Viral Musings: Dealing with ‘Cabin Fever’ in the Days of COVID-19

April 8, 2020
Photo courtesy of Julie L. Kessler

Pretty much nothing really prepared us for the current statewide “Shelter-in-place” orders issued by Gov. Newsom in light the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention the complete shutdown of employment for those not deemed “essential “as outlined in the order.

Most of my work involves flying internationally – averaging 100,000 miles annually – with some domestic travel thrown in for good measure when the need arises and when I can’t bear the idea of back-to-back long-haul flights. With COVID-19 all of that and more abruptly changed.

Every project of mine was summarily halted and international flights have drastically diminished. It remains to be seen how the travel industry does or does not bounce back after COVID-19 finally becomes a distant memory. In the meantime, we need to deal with the present lockdown.

As empty-nesters, my now working-at-home husband and I at least don’t have to also learn how to homeschool our brood of four while trying to keep our sanity and our respective workloads afloat. For those of you that do have young kids at home, I wish you the patience of Job and a steady supply of good wine.

Here is a short list that may help in keeping cabin fever at bay while we endure these unusual times:

Keep a schedule

The answer to chaos is routine. So now perhaps more than ever, it is absolutely key to maintain a schedule. That includes wake-up times, bedtimes and mealtimes.

While it is enticing to stay in pajamas all day, don’t. There is no such thing as day pajamas and this is isn’t a long-term slumber party.

Get dressed and put on some lipstick. To the men out there, those sweatpants from Harvard with more holes than Swiss cheese are not actual clothes. Additionally, face shaving is important, not just because you look better but also if you need to venture out and don a face mask, experts report they are only effective on shaved faces.

Engage your inner Marie Kondo

This is perhaps the ultimate time to take Marie Kondo’s advice to heart. Kondo, the Japanese organizational Goddess, also known as Konmari, has sold millions of books in an effort to help the rest of us mere mortals declutter our lives.

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Commit to tidying up. Check.
  • Imagine your ideal lifestyle – which for me does not include a pandemic inducing lockdown.
  • Finish discarding first. Check.
  • Tidy up by category, not location – I found this the most difficult as I categorically don’t care about categories.
  • Follow the right order – this I disagree with; for me the right order is whatever works to get the unwanted, unneeded item out, period.
  • When determining if something should stay or go, ask if it sparks joy. This too I found difficult because having seven Phillips screwdrivers in various locations around the house might not spark joy say, on a daily basis, but when needed and I find one nearby it downright fills me with rapture!

Something else to keep in mind as you declutter since most charitable organizations that accept donations are closed, you will need to make some space in the corner of your garage or house. This may naturally set off another round of Kondo-ing.

Complete old projects or start new ones

Being cooped up is also the perfect time to organize photo albums or digital libraries. It’s also a good time to consider writing memoirs or old-fashioned letters to loved ones. I recently advised a frazzled mom to have her teenage kids write letters to their 40-year-old selves, then save them for later. That activity was a big hit.

Gardening is another good option which of course offers the added benefit of being outside. Or if apartment living, then spruce up your balcony, patio or windowsill.

Get some exercise 

Exercise is important always, but now perhaps more than ever. Even though gyms are closed, there is plenty you can still do.

If working from a stand-up desk, you can do deep-knee bends, pliés and side stretches. You’ll want to make sure your computer’s camera is blocked with a post-it in case a web conference call comes through and you unthinkingly click. From a regular desk, you can engage in the same kinds of seated exercises like those undertaken on long-haul flights, such as upper body twists, exaggerated neck rolls and calf stretches.

When you’re done working, many gyms and dance studios have started offering live stream classes that use the free Zoom video conferencing app. While not as motivating as being in a room full of kick boxers or ballet dancers, it is absolutely better than sitting around simultaneously eating extra crunchy Cheetos and peanut M&Ms. Trust me as I have vigorously done both.

The easiest of course is to simply take a walk or go for a run while of course maintaining requisite social distancing. Long walks naturally kill two birds with one stone if Fido or Fluffy are joiners.

Cook or bake something new

We all have to eat, so sheltering-in-place provides the opportunity to try new recipes that can often be accomplished with readily available pantry and freezer items.

If you are sheltering with others, this can be a way to try a new activity together. Spouses or roommates that possess consistent pyrotechnic kitchen skills – and you know you are – should be strongly advised to undertake dishwashing or clean-up duties.

This is also a good time to try your hand at baking Granny’s famous chocolate cake or making something delicious like scones requiring only a few ingredients.

Play board games, pick up a new hobby or take an online class

Old fashioned board games are good for an hour or two of entertainment in my house, but that may be because my husband has a tendency to play fast and loose with the rules. I’m a big fan of Scrabble, though yawn at most other board games that my husband can play for hours.

If you happen to have a guitar lying about and want to learn how to play it, Fender is offering three months of free online guitar classes for the first 100,000 subscribers.

If strings don’t float your boat, you can sign up for Yale University’s popular “Science of well-being” class available on Coursera. It is free to audit the class and $49 if want to take the exams and earn a completion certificate.

Do something for others

One neighbor started grocery shopping for elderly neighbors. This became especially important once the run commenced on everything from toilet paper to rice. Since I can only barely tolerate grocery stores in the non-pandemic era, this wasn’t going to be an option for me.

Instead I put an ad up on Nextdoor.com offering to walk or run with neighborhood dogs at no charge. This has been truly a win-win. I get more exercise and am able to help some lovely neighbors who really needed a hand.

Don’t forget down time

Even though you are sheltering-in-place and not dealing with rush hour traffic or a crowded commuter train, these are very stressful times. So finding ways to relax becomes very important.

Binge watching on Netflix is a good relaxation technique though you may wish to skip Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion.” Better yet, reading a good old-fashioned book may provide an even greater escape.

Newport Beach’s Marjorie L. Rand, PhD, LFMT, suggests that this is a “perfect time to learn meditation” and there are apps for newbies such as Calm and Headspace.

In addition to engaging in something creative, like drawing, painting, singing or dancing, Dr. Rand also suggests keeping two journals, one to record how you think and feel during these unprecedented times and another for your dreams. These activities she believes “will yield information from your current experiences and unconscious fears from your dreams” that may allow you to ultimately integrate them.

One day at a time

While none of this will be easy or fun and life as we know it will certainly not be normal for quite some time, we must remain optimistic and hopeful.

Dr. Rand also recommends “staying present” as [g]oing into the future will make you anxious and thinking about the past will make you depressed.”

Dr. Angelo Pan, an infectious disease specialist at northern Italy’s hard-hit Cremona Hospital in Lombardy says, “If you are not involved in the hospital war that is healthcare now, stay home and think about life.”

It is probably also a good idea to keep in mind that like everything else in life, both the good and the bad, this too shall one day pass.

Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney and legal columnist based in Los Angeles and the author of the award-winning travel memoir “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com

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