Like many, for the first few weeks of lockdown I was plunged into the intensity and demands of the new business reality we were facing, fully engrossed in all the fresh challenges that this presented – setting up infrastructure for communication and collaboration to continue, building new products and services for a rapidly changing market place, and reorienting the business so that it was adaptable to the volatile and constantly evolving situation. Tight schedules, never ending to-do lists and a relentless sense of urgency were a constant accompaniment throughout this period.
Over the past few weeks though, as things started to settle into a more regular routine and we all began to accept this ‘new normal’, I started to notice a shift in my levels of motivation and engagement on a daily basis. Whereas before I was constantly focused on the enormous task ahead and was thriving on adrenalin and the immediacy of the situation, now my mindset was starting to move into a very different place. Restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and periods of despondency all started to set in, flooding over me in waves of lethargy and discouragement. This, in turn, led to feelings of guilt, compounding the situation further.
Reaching out to a friend who happens to be a psychologist, they highlighted that I was mostly likely suffering from a mild case of cabin fever.
What is Cabin Fever?
Now my interpretation of cabin fever had always been a psychological and physiological agitation from being confined and cooped up in a solitary place for a prolonged period of time, such as being stuck in a mountain lodge during a severe and unceasing seasonal blizzard. It had not occurred to me that the restrictions being placed on our mobility from the government’s efforts to stem the spread of the virus could be having such a detrimental impact upon my mood and my mindset towards work. After all, these restrictions still permitted us the freedom to leave our house twice a day, for shopping and for exercise, and to use our gardens for fresh air. Surely simply being required to work and live within the comfortable confines of our own homes (and forgoing trips to the gym, shops, restaurants and to see friends etc) could not be taking such a negative toll on me?
The truth is, it was. Cabin fever is an affliction that can occur anytime one feels isolated, disconnected from others, or disassociated from the external influences that shape and inform who we are. It is recognisable as a series of negative emotions and feelings of distress and hopelessness, that commonly presents itself when people are cut off from the world and the experiences that are important to them – such as during a pandemic. In addition to those mentioned above, symptoms also include irregular sleep patterns, difficulty waking up, distrust of people around you, a distinct absence of patience and persistent gloom and sadness.
By attaching a label to what I was experiencing, doing some research on the topic and realising that my situation wasn’t uncommon given the circumstances, I was able to start working on practical steps to overcome the malaise that had set in and to identify strategies that would help lift me out of my funk. The below is a description of some of the efforts I employed to shake my cabin fever, rebalance my mind and rediscover my motivation.
6 Steps To Success
- Establish a routine – whilst bleary-eyed early starts, the drudgery of the daily commute and vivifying evening activities might be a thing of the past for the time being, it is still crucial to establish and maintain a constant shape to your day. The loss of a regular routine can have huge implications on diet, sleep, general productivity, health and wellbeing. In order to determine a sense of structure and to provide clear barometers of progress, try to create a sustainable schedule that factors in work, home, hobbies, exercise, entertainment, social life and rest. And then stick to it. Creating a sharp outline for the day will provide you with direction, balance and a measure of achievement; all of which will get you out of bed in the morning and send you soundly to sleep every night.
- Set your intentions for the day – closely linked to putting a daily routine in place, writing your intentions for the day ahead either first thing in the morning or the night before is an integral part of living a meaningful and purpose driven life. Mapping out what you want to achieve with the hours ahead of you, in every aspect of your life, provides defined targets to aim for and holds you accountable for fulfilling these commitments. It will also provide insight into your productivity and will illustrate your progress towards professional and personal goals.
- Exercise – the benefits of engaging in daily exercise upon mood and mental health are well documented and do not bare repeating here, other than to say physical activity both lowers stress hormones like cortisol and releases endorphins and neurochemicals such as serotonin. There are plenty of online programmes, recorded routines and dedicated fitness apps that are user friendly and geared to all audiences. What is important is to find something you love doing and that brings a sense of satisfaction and flow whilst engaged in the task. From Pilates to push-ups, the more you enjoy it, the less it will feel like hard work.
- Explore Creative outlets – now is the time to break out the paint brushes and canvases, take up creative writing, pick up that guitar or dig out that recipe you’ve always wanted to make. The lockdown is providing an opportune moment for you to explore latent passions or seek out new past-times that you may not have had the time or inclination to pursue previously. Ruthlessly carve out a window of time in your day to express yourself creatively and relish in engaging other parts of the brain that often don’t get a look in. By keeping the mind busy and plugged into something of interest you can fend off boredom and calm restlessness. It’s time to dance like no one is watching – because they’re not.
- Socialise – out of sight does not mean out of mind. The lockdown has ushered in the video conference era and there is no reason the same tools being utilised for effective remote working cannot be used outside the office too. Cordial relationships with your colleagues can be continued via online quizzes, remote karaoke and Friday drinks. Communicating with those in a similar boat will also highlight that you’re not alone and what you’re experiencing is not unique to you. Virtual meet-ups with friends and family should not be forgotten either, and fostering deeper ties with a close-knit support network at this time is crucial. Periodic check-ins with coaches, mentors and mentees have a significant role to play here, as does creating a weekly 30-minute call (15 minutes each) with a trusted confidant to share any concerns, fears or frustrations you both might be harbouring of late. This also helps with creative problem solving. Two heads are always better than one.
- Make time for yourself – finally, be sure to give yourself a break. In the same way that not every minute of your time in the office is filled with output-qualifying work, be realistic with your time in the home office. Take regular breaks to reinvigorate body and mind, and look for creative ways to relax during the working day. Be disciplined with separating work and home life, and close the laptop and turn off mobile email alerts at a reasonable hour to prevent stress seeping into your down time. Making mindfulness activities like meditation, deep breathing, relaxation techniques and peaceful strolls outside a habitual part of your day is great for reinforcing emotional health and promoting psychological balance, whilst gifting yourself 30 minutes a day to indulge in some self-care like soaking in a hot bath or nestling away to read a novel can have a profound impact on your productivity and output when your attention does return to work. Lastly, early nights and a good night’s sleep speak for themselves. As Dale Carnegie himself said ‘Rest before you get tired’.
With this new business reality here to stay, and no clear end in sight for remote working or a return to the traditional office set up, it is imperative that we take control over our psychological wellbeing and protect our mental health now. Whilst the threat of cabin fever may abate, virtual working will always pose some threat of feeling isolated and disconnected from others. That’s why it is so important for us to have effective and proven strategies, and a self-care programme that works for us. This way, we can continue to stay engaged and motivated and our businesses continue to get the best from us.
Pete Burbidge is the Marketing Manager for Dale Carnegie London. As well as being responsible for co-ordinating all their marketing activities, he is also a digital producer for online events and a team leader on the Dale Carnegie Course.
Some of the resources he has found useful during lockdown are:
Secrets of Success
Dale Carnegie Podcasts
Tips and Techniques to Overcome Stress and Worry