The COVID-19 Pandemic has altered the political, economic and social landscapes of existence in Trinidad and Tobago and across the globe. For the majority of us, social isolation is mandatory and social distancing has redefined intimate communication. Hygienic practices and interactions can mean the difference between death or life, particularly for our most vulnerable-children, pregnant women, senior citizens and individuals with preexisting health conditions. While confined to our living spaces, there emerges in this period another problem that poses a real threat to mental health, that of Cabin Fever.
According to Healthline, Cabin Fever is “a series of emotions or symptoms people experience when they are confined to their homes for extended periods of time” (https://www.healthline.com/health/cabin-fever). While the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not recognize Cabin Fever as a specific diagnosis with clear parameters, historically, the condition has been recorded and known to account for psychological disturbances. Individuals engaged in Artic exploration, Space Travel, on Offshore Facilities and numerous other areas requiring extended periods of confinement, experience a host of emotions including loneliness, food cravings, restlessness, lethargy, trouble concentrating, persistent sadness or depression, lack of patience, hopelessness, decreased motivation, inability to cope with stress, frequent napping and difficulty waking and distrust. While symptom similarities exist between Cabin Fever and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it must be noted that the former is specifically related to isolation.
Our current dilemma is similar. We have been asked to remain confined to our homes as far as is possible with the additional restriction of social distancing. It’s astonishing how, as human beings, we’ve taken for granted the power of human touch, freedom of movement, blindsiding the relational dimension, ignoring the equilibrium these have brought to our existence. Scientists say that “we become unrecognizable in the absence of human touch,” research making significant correlations between human touch and decreases in violence, diseases, engendering trust, stronger immune systems, learning engagement and overall wellbeing, among others. But now, for the most part, we are isolated, deprived of the very thing that differentiates us from animals. It’s the resilience of the human spirit, self-discipline, factual reasoning, some good old common sense and trust in Divine power that will ingeniously see us emerge, as historically we have, in every crisis.
Many persons with unresolved relational and family issues will find difficulty during this period. One may now be confined within the very environment which may have contributed to distress and threats to life. Many exists in very small spaces, without the benefit of natural environments. Many live below the poverty line, without the very basic necessities that engender holistic human development. Many have health conditions which can be further exacerbated by confinement. Many struggle with issues of job security and income loss. For many others, the rat-race of pre-COVID-19 existence decimated the very fabric of their world, cumulatively, our society. We yearned for extra time with loved ones, postponed plans to develop skills and talents, learn to cook, plant a kitchen garden, play an instrument, rest, or even just maintain clean living spaces. So, what then shall we make of this opportunity?
Coping with Cabin Fever requires individual understanding of our spaces. Write it down. What is available to me? Who is in my space? With whom would I have to communicate everyday? For whom do I have responsibility? What financial resources are available to me? How do I plan use of those resources in the short/medium/long term? What is healthy for me? How do I care for my spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical selves? How do we coordinate household activities to ensure that everyone remains healthy during this period? How can I reduce hysteria and panic by controlling information overload? When and what exercise can I do at home? What family activities can we engage in without threatening health/safety? How do I reach out to others and with what frequency?
In this conundrum of pandemic, we are forced headlong, to face the realities of our interactions, to reconcile how this inevitable part of our human existence is to be reinvented without contracting COVID-19, how this occasion gives rise to emerging opportunities for healing. There is now no escape to Bars, Clubs, Sports meets or watercourses, albeit, the power of control remains with us. While Cabin Fever is a reality, it is an opportunity for us to reinvent the individual living in the Cabin – make it our spaces, where we can thrive, be the best at being human, forgive, love, practice kindness and self-control in individual increments.