January 03, 2023
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Photography by Ana Luz Crespi/Stocksy United
How to cope with cabin fever when working from home this winter
People work from home for all kinds of reasons. Some people adopted the working-from-home (WFH) lifestyle to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. I began working from home back in 2015 as a way to hopefully better manage some of my multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms.
Working from home changed my life. Some of the biggest stress factors in my life disappeared ─ poof! ─ when I scored a remote position. No more wrestling with wardrobe choices before racing out the door, no more arduous daily drives in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and no more spending large chunks of my paycheck on gas and car maintenance.
Instead, WFH has given me the time and freedom to control my schedule. I now have the flexibility to fit in everything I need to do to take care of my condition, like doctor’s appointments, physical wellness, and getting some rest when I need it. I’ve found so much peace in WFH and gained back a sense of control over the hours in my life.
Those who became remote workers during the pandemic should be aware that even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention softened its social and physical distancing and other COVID prevention guidelines in August 2022, the new guidelines acknowledge that “the pandemic is not over.” In addition, other infectious diseases like influenza are expected to ramp up this winter.
As a result, many people with MS and others who are immunocompromised may still prefer to avoid crowded, public places. I know working remotely helps me feel secure in my strategy to prevent infection.
Even with all these advantages, WFH can pose various problems. From feeling isolated to developing depression, “cabin fever” can be a very real issue for people who work from home. Going “stir-crazy” happens to people who spend long periods of time confined indoors with limited social engagement. Although it’s not a medically defined condition, the term is commonly used to include a slew of symptoms like restlessness, anxiety, hopelessness, irritability, and lethargy. It can even lead to more serious issues, like difficulty making rational decisions, paranoia, and in extreme cases, suicide.
Depression can be an especially significant issue for people with MS, affecting as many as 25% to 50% of people with the disease, and it can greatly affect their quality of life. I’ve learned various coping mechanisms, however, that help to alleviate the cabin fever blues.
When cabin fever has you feeling so down and unstimulated, it’s challenging to find the motivation to be productive. I find that staying busy is essential to staying mentally healthy and engaged. For me, boredom is an easy slide into cabin fever, but when I stay busy doing something purposefully, my mind doesn’t perceive the day as monotonous.
I make a to-do list of tasks to complete throughout the day to keep me active. These can include work, chores, or even resting. The goal is that whatever you do, do it intentionally.
I find it incredibly burdensome to break for lunch in the middle of a workday and then have to cook a meal when I’m starving. That’s why I usually end up ordering out or eating the wrong foods if I have nothing prepared beforehand. Save money and eliminate that stress by prepping a few easy meals and snacks once a week that you can nosh on throughout your workweek.
I rely on simple, cost-efficient meals like a simple tuna salad or Mason jar instant noodles. Prepping snacks like baby carrots for dipping, mixed berries, or hard-boiled eggs helps a lot, too.
Keeping a consistent day-to-day work schedule that starts and ends at the same time provides a sense of structure to your workday. It’s too easy to lose track of time procrastinating before you begin working for the day. Likewise, it’s easy to get so caught up in work that you keep going well past quitting time. Maintaining a routine ensures stability in your day without underperforming or overexerting yourself.
Making time throughout your schedule for healthy nonwork activities like exercise, mindfulness breaks, and even a bit of socializing helps keep you balanced. Working in intervals helps break up the day into sections so you can fit in everything on your work and life to-do lists.
Pro-tip: If you have difficulty with memory problems, set alarms to remember to fit in mindfulness breaks, workouts, meals, and quick tasks.
Below are several of my favorite ideas for healthy breaks:
Exercising is necessary for physical health and is also so important for our mental health. Aerobic-style exercises, like interval training, as well as strength and flexibility building exercises like Pilates, have been shown to improve depressive symptoms in people with MS.
The benefits of working remotely are incredible. WFH offers flexibility in your schedule, lets you attend to your medical needs, skip the time-consuming commute to the office, and work in your most comfortable clothes, from anywhere you want. Balancing this lifestyle with a maintained structure is crucial to enjoying WFH to the fullest.
Medically reviewed on January 03, 2023
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