These days there’s enough fear and uncertainty to go around for everyone. Most folks are simply doing their best to hang tough and help keep themselves and others safe the best way they can. Many of us now find ourselves on lockdown, mandated to stay home. Some are lucky to have exceptions, and easy access to the outdoors, but some aren’t. There are a lot of folks out there who are getting a first-hand dose of real cabin fever. Even here in Alaska, we are on stay-at-home orders—and at the tail end of the coldest winter in 44 years. The lockdown comes at the time of year where suicide rates already peak in Alaska. I have no doubt that the situation looks bleak for many people throughout the country, with the psychological pressures of confinement being as real a threat as the virus for many. The good news is that we are resilient, and that we can find ways to cope, and even find some positives.
The long winters of interior Alaska force those of us who live here to come up with ways to fight the cabin fever. The honest truth is that many of us have already chosen social distancing as a lifestyle. So here are some thoughts from a guy who is happy to spend a whole weekend tinkering in his garage.
Find a Project
The most helpful thing that anyone can probably do to fight the boredom is to find things to keep your mind and skills occupied. This is cabin fever 101, and pretty redundant rhetoric, but it really does help. The obvious things that come to mind are board games and card games, Netflix, and social media, but most of these time-killers aren’t really healthy or helpful in occupying your mind.
You need to work on something productive, even if it’s just a small project. This is straightforward for some of us: remodeling work, cars or equipment to tinker with, a backlog of ammunition to handload, or easy access to a fishing lake. Some folks will have to get more creative, but the key is to look for some sort of meaningful work to do, regardless of how silly it may seem, taking into account the resources and access to supplies that you have. I’ve used some down time to build a muzzleloader kit, and I am very much looking forward to hunting with it. The project pulled double duty. It gave me something to work on, but the whole time I was tinkering with it, I was looking forward to the fall hunting season, which gave me a little mental reprieve.
Get Some Exercise
You need to have some physical activity every day. That doesn’t mean you should become some home workout pro, but even if you just get out and walk a mile or do some bodyweight exercises to get the blood pumping, it will help you feel better. If you’re having to stay home, you’ll likely be less active than normal anyway, so just getting a little bit of reasonable exercise can make a big difference in your mental health. If you’re in an urban area and can’t get out and do fun outdoor stuff, you might as well exercise a little more and see what progress you can make. It’s probably not going to look like any number of movie plots where the protagonist is wrongly imprisoned and uses his solitary confinement to chisel out his figure, but hey, you never know, and pushups are free.
Set a Schedule and Stick to it
Finally, one useful tool for combatting cabin fever is a schedule. In all this craziness, it’s very difficult not to be overwhelmed by the many things we have zero control over. We have to let go of what we cannot control and focus our efforts on things that we can control. If you’re stuck at home, it will help to schedule your projects, entertainment, and exercise. If you don’t have any sort of schedule, it’s very easy to slip into a monotonous nightmare, finding that you’ve just sat in front of the TV for 12 hours, every day, for the last week. This sounds absurd, but when time doesn’t matter because you’ve got nothing to do, you’re not going to be productive, and if you’re not productive, you’re not going to be healthy, mentally or physically. This crisis will end, and you can get through it. Who knows, after this is all over, you may look back and be thankful for the time you had to spend with your kids and work on projects. But, that all depends on what you do with your time now. Stay safe out there.