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Ten Recommendations to Beat ‘Cabin Fever’

Prof. Dr. Stephan Mühlig, chair of the Professorship of Clinical Psychology at Chemnitz University of Technology, as well as head of the Chemnitz Smoking Clinic and Psychotherapeutic Clinic (PHA-TUC GmbH) at the university, gives tips on how to deal with a quarantine or a curfew

“We are all currently in the midst of an unprecedented, and for most, completely unfamiliar, exceptional situation,” says Prof. Dr. Stephan Mühlig, chair of the Professorship of Clinical Psychology at Chemnitz University of Technology, as well as head of the Chemnitz Smoking Clinic and the University Psychotherapeutic Clinic (PHA-TUC GmbH). Many people are currently not only concerned with the health risks and economic effects of the Corona crisis, but are also wondering, with increasing uncertainty, how they will be able to psychologically survive weeks, or even months, in isolation at home. How can you contribute to maintaining your own mental, social and physical health, and protect yourself from ‘cabin fever’? Prof. Mühlig gives us ten recommendations:

1. Maintain a daily rhythm

Maintain a regular daily rhythm, with fixed times for getting up, working and sleeping, even during times of telecommutin or homeschooling. This creates a regular daily structure and promotes emotional stability. Make sure that children maintain an adequate daily structure as well, even if they do not need to be woken up according to their school schedule. Those going to school should be encouraged to structure their school tasks and tackle them in meaningful “portions”. Otherwise, many might feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of homework that is assigned in batches, a week at a time. Without this structure, children may react with fear, stress and resistance. Especially for single parents who are coping with this situation, a burden exists when balancing work in their home office with childcare in their own household. When in doubt, caring for children certainly takes precedence over work. In order to achieve an appropriate balance, home office work should be done every day according to a schedule (for example, postponed at times until the evening) so that they do not conflict with childcare. Employers and bosses are required to show understanding under these exceptional conditions and make concessions according to realistic expectations.

2. Try to get some fresh air

If possible and if permitted, take a walk outside, either alone or with family members. Exercise and fresh air benefit both physical and mental health, and it also stimulates the immune system. If the lungs are ventilated by moderate exertion, they are better supplied with blood, which in turn supports your body’s defense against infections (as well as Covid-19). Even a temporary change of location prevents monotony from setting in and gives a greater feeling of well-being. Children in particular need time and the opportunity to romp around in the fresh air, but for the time being, this cannot happen with children from outside the family. This must be thoroughly explained to them and enforced, no matter how much resistance.

3. Develop an indoor training plan for physical activity at home

Exercising in your own home will keep you healthy and improve your quality of life. Put together an indoor exercise plan and get moving for at least 15-30 minutes a day, in a room that is well-ventilated, if possible. Simple and helpful forms of exercise include jumping rope (with or without rope), squats, pushups, sit-ups (or trunk bends), as well as yoga, tai chi or other similar routines. You will find numerous, scientifically tested programmes on the internet according to age and training level. Regular and moderate physical activity (up to a light sweat) stabilises the cardiovascular system and the immune system, and it also improves psychological well-being and relieves tension and stress.

4. Avoid cigarettes and alcohol to strengthen the immune system

Anyone who smokes should quit as soon as possible. A previously damaged or an acutely irritated lung is likely to be associated with an increased risk of developing a serious course of diseas, in case of  becoming infected and ill with COVID-19 (corona). Alcohol consumption is also not helpful – alcohol only kills viruses in a test tube. In the bloodstream, on the other hand, alcohol does not protect against a viral infection and it disrupts the immune system. This also applies to other drugs.

5. Maintain social contact via telephone and internet

It is extremely difficult for many to suspend social contact for an extended period of time and avoid going out to meet people. We are social beings and we crave contact with other people. In the current situation, physical contact and physical proximity outside of our household should be avoided with the greatest possible consequence. This can be very difficult, especially for those who are living alone, and this is something that we have to deal with for a limited time. So as to keep your emotions balanced, it is important to make ourselves clear that this current state of emergency is manageable. Fortunately, in 2020 we are able to rely on social media. In contrast to previous generations, almost all people in Germany, as well as worldwide, are connected to each other via the internet. We can write or chat in real time or make phone calls and video chats almost as if we were in face to each other. You should take full advantage of these opportunities and keep in touch with as many relatives, friends and acquaintances as possible via social media. In a difficult situation, exchanging your experiences can help support one another. You should also remember to reach out proactively to people who are living alone and help alleviate their loneliness.

6. Find meaningful and varied tasks to do

Even when isolated at home, one can take on meaningful tasks that they have always wanted to accomplish – for example, tidying up, deep cleaning or redesigning the apartment, cleaning up the hard drive, archiving photos, taking on new forms of family entertainment or re-reading a book. Television, computer games and streaming services serve as a distraction and are certainly there for you. If isolation should last for several weeks, passive entertainment or video games will prove to be too one-sided. For emotional stability, it is important to look for tasks that keep you productive. It should be kept in mind that streaming shows for hours on end can overload internet bandwidth capabilities and impair other forms of internet use such as telecommuting and social activity, which are a much higher priority.

7. Find a balance between being together and “alone time”

When living together under one roof for an extended period of time, it is often the case that other people can get on your nerves, you can become quite annoyed about petty conflicts, and disputes can quickly arise. It is important to find a good balance between spending time together and taking some “alone time” in your own space. This primarily means respecting both your own and others’ privacy. Every member of the household must have space in which to retreat and recharge.

8. Agree on rules for living together under one roof

Some people are well aware of this from their time in a shared flat – considering the needs of others also means finding common ground and establishing rules when it comes to living together. If everyone is more considerate of each other, there will be less reason to argue. If you cannot stay out of each other’s way, you should settle conflicts quickly or avoid them altogether. In order to keep things comfortable, it is important to do some things regularly with all members of the household, like rituals such as eating meals together or common leisure activities such as board games, crafting or puzzles. You can take time for yourself, rather than for distractions and media, and pay attention to your own mind, with relaxation, mediation or listening to music.

9. Pay attention to reliable sources of information

It is important to not lose your mind. On one hand, everyone should recognise the severity of the situation and act accordingly. On the other hand, despite all this, there is no reason to panic. We live in a very well-off country with a lot of resources, and we will ultimately endure this crisis. A factual and sensible assessment of the situation will contribute to keeping up your confidence and avoiding the urge to worry too much. Constructive coping includes staying adequately informed. Stay up to date on a daily basis but pay attention to the seriousness of your information sources. In particular, you can access information from both federal and state governments, as well as the Robert Koch Institute. Unfortunately, there is already a lot of false information and conspiracy theories circulating on the internet, and unscrupulous people can use this to both personal and monetary advantage. This fake news leads to poor assessments and incorrect actions. This is dangerous, because failure to follow safety recommendations is a danger to us all. Children should be given an age-appropriate explanation of the situation that does not overwhelm or frighten them. The message should be: Everything will be fine, we can do it!

10. If overwhelmed, seek help

Anyone who feels that they are overwhelmed by the situation, despite all of this, or anyone who feels that they are suffering from anxiety, restlessness, intense tension, overactivity, irritability, aggressive outbursts or depressive moods should contact professional help right away (for example advice from health insurance companies, telephone care lines or psychotherapeutic advice centres) via either e-mail or telephone.

(Article: Mario Steinebach / Translation: Jeffrey Karnitz)

Matthias Fejes
24.03.2020

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