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Self-care Aware: Keeping busy key to helping combat cabin fever

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There’s only so much Netflix a person can watch and only so many times one can open the refrigerator hoping a new snack has magically appeared before cabin fever takes hold.

The advice across the country, including New Mexico, is that people stay home and practice social distancing to slow down the spread of COVID-19. As a result, people are finding themselves cooped up at home faced with hours of idle time.

The arrival of coronavirus to New Mexico’s borders has led to the temporary shuttering of movie theaters, bars, churches, sporting events, schools and any other place where large crowds gather. In addition, many companies are asking their employees to work remotely.

According to verywellmind.com, symptoms of cabin fever could include restlessness, lethargy, sadness or depression, trouble concentrating, decreased motivation, changes in weight and hopelessness.

Chuck Elliot, a clinical psychologist, and his wife Laura Smith, also a clinical psychologist, provided several tips, via email, on dealing with this time of social isolation and self quarantine. The duo have worked on several books on a wide range of topics including depression, overcoming anxiety, parenting and anger management.

“If you do nothing about the isolation, you’re at high risk of developing increased anxiety and/or depression,” they said. “It’s important to plan your day. Make sure that you keep in touch with friends and family.”

Focus on doing things that would give one a sense of mastery, such as gardening, cleaning the house, and getting to long put off household repairs can stave off cabin fever .

“Reading is another productive activity,” they said. “You can play Scrabble with friends online, puzzles work to distract, and play cards or games online or with your family. Learn a language. There are free apps for that. Do something creative – write a story or a poem. Paint a picture or make a collage. Pay extra attention to your pets.”

Exercising is also crucial and one of the most powerful anti-depressants and a good way to control anxiety, which could spike during this time. Along the same lines, that means not letting children spend hours in front of a screen and making sure they get at least an hour of activity a day.

“Realize that people are amazingly resilient and that your ability to cope is probably greater than you think,” they said. “If you struggle with ruminating about catastrophic outcomes, consider learning meditation if you haven’t already.”

People around Albuquerque seem to be taking on different strategies to cope and keep busy. They are binge watching shows, going outside for exercise, doing yard work, getting to those long put off home projects, organizing virtual hangouts, playing board games and ramping up their presence on social media.

Chanel Wiese, the executive administrator at the Albuquerque Community Foundation, is using this time to get organized at home.

“I took everything out of my closet, deep cleaned shelves and floor, and put it back one-by-one and tried to get rid of everything that was embarrassing,” she said. “I will do all the cabinets and closets by the time this is over.”

Kelley Warnock, who is working from home, said she is using this time to help others.

“I’ve been contacting my friends, family, and neighbors who are at risk (seniors, immunocompromised) and offering to run errands or any help they need,” she said. “I gave a sick and recently widowed neighbor some leftovers, and he was very grateful.”

Israel Ibarra-Dávila, a teacher with Albuquerque Public Schools, lives near the foothills and has been using his free time to go for runs, do some extra work and watch television.

“Finally catching up on ‘Better Call Saul,’ ” he said. “And, as pretty much every teacher out there, still planning for the end of this year and next year.”

Shawn Sidhu, an associate professor in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, said social distancing makes it hard to find support at a time people might need it most and that long hours of isolation are unhealthy.

“Social distancing cannot mean social isolation,” he said. “That comes with a big cost and leads to depression, fear, anxiety. Make sure to connect to as many real life relationships as you can without putting people at risk.”

He said the key is how people choose to respond to the current situation. Staying home, he said, provides an opportunity to connect more deeply with loved ones and oneself.

“Our lives are so hectic that it can feel like we’re just treading water amid our ‘to do’ lists,” he said. “… This might be a good time to really think deeply about where you are in your life. What makes you feel grateful? Are you living a healthy and meaningful life that brings out the best version of yourself? Are you needing to make some changes?”

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