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Many of the individuals and groups that I’ve worked with, or spoken to, recently have experienced anxiety. 

In part it’s to do with the pandemic, but what often underlies it is the feeling of “cabin fever” at being stuck at home, or co-existing in novel working and living environments.

They’ve shared their struggles with me  about the toll it’s taken on their mental health and the sense of their own wellbeing.

I hear about the layering of stress upon stress as the demands of people around each them who are relying on their time and energy start to crowd out the time they have for themselves.

Each of them share common fears of being isolated from others and the loss of human connection.

Does this feel familiar to you?

We all need to recharge, whether we gain our energy from being around others, or we gain it from our own company.

Here are my five top tips for relieving the stress and anxiety of cabin fever and supporting your mental health.  

Here are five top tips for relieving the stress and anxiety of lockdown cabin fever.  

Tip 1: Set a routine that’s flexible!

One of the things that tends to fall apart when things feel out of control or your anxiety is getting the better of you is your routine.

Routines help us anchor each moment of each day. Making your bed each morning can, for example, give you a sense of achievement and accomplishment, even if you don’t manage to accomplish what you want, despite your best efforts.

Experiment with setting a routine for your day and week and experiment until you find a routine that works. 

For some, strict routines will be best. But in most cases, flexibility will be key. 

To support your mental health and reduce your anxiety, start small and introduce one small new routine into your week, like:

  • singing to yourself after you brush your teeth
  • making your bed every morning
  • going outside first thing to get some sunshine and alone time, if you’re in the company of other people
  • setting a timer to get out of your chair and having a brief wander around every 30 minutes

Adapt that routine as you go along. You can dial up the frequency or change the timing.

Whatever you do, approach it with a flexible mindset and make any changes so small that they’re easy to achieve.

Tip 2. Look after yourself: “self-care is not selfish”!

Create space to take care of yourself. It’s important to carve out time in your day to look after yourself. 

We know how busy our days can get, and if you don’t plan some time for self-care, it’s easy to find a whole day passes. 

Make a list of what you know could help you relax and unwind. It might be doing some stretches at home, practising meditation or mindfulness, taking a bath, going for a run, or doing a set of burpees every time you go to the loo! 

Whatever it is, I recommend scheduling it in your diary and treat it as if it is an important meeting that you can’t postpone or cancel. 

Tip 3. Tune-in to your mood to support your mental health!

Be aware of your mood and embrace it for what it is – whether they’re positive feelings or negative! 

It’s easy for you to feel a rollercoaster of negative feelings or for tempers to fray in confined spaces with other people, whether or not you’re not used to spending prolonged periods of time with. 

It’s also easy for our minds to wander endlessly, our brains ruminating over and over about bad thoughts and causing worry and anxiety. Our emotional reactions are part of being human, so it’s perfectly normal! 

It’s too much effort (and fruitless) to try and change your emotions, but we can help ourselves by choosing how to respond to them. 

Experiment with observing your moods and emotions with self-compassion! 

What does that mean in practice?

Well, imagine a close friend or partner were offering you some comfort to soothe you. Pause when you’re feeling frayed or anxious and try to apply that kind of care to yourself. 

Name what you’re feeling silently or quietly to yourself. By doing so, you engage your left brain and help remove some of the intensity and power of challenging feelings and emotions that arise in your right brain.

Tip 4. Reduce cabin fever anxiety and stay positive by being grateful!

Name what you’re grateful for. In addition to self-compassion, naming what you’re grateful for has been shown to reduce markers of inflammation in the body, and so it benefits not only psychological wellbeing, but physical wellbeing as well. 

At some point during the day (in the morning after you wake up, or in the evening just before bed) jot down two or three things you’re grateful for. 

They don’t have to be major items. 

It could be as simple as enjoying the calming sounds of the birds outside your window.

Tip 5. Be clear and creative about your shared spaces!

A client recently asked me whether it was ok to put together an agreement that sets out how you and those you live with can deal with the challenging aspects of being together within a shared space.

This is a tricky one! There’s no right answer here. It very much depends on the people involved, and what framework works best for you. 

For example, a married couple I know wrote down a “lockdown agreement”. Think of it like a set of pre-nuptials. For some it makes sense; for others it’s abhorrent. 

Find what works for you to maintain peace and calm, and be creative!

  • perhaps it’s identifying times to be in the same room or location, and the occasions when it’s time to find your own space.
  • it could be offering to make a home cooked meal one night a week
  • perhaps it’s turning off electronic devices after 9pm so everyone can start a bedtime wind-down routine 

Over to you!

What one small thing can you introduce this week to start making a change that supports your mental health and relieve your anxiety caused by lockdown cabin fever?

Start with a small step – an almost impossibly small step – so that success is guaranteed. 

If you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ll need to dial back your expectations a lot.

So if I set myself a routine to go outdoors every morning and think about what I’m grateful for, I might dial this back to begin with by planning to go outdoors on Monday and Tuesday mornings only for one week.

Once I’ve succeeded in that, I could add in gratitude the following week, and then add the other days of the week after that.

Happy experimenting!

Be wise, be healthy and be well!

Eric


ps If these brief tips resonate with you, you might like to take a look at a longer article I shared on how to support your mental health if you’re suffering with worry from the effects of COVID-19.