Friday, May 14, 2021

Cabin Fever a Pandemic Reality For Many

Two weeks into a planned 28-day province-wide stay at home order aimed at reversing an upward trend in new COVID-19 cases in the province, and to avoid overwhelming our hospital system, many are understandably beginning to feel cabin fever-like effects.

Ordered by the province to stay at home but for the most essential outings like groceries or a stop at the pharmacy, many are working from home, while others are currently out of work due to the pandemic. No matter our circumstances, most of us are spending far more time locked in our homes than we are accustomed to.

On Monday of this week I received a press release from the province noting that it had been exactly one year since the first positive COVID-19 case in Ontario. By March of last year we were embarking on a months-long roller coaster of lock-downs, distancing, and mask measures, and of course now this most recent stay at home order. Throughout these many months the orders and directives have at times been confusing and seemingly conflicting; such is the nature of dealing with a new and rapidly spreading virus.

All of these months of limited contact with others, if not total isolation, are bound to have an impact on our individual and collective mental health. Gatherings with family and friends have been replaced with phone calls or Zoom sessions, weddings and funerals have been limited to tiny, socially distanced gatherings, if they have taken place at all. Over the past year many have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions in isolation, distanced from those we love most, all due to an invisible virus that continues to mutate and wreak havoc across the globe.

Though ordered to stay at home, we are permitted to have some time outdoors, and I have seen many more walking our trails and parks or fishing the inner harbour than I’ve seen in any typical January previously. Frustrated with confinement to home, we seek refuge, not to mention a dose of vitamin D, outdoors, perhaps one of the better cures for the cabin fever which many of us are experiencing.

Over the past two weeks I have chatted with a number of my friends via text or social media messaging, and everyone is handling their isolation time differently. Some have been cleaning up a storm while confined to home, others have taken advantage of the time to catch up on some reading, while others have delved into hobbies to occupy the time. No matter who I have talked to, all have expressed fatigue, frustration, and some, particularly those who live alone, have said that a feeling of loneliness has been building throughout these many months, particularly during this latest stay at home order.

If you, like many others, have been experiencing some cabin fever as a result of this lingering pandemic, it is important to find ways to keep busy in order to maintain sanity. Get outside as much as possible, and if mobility issues keep you inside during these frigid and slippery winter months, there’s never a bad time to start a new hobby, or to play a board game with family. For those who live alone, online games which interact with others are always an option, as is a suggestion a friend of mine made recently. Asked how they were handling the solitude during this time, my friend said she has managed to simulate gathering with friends by watching ‘reaction’ channels on YouTube. Apparently there’s a trend now of YouTube creators watching television shows or movies or even comedy specials and reacting to them for their viewers. My friend suggested that it is like ‘hanging out with virtual friends’. It might sound corny, but I’m told it can lift spirits during these trying times.

Another friend told me that he has dealt with cabin fever with daily bouts with a punching bag in his basement. He noted that it is an outlet for his pent up frustration, and he’s lost a few pounds as an unintended bonus.

However you are managing to cope with the solitude and isolation, however you are dealing with bouts of cabin fever, know that this ordeal won’t last forever. As far as any of us can tell, we are (hopefully) in the final stretch of this pandemic. Vaccines are slowly finding their way into people’s arms, and barring any further mutations or unexpected developments, we should be getting back to something close to normal by summertime.

A final thought: if you have friends or neighbours who live alone, particularly if they are elderly, check in on them from time to time (at a distance of course), ensure that they aren’t in need of food or other supplies, engage them in a conversation even if through their front window. Remind them that they aren’t alone, and that people care. Particularly for the elderly this can be a lonely and scary time, and a bit of kindness and concern from a neighbour can go a long way to alleviating pandemic anxiety.

Be safe everyone.

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