A Therapist’s Treatment Plan For Combatting Cabin Fever During Coronavirus

Supervisor and LMFT, Kirby Maus, knows firsthand what it’s like to experience long-term isolation and confinement. For the past 10 years, he’s been at home 20 to 24 hours a day, proudly serving as his mother’s full-time registered caregiver. As most of us have been sheltering-in-place for months now,  we thought who better to offer wisdom on how to cope with cabin fever than Kirby? Read on for Kirby’s tips on how to make the most of staying put, including his innovative calendar system. 

What do you think one of the first steps to dealing with cabin fever is? 

First, it helps to acknowledge that “cabin fever,” which results from long-term confinement and isolation, is real. It’s real and it’s debilitating and as long as we are in a state of confinement,  cabin fever will never go away. It is, however, manageable with actionable and doable steps. 

How do you “diagnose” cabin fever? What are some of the signs? 

Some of the major symptoms I’ve seen triggered by cabin fever are boredom, complacency, depression, hunger, irritability, lethargy, loneliness, feelings of regret, and being stuck or trapped. 

For the record, when it comes to hunger, we are not usually hungry, we are just acting-in by overeating. This particular side effect has its own issues because it can often trigger people into a shame spiral.

Why does just “being inside” cause all this? 

Cabin fever triggers people into the freeze response, which can result in passive behavior and feelings of depression. Therefore, we have to learn how to assert ourselves into more functional and healthy behavior.

The goal is to keep moving, to be productive (not perfect), to build our self-esteem, to feel balanced, centered, and stable.

What are effective ways you have found to stay productive? 

I’ve developed what I like to call “The Treatment Plan.” A big part of the plan is to schedule two different calendars, a macro and a micro. The macro calendar, which is typically seasonal, gives people the big picture, with things to look forward to, while the micro calendar, which is daily,  holds people accountable to be present and show up. I also highly recommend these are paper/ desk calendars rather than apps on a phone, so you have the visual reminder to help stay on track. 

Can you share what a day in your daily calendar looks like? 

For my daily calendar, I first chunk up the day: there are 24 hours in a day, 8 hours go toward sleep, leaving 16 hours to live life (or stave off cabin fever like the plague!) Every 4 hours I  schedule a chore, goal, or task.

The result is having 4 different things to look forward to, or be accountable to show up for, every single day (except maybe Sunday Funday).

Here is an example of how I maintain healthy mental hygiene in a day: 

***Drink a water bottle first thing in the morning

1 – Take a cold shower (Have you read the positive side effects of a cold shower?)

2 – Stretch/Pray/Meditate/Journal/Read 

3 – Walk around the neighborhood in the morning (Research shows that our arms and legs swinging back and forth while we walk triggers new creative ideas that are only our own).

4 – Work from home (while listening to music or Mother Nature)

5 – Home improvement (clean out the drawers, closets, cupboards, garage, refrigerator… or garden, or paint)

6 – Learn something new (foreign language, musical instrument, new cooking recipe)

7 – Relationship, or Children, or Friends, or Colleagues

8 – Take a hot bubble bath (light a candle)

***Drink a water bottle last thing at night

There is no correct or incorrect way to schedule yourself though. The most important thing is to  just do the best that you can and have fun with it.

If you are married with children, get your spouse and children involved, delegate, and cross-train. 

Thank you so much for sharing your personal practice! Any closing thoughts? 

The overall goal is really to keep moving, create healthy habits based on short, medium, and long-term chores, goals, and tasks. This creates momentum and has the snowball effect of continued productive and positive reinforcement – the ultimate antidote to cabin fever.

How are you staying mentally healthy and well during Coronavirus? Have any tips? Let us know! Email emily@wearemotivo.com to share your ideas.

Emily Donahue

Emily Donahue

Emily Donahue holds a Master's in Mental Health Counseling from Northwestern University. She works as a limited permit therapist at a private practice in Brooklyn, earning her clinical and supervision hours for full licensure. She has a special interest in women and alcohol use and her dream is to meet Irvin Yalom one day.

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