the way to both promote relaxation and get myself doing something that doesn’t involve crouching in the corner of a room, rocking and singing to a pillow. Here are a few little things you can do to keep cabin fever at bay for those times when you really have no option but to stay at home:

  • Cook. I find that cooking demands just the right amount of attention to detail to keep your mind off how crummy you feel, but it’s not in the least bit stressful. In fact I generally feel very chilled out when I’m banging pots and pans around in the kitchen. Plus it’s a means of passing the time that culminates in one of my favourite activities. Eating. You don’t need to be Nigella to benefit from the calming effects of whipping up a culinary delight either – if your piece de resistance is beans on toast, that’s fine.
  • Get a friend round. If you’re lucky enough to have supportive friends, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. You might be surprised how happily someone that cares about you will come over to watch a film, chat or just pat your head while you bang it against a nearby wall.
  • Stay out of bed. This one’s so important. No matter how much you feel like just going to bed because there’s nothing else to do, get your butt out from under that duvet. You’ll just mess up your sleep pattern and make yourself feel worse. Be sure to maintain a strict 8-hour sleep policy and only go to bed when you’re truly tired enough to slip off into the land of nod.
  • Clean.  The tidiness of my home is a very accurate barometer for my anxiety levels. When I’m stressed and house-bound I take to the bleach and marigolds like Anthea Turner on speed. Not only is it a great outlet for all that pesky adrenaline, but you end up with a living space to rival an Ikea show home.
  • Go outside. Instead of getting into a routine of just being trapped between walls, make sure you check out the great outdoors once in a while, where the air is fresh and there are TREES and everything.
  • Yoga. Nothing like a bit of gentle stretching and deep breathing to get some oxygen circulating and calm a frazzled nervous system. You don’t need to start meditating in a cave or anything but this kind of gentle exercise is perfect for anyone looking for a little peace.
  • Write. This one’s very much rooted in personal bias, but writing about how you feel can be very cathartic. Even if it’s just a few sentences a day, or an angry stick man diagram, putting what’s in your head down on paper can be a very satisfying way to while away some time.
  • Music. Playing or listening to music is super relaxing. Unless it’s death metal, obviously. If you’re a grade eight trombonist, great, but if not even just switching on the radio or browsing spotify is a fast track to feeling mellow.

If you have any other useful ideas for getting through enforced cabin fever, please let me know!

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9 thoughts on “Surviving cabin fever

  1. Making a list works for me, but the simpler the list the better; crossing things off a list is a great feeling (eg write a letter), but not finishing a list is not good (eg write a novel)

  2. I agree with Thecatrehomed, making lists of things to do everyday had helped me to move my ass instead of being a couch potato. I made sure to include at least one thing to do outside each day. It could be a walk, playing with the dogs or working in the garden but it needed to be outside. Not just out of the house, like going to the grocery store, but something that would make me breath some fresh air. And I made sure to do it even if it was raining.

    • Good for you. Yes I think there’s a fair bit of research to show that getting out in nature can really benefit mental health…I’m lucky enough to live next to a park and going for a stroll in the trees always soothes me. Gardening’s meant to be good too, if you’ve got green fingers and aren’t a plant murderer like me.

  3. This is very much needed. I always look to my bed when feeling down. And even though I know it makes me feel worse, I still do it anyways. You’ve given me a REALLY great idea for the basis of my 10 page paper for my BFA class. I’m a landscape photographer — I think I will now use “there’s a fair bit of research to show that getting out in nature can really benefit mental health” as the basis of my paper. Thank you. I’ve been stressing over this paper for so long and have not written a word. It is due in approx. a month…along with many other things.

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