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You might not have heard of cabin fever yet, but if you’re isolated and confined in a place for a given period of time - with or without any company - you’re likely to be plagued by a number of mental health issues. These issues might be short-term and you might feel better the moment the confinement and restrictions are lifted, but it won’t change the fact that cabin fever actually happened.

This is especially true given the current global scenario, where COVID-19 has spread to most parts of the world, leading to governments imposing partial or complete lockdown of most regions. In India, 75 districts were put under lockdown in late March 2020. This means that people across the country - just as much as people across the globe - are currently confined within their homes, hospitals, isolation wards, and other quarantine facilities. This makes cabin fever an inevitable issue as we each do our part to combat the spread of this new coronavirus infection.

It might not be a diagnosable medical condition yet, but the symptoms and treatment of cabin fever are linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and claustrophobia. The term cabin fever was first coined to explain the behavioural issues experienced by passengers and crew members of ships undertaking long voyages. The term was later adopted by people travelling long distances in aeroplanes (especially trans-Atlantic ones), on holiday at isolated locations, and those stuck in homes during adverse weather conditions, political curfews and public health emergencies.

Cabin fever basically makes people feel imprisoned and restricted, which is what leads to feelings of irritability, sadness or depression, lack of motivation, hopelessness, etc. Given that the conditions outside the building where you might be restricted are not ideal, it might appear that there is no escaping cabin fever, which is why many people also experience a sense of doom if the confinement and lack of communication with the world outside continue for too long.

However, it’s important to remember that there are ways to manage and overcome cabin fever. By separating the most disturbing aspects of isolation and confinement, and addressing them together or in isolation, treating cabin fever can become quite easy. Here is everything you need to know about cabin fever.

  1. Cabin fever during COVID-19 pandemic
  2. Symptoms of cabin fever
  3. How to cope with cabin fever
  4. Doctors for Cabin fever in the time of coronavirus infection

The COVID-19 infection is a pandemic that has spread to 169 countries and regions of the world. This global public health crisis has put billions of lives at risk, and the isolation and quarantine of infected patients is the primary step taken by public health professionals to deal with the disease. This apart, most governments and public health services are attempting to clamp down the spread of this infectious disease by imposing partial or complete lockdowns on cities and nations. (Read more: What is social distancing?)

This means that due to the spread of the COVID-19 infection, confirmed patients and suspected patients are quarantined, while healthy citizens are also isolated in their homes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the only way to slow down the progression of this disease is through self-isolation and quarantine by the general public.

It’s quite natural then that whether you are a confirmed patient or not, isolation and quarantine during the global health emergency posed by COVID-19 may give you a case of cabin fever. Add to this the fact that most people are working from home during the lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 crisis, and you have a scenario where both the professional and private lives of most people are restricted within their homes, which they may or may not be sharing with loved ones. Cabin fever, in such a scenario, is inevitable and can lead to familial unpleasantness as well as personal mental health issues.

To manage and treat the occurrence of cabin fever, the first thing that needs to be done is to identify the symptoms and accept the fact that you have cabin fever. Identifying the symptoms in yourself or loved ones can be disturbing, but it’s necessary to do so to be able to cope with the situation. The following are the most common symptoms of cabin fever:

  • Restlessness
  • Lethargy
  • Sadness or depression
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss or sudden surge of appetite
  • Frequent napping
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety 
  • Changes in weight, i.e. weight loss or weight gain
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Panic attacks
  • Feelings of hopelessness, complete isolation or impending doom

It’s very important to remember that cabin fever can be managed and overcome if you take adequate and timely steps to cope. Letting yourself spiral into depression is not the way to deal with cabin fever, whether the underlying cause is a curfew or a pandemic like COVID-19.

Coping with cabin fever becomes easier when you have some support, which, in the case of quarantines during the spread of COVID-19, is comparatively easy because most people have the digital world and the presence of family members (who are isolated as well) which helps. Here are a few steps you can take to cope with cabin fever.

  • Maintain a routine: Try to continue life as usual by keeping to your regular routine. Don’t sleep in or let lethargy seep in. Instead, wake up and do everything you did before the quarantine or isolation was implemented. Stick to the same meal timings, leisure hours, sleep and wake times every day. This will instil a sense of normalcy and calm your mind, as most routines do. 
  • Exercise: Get enough exercise every day, and maintain the routine daily. Even though you’re confined and your movement is restricted - which means going out for a walk or run, or even going to the gym, is out of the question - make sure you adopt a different form of exercise suited to this environment. Yoga, dancing, aerobics, etc., are activities that can be invigorating as well as exercises which can be done with the family. This will keep you active, fit and healthy.
  • Change your diet: Since you’re not stepping out now, your body will need a different type of nutritional intake to stay fit. Eat basic, nutrient-dense foods, and make sure you include fiber, carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats in your diet. Concentrate on eating healthy and increase your intake of freshly cooked food. While it may not be possible to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables daily, you should eat food which is freshly and properly cooked.
  • Take up a hobby: Instead of ruminating about the fact that you cannot step out, take time to engage in activities you never had the time for before. You could also re-engage in a hobby that you’ve left behind. If you have children, involve them in these hobbies to keep them busy as well. This is also a good way to bond with people you’re isolated with.
  • Socialise online: With social media platforms active and easily accessible in most parts of the world, it’s now possible to be physically isolated and yet virtually crowded. Connect with old friends, extended family and even meet new people online. However, it’s important to engage only in positive interactions during this time of quarantine, because negative interactions or misinformation can impact your well-being while in isolation.
  • Stay updated: Simply because you’re quarantined doesn’t mean you have to be entirely cut off from the rest of the world, especially when it comes to collecting vital information about current affairs. Accessing news and data - especially about the crisis because of which you’re isolated - can help you understand the extent of restrictions and also give you an idea of when the crisis will be over and you’ll be able to step out.
  • Get some vitamin D: While you can’t step out of your homes, find out if there’s a way to get some sunlight and ventilation at home. Sit in the balcony or next to the windows for part of the day so your body can make some vitamin D. This is important because vitamin D is required for normal immune function and it helps to elevate your mood. Getting a vitamin D deficiency on top of everything else might not be a good idea during a crisis anyways.
Dr. SIBANANDA MISHRA

Dr. SIBANANDA MISHRA

Psychology
25 Years of Experience

Geetika Kapoor

Geetika Kapoor

Psychology
12 Years of Experience

Nishtha Narula

Nishtha Narula

Psychology
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Kamna Chhibber

Dr. Kamna Chhibber

Psychology
13 Years of Experience

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References

  1. Tonks, Alison. Cabin Fever. BMJ , 336 (7644), 584-6. PMID: 18340070
  2. Dowdall, Nigel P. Cabin Fever. “Most experts agree”. BMJ. 2008 Mar 29; 336(7646): 684. PMID: 18369211
  3. Greig, David N. Cabin Fever: Practical Points. BMJ , 336 (7646), 684. PMID: 18369210
  4. Armson, Heather. et al. Cabin Fever: An Innovation in Faculty Development for Rural Preceptors. Med Educ , 39 (5), 531-2. PMID: 15842718
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