Karl Jaspers, the German psychiatrist and philosopher, once wrote that “humans become aware of themselves in boundary situations”.
Given the present pandemic, the spatial and temporal restrictions placed on us will have an enormous effect on our psyche. Being restricted in the freedom of movement, plus having the perception that our limited time on earth is just ticking away, will have a massive psychological impact.
To contain the spread of the coronavirus, many countries have shut workplaces, schools and places of entertainment, confining millions to their home. This has affected many people, giving rise to the “cabin fever syndrome“. When stuck indoors, some people become what has been called “stir crazy”.
The “cabin fever syndrome” can be described as a claustrophobic irritability or restlessness which we may experience when stuck in a confined indoor space for long periods of time. Of course, the informal name of cabin fever may have originated in the olden days in North America when settlers would be confined to their log cabins during the long winters.
Although it is not an official syndrome – it is not listed among the list of psychiatric disorders – the social distancing and isolation designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus can pose a serious threat to our general state of well-being.
After all, taking an evolutionary point of view, we can list as one of Homo sapiens’ major existential needs: the need to belong. All of us are foremost social animals. From palaeolithic times onwards, we require regular contact and cooperation with other individuals for the purpose of survival.
If that’s not the case, isolation will negatively affect our mind and body, as many astronauts and polar station explorers can testify. For example, numerous studies have shown that polar research crews, due to the extreme conditions they work under, can suffer from reductions in their immune system. Social isolation contributes to a sense of loneliness, a fear of others, concerns that can have a negative impact on our self-esteem, creating problems in living.
Of course, personality factors, cultural factors and economic conditions will affect how social isolation will be managed. In particular, how restrictions in movement will be experienced varies depending very much on our personality.
Certain types of people will find self-isolating more difficult than others. As is to be expected, extroverts will have a more difficult time adjusting to social isolation. They may not be used to being at home. In contrast, introverts may have a much easier time.
Typically, the “cabin fever syndrome” symptoms (showing similarities to Seasonal Affective Disorder and claustrophobia) involve a range of distress signals such as restlessness, irritability, impatience, feelings of lethargy, difficulties concentrating, low motivation, food cravings (gaining weight) and sleep disorders (difficulties to fall asleep or sleeping too much) (Read also: “Essential Oils To Help Reduce Stress And Improve Your Immunity“).
In particular, the corresponding sense of helplessness and hopelessness correlates with a high risk for depression and other mental health conditions, possibly even suicide. In some instances, being subjected to forced isolation – exacerbated by anger and confusion – can also contribute to greater alcohol/ drug consumption and domestic violence.
Furthermore, financial concerns about our ability to make a living in the future, combined with the deadly nature of the coronavirus – a pandemic of which there seems yet to be no end in sight – creates a very volatile, deadly mix. Naturally, all these factors will greatly affect our state of well-being.
You’re certainly not alone if you’re beginning to feel the pressure of being cooped up at home. We totally understand, so we’ve come up with a stay-home guide because #HerWorldWithYou.
If you think the present situation is affecting your general state of well-being – feeling that the “cabin fever syndrome” is setting in – the obvious question is, what can you do to cope? How can you deal with the mental anguish that you may be experiencing?
Here are some suggestions of how you can cope better and thrive in this situation: