Going Nuts: Ways to combat COVID-19 Cabin Fever without losing your mind

going nuts

I think most people have some cabin fever right now, with many places continuing to have a shelter in place requirement.  As a physician, I understand the reasoning behind requirements, and make sure my family is doing all we can to continue to flatten the curve to help make sure my hospital system and other systems around me have all the ventilators, ICU space and PPE they need to take care of critically sick people.  I also appreciate that I am lucky to have a place to live, work to do, and still see people I care about at home. There are so many who have lost their jobs, their health insurance, and family members.  Having a sense of gratitude that feeling bored by social distancing requirements is in some ways, lucky, is important. This doesn’t mean, however, that I wouldn’t love to take advantage of some of the beauty and culture that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.  In my work as a psychiatrist, I hear a lot of variations on these feelings:

  • “I’m so sick of being cooped up in my apartment.”
  • “I feel stressed by the news and am trying to avoid it.”
  • “I miss other people.” (Or alternately, “I’m going to end up divorced if I spend 10 more minutes with my partner.”)
  • “I feel stagnant” or “oh-please-no-more-Netflix-or-I-will-lose-my-mind.”
  • “I wish things could go back to normal right now.”

Fortunately, there are a lot of things to help with these feelings! Let’s take each situation and offer some options to help combat those feelings, while acknowledging that many people are also feeling the same way.

Help for being sick of being cooped up:

  • Consider virtual travel: If I want to tour a different place in the world, I’m either taking a ride in a foreign country on the Peloton (Switzerland is on my bucket list to visit now) or watching Rick Steves tour places I would like to visit. It’s not just escapist, but gives me some ideas for later! I’m making lists of places to travel in Evernote, dreaming of times when we aren’t having to worry about our collective responsibility for COVID-19 and comply with social distancing.  Also, there are tons of places offering virtual tours right now.  Consider taking some of the tours on the Digital Giza Site  or multiple museums offering free tours (see this article from Travel and Leisure). Consider it a virtual scouting trip for places you might opt to visit, not because you’re stuck at home! Even my beloved Portland Japanese Garden is offering virtual tours.
  • There are lots of amazing travel writers, both in media (consider the New York Times’ “52 Places to Go” series) and books. I’m a long-time fan of Jon Krakauer and Paul Theroux.

Help for feeling trapped by bad news:

I give you permission to not keep absolutely up to date with the news. Consider a media diet. Decide what amount of news you need to keep up with to be safe and feel like a good citizen, and schedule that for your day. Then disconnect. If you need more help disconnecting (because the lure of social media is real), consider reading this article .

There is good news online. Check out the goodnewsnetwork.com!

I miss other people

Consider a specific app to keep in touch with people. I have a regular Houseparty date with my best friend, and send videos to friends with Marco Polo. Consider taking your communication off social media if social media has an adverse effect on your mental health. For an example, it is a friend’s birthday today. I sent a birthday card, and sent a text as well. I’ve been keeping up with some older adults via written letters. The written letters I’ve received are much more memorable and tangible than any email I receive, which are generally forgotten as soon as I’ve read them. Consider taking a walk in your neighborhood! Say hello to your neighbors- nothing prevents us from making eye contact and greeting people who live around us! I have noticed some people chatting from their porches, providing a wonderful sense of neighborhood cohesiveness that I don’t think was there before.

I feel stagnant, or I’m bored!

Mix it up a little. Instead of Netflix all the time, consider listening to a podcast as part of your routine. For pure escapism, I like the History of Rome podcast, and In Our Time from the BBC. To learn about current events and culture, I like the Monocle Magazine series of podcasts, which I think are uniformly good quality and cover everything from magazines, culture, business, foreign affairs to current news with an international viewpoint. I like Tim Ferris’s podcast for listening to a great interviewer work with great thinkers, and the Asian Efficiency podcast to help me get things done more efficiently in a relatable way. If you have a library card, or even if you don’t, as some libraries are waiving this requirement, you can borrow electronic books. I’ve made it most of the way through an entire Nordic crime series during this time of social distancing. If you decide to order a book to be delivered, consider ordering from your local bookstore instead of the Amazon behemoth! My local bookstore was offering free delivery, so I had the new Marie Kondo book “Joy at Work” delivered to my house, even though an electronic copy would have been faster. Also, I’m taking an online class for free, just for the joy of learning, on the history of the Giza Plateau. There’s no other reason for this, other than to learn something new! I found the course on this website, and have been impressed.

I’ve also added some self-care to my routines that I think helps with feeling stagnant. A regular meditation habit is made easier by all the great free content online (just google “free meditation” and be amazed by all you find!). I’m working on adding some better exercise habits into my schedule now (see the Peloton riding, above).

I just want things to go back to normal.

I’m working on the premise that a time of restriction now may turn into a fuller life later- one with improved health and habits! I know this is the optimistic view, but I think it’s also accurate to a degree. When this is over, I’ll have a list of places I want to visit, some new hobbies and knowledge, and hopefully be working on healthy habits like meditation and exercise. Lastly, I comfort myself with the (true) thought that this, too, shall pass. Even though this experience has been painful for people across the world, we’re all surviving this together, and with the knowledge that this period of restriction will pass. And hopefully, we’ll keep working together.

Resolution #1: Lose weight!

weight-loss

In the first blog of this series, we talked about writing better resolutions, which are specific, measurable, timed, and have a “why.” In the second blog of the series, we talked about ways to be more accountable in your goals, and general goal tracking apps. The remaining blogs of the series will review apps for specific goals.

I think the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. Not surprisingly, the iTunes store is flooded with calorie trackers! I’d like to narrow it down.

  1. Fitbit (www.fitbit.com): free app. If you have a fitbit, this is a no-brainer. The app has evolved a lot since I bought my Fitbit One a few years ago, with it’s oh-so-stylish belt clip. It tracks activity, sleep, food, hydration…Most people who use this app seem to love it since the upgrades, but there were a few complaints about being buggy. I used it when I had a fitbit and was very pleased with it. I also used the desktop version with no problems.
  2. Weight Watchers (www.weightwatchers.com): app free, requires subscription. This is probably the program I recommend the most often as a physician since it has good science behind it, as well as the meeting accountability. However, I’ve used just the online version ($3.84 per week) and felt that it was no different than any other tracker- it’s the meeting that makes the difference. Since I used this last, they have a one on one coaching program, that’s around $10 per week with the app that I probably would do instead. I have to be up front- I found the points confusing, and felt irritated with “I have four points left- what can I eat with four points” because I’m so used to eating in terms of calories and the points system was not intuitive for me. There is an apple watch version.
  3. Lose it! (www.loseit.com): app free, $4.99 for premium that adds more content, meal planning and better integration for health problems like diabetes. This is the classic app, the one that you read articles about “I lost 10 lbs using an app.” They’ve kept improving it since then, with great tools to help you lose weight. However, the integration with other apps isn’t as good as some other apps (for instance, I use FitStar for my workouts, and it doesn’t integrate with this app, so I would have to manually input my workout into Lose it!). On the other hand, adding meals is a pleasure, and it suggests calorie targets for each meal. As you input meals, it adjusts the targets- for instance, if you exceed your target for lunch, it reduces lunch and dinner accordingly. Brilliant. It has groups built into the app. There is also an apple watch version. Syncs with with the fitbit and the Nike Run Club (an app I really like that doesn’t sync to that many calorie counters).
  4. Calorie Counter and Fitness Tracker by myFitnessPal (myfitnesspal.com): free app, premium content $9.99 which includes no ads, ability to change macronutrients, etc. Has there ever been a worse name change from MyFitnessPal (short, catchy) to this long, drawn out name? I’ve been using this app, partly because it integrates with so many other apps and my apple watch. It also syncs to the fitbit, but not the Nike Run Club. Has a nice community dash board for encouragement from friends, and challenges. The online version is good, too, if you want to input food from your laptop.

My choice: If you’re willing to spend the money and go to meetings, I’d choose Weight Watchers. If you have a fitbit, the fitbit app is worth using since you can track sleep in that app, but as far as I know, not other apps. However, you can use the fitbit with all of the other trackers here, and if sleep is not important to track for you, I like all of the other food trackers better. I think in the end, it comes down to what apps you are using for exercise, and whether the calorie counter is compatible. I’m impressed enough with Lose It! to consider switching, and inputting my fit star calories separately, but I also have a community built up in myFitnessPal.

What apps are you using?