Astronauts have been known to spend up to a year, mostly alone in confined quarters, floating above the Earth. While we are not astronauts, who are by nature highly resilient and undergo rigorous isolation training to cope with the conditions in space, many of us are starting to feel the effects of being confined to our homes, without much human interaction, during this circuit breaker.
Feeling alone and sad, and not being able to cope with these feelings can lead to “cabin fever”.
What is Cabin Fever?
Adrienne Sng, a National CARE Hotline volunteer who is the Director of Clinical Services at Boys’ Town, explains, “Cabin fever refers to the cycle of negative and distressing emotions experienced by individuals as a result of being isolated or feeling ‘cut off’ from society at large.”
The term cabin fever is often used in countries to describe the feelings experienced by those trapped at home because of extreme weather. However, people all over the world – including in sunny Singapore – may now be experiencing the phenomenon as they stay at home for long periods of time during COVID-19.
Some of the symptoms of cabin fever include stress, restlessness, impatience, being easily agitated or highly irritable, lethargy, decreased motivation, persistent sadness, low moods, having a sense of hopelessness, mistrust of people, poor concentration, poor sleep hygiene, food cravings and even weight changes.
Different People, Different Symptoms
“Different people may experience a combination of symptoms, and to a varying extent. This depends on their personality, temperament and current coping abilities,” said Ms Sng.
For instance, extroverts may feel worse at first because they enjoy being with other people.
While extroverts can adapt to being alone with time, Ms Sng added, “As isolation prolongs, both extroverts and introverts may similarly find themselves feeling distressed at the situation.”
Of greater concern are those who already have mental health issues. These people should seek the help they need if they feel their moods deteriorating.
“The increased distress experienced may trigger other mental health disorders like generalised anxiety, paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and some may entertain suicidal thoughts,” said Ms Sng.
While most of us will not develop mental health disorders from cabin fever, it may cause us to feel more anxious, irritable and sad.
“But if you find yourself being worried to a point where it impedes your daily functioning, like poorer appetite, poor sleep patterns, or if you are unable to concentrate or complete your work tasks, it would be advisable to seek help from a mental health practitioner,” said Ms Sng.
How to Cope
To manage cabin fever, it is important to stick to our usual work, sleep and meal times, and talk to friends or family if you feel distressed.
Ms Sng suggests that shifting our mindset to focus on positive thoughts also helps.
“Practising gratitude daily has been found to be effective in building coping skills and strengthening mental resources. Reframing of the situation is highly encouraged – instead of seeing oneself as ‘being stuck’, perhaps we could adopt the mindset of ‘let’s not waste this circuit breaker season’ and use it to recharge, reset and even re-invent ourselves.
We can accept that the circuit breaker is a transient phase, and this too shall pass.”
Tips to combat Cabin Fever
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About the Contributor
Adrienne is the Director of Clinical Services at Boys’ Town. She also sits on the Board of New Life Community Services and is a NCSS Social Service Fellow. As a mental health clinician and a Singapore Registered Psychologist, Adrienne enthusiastically answered the call of duty to volunteer for the National CARE Hotline. She is a consulting supervisor for our various teams of Duty Care Officers who man the Hotline.