Coming in on the tail end of winter, the COVID-19 pandemic has already had a significant impact on millions of Americans who — like me — are essentially stuck at home.
In some ways, it’s like the depths of winter never ended. We’re snowed in, just without the snow. And just like winter, cabin fever can ensue, creating feelings of irritability and restlessness or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, boredom and listlessness.
Fortunately, there are many easy, affordable and common-sense methods to combat cabin fever. Here are some tactics you can try:
— Get plenty of sunlight. In winter, lack of sunlight is a real problem for many people, especially those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Natural sunlight helps improve most people’s moods. Luckily, with warmer temperatures here and on the horizon, it’s easier to catch some rays. So, draw back the curtains, open a window and let some light in. Step outside for a few minutes, do some yard work, take a short walk or jog around your neighborhood — just practice social distancing. Also, if it’s rainy outside, consider replacing at least one light bulb in each room with a full-spectrum bulb you can have on during daylight hours.
— Put your phone away. I know. It’s the 21st Century and we live online. You may even be reading this article on your phone. But consider limiting your phone time, especially an hour or two before bed. Multiple studies have proved that too much screen time can cause eye strain and cause some people to have trouble falling asleep.
— Use your phone to make actual calls. It may seem like a novel idea in the age of texting, but you can actually use your phone to talk to other human beings. With everyone stuck inside, now is a great time to call relatives and friends and catch up. And you can’t use the excuse that there’s nothing to talk about — there’s a worldwide pandemic going on, for goodness’ sake.
— Put a twist on your favorites. Try applying this to activities you normally enjoy but maybe have done so often that they’re boring. For example, try assembling your favorite jigsaw puzzle faced upside down, or finding alternate rules online to your favorite board games — or invent your own from game pieces and other items around the house. Eat breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast. Try drawing or writing with your opposite hand for 20 minutes.
— Achieve small tasks. Generally, it’s fun to accomplish stuff, even the small stuff. Replacing a light bulb, re-arranging a shelf, even washing a plate or taking out the trash can be a welcome break. Try making a list of easy-to-accomplish tasks and check off each item as you finish it.
— Make happiness a goal. Many people make a task list or set priorities for the day ahead. Make being happy one of the things you aspire to achieve, whether it’s once a day, once an hour or once a minute. Setting happiness as a goal puts your brain in motion, figuring out ways to achieve it.
— Make cooperation a goal. This can be especially important if you’re stuck at home with multiple family members. Again, make this a goal just like you would any daily task. Just remember, this is your goal of being cooperative with others — not making others cooperate with you.
— Eat healthy. Good nutrition is one of the bedrocks of physical and mental health. While toilet paper may be in short supply right now, there are plenty of untouched fruits and vegetables on store shelves just waiting for you. Not your thing? Try starting with your favorite fruit once per day for dessert. Chances are you’ll feel better. As the old saying goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
— Stay active. As little as five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects, according to the Army Performance Triad website. Even if you’re stuck indoors, exercise should be an important part of your day, and there are plenty of resources, including workout plans, videos and apps available online to help. Remember to stretch and warm up beforehand and practice proper form for each exercise you perform.
— Get your Zzz’s. Sleep may be the most vital component to good physical and mental health. Again quoting from the Army Performance Triad site, “You can’t train your brain to do more with less sleep and there are no shortcuts, not even taking in more caffeine.” Most experts recommend between seven and nine hours per night. A 2017 Harvard study showed students with regular sleep schedules — going to bed and waking up at the same time every day — had higher performance levels than irregular sleepers.
— Enjoy your guilty pleasures. Everyone has guilty pleasures that help them get through stressful times, so don’t feel guilty about exploiting yours if you need to. Need to binge-watch reality TV and eat a snack cake or two? Go for it. Need to kill a hoard of zombies on your video-game console while listening to Klingon opera? You be you. Just remember to practice moderation in all things. Also, if you don’t want anyone to know about it — don’t post it to social media.