Even those of us who have enjoyed working from home or learning to bake sourdough bread over the past few months may be feeling the stress of quarantining — especially with the onset of summer.
And while much of the country is beginning to reopen, it’s likely we’ll be living with some measure of social distancing for the foreseeable future. If you feel like cabin fever is starting to have an impact on your productivity and motivation, it may be time to review and change up your daily routine. Here are some expert tips for how to deal with quarantine fatigue.
STRUCTURE YOUR DAYS
Without some sense of structure — your commute, your trip to the gym, or any other pre-quarantine rituals — everything starts to blur together, says author and entrepreneur Jandra Sutton. Without these clear signals that your day is starting (and ending), or moments out of the house to look forward to, it's hard to stay motivated.
“I started waking up at 6:30 every morning to take our dogs for a run before work,” Sutton says. “Every afternoon, my husband and I make time for some sort of movement — either a workout or yoga — before making dinner. We try to make time for meditation, when we remember, and I always do my Japanese lesson on Duolingo before bed.”
While she initially thought this amount of structure would feel boring or restrictive, she says it helps keep the day moving — and that momentum can fend off the feeling that you've aged a decade in just a matter of weeks.
FIND FRESH ACTIVITIES TO TRY
“You can no longer rely on your ‘normal’ life to provide the vibrancy you were getting every single day — like the funny thing you saw on your commute to work, or trying out a new restaurant,” Sutton says. “So you need to create it for yourself.”
It’s when every day feels the same that cabin fever can start to set in. “Our brains thrive on change and novel experiences,” says professional coach and psychologist Robyn McKay. “We get surges of dopamine whenever we have a new experience, which supports motivation, focus and enjoyment.”
Little changes will make a big difference. Try a new recipe or read some fiction if you always read non-fiction. Listen to new (or just new to you) types of music or switch up your workouts.
DON'T JUST CHILL OUT — CREATE
Many people are devouring digital content like never before, whether it’s watching TikTok videos, bingeing on Netflix or listening to podcasts nonstop. While this is fine in moderation, too much time passively consuming content can be numbing, says professional counselor Elizabeth Brokamp of Nova Terra Therapy in Burke, Virginia.
“Switching mindsets from consumer to producer can add some oomph to life,” she says. “Whether it’s shooting a video, designing something or hosting your own paint-by-number night with your family, creating things can help alleviate sameness in your schedule.”
KEEP CONNECTING WITH OTHERS
According to Viktor Sander, a counselor at SocialPro who specializes in interpersonal communication and relationships, quarantine fatigue may have more to do with loneliness than we realize. “Loneliness is one of our strongest motivating emotions — it motivates us to seek out company and connection,” he says.
Scheduling time to call or videoconference with family can help you stay connected, but Sander says that most people don't need to actively socialize to feel less lonely — texting videos and funny stories with friends or playing phone games together can go a long way toward easing feelings of isolation.
Quarantine fatigue can also affect natural sleep patterns. Going to sleep at the same time every night and getting the recommended eight hours can help.
“Your regular sleep-wake cycle maintains functions like your metabolism, energy levels and cognitive functioning,” says Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health consultant with holistic products company Maple Holistics.
Certified sleep science coach Jackson Lindeke of sleep resources site Tuck.com says getting sunlight every day also plays a crucial role in helping regulate sleep.
“Getting outside can dramatically improve your mood and cognitive functioning,” he says. “If you're unable to get outside because of quarantine restrictions, open your windows and blinds to let natural light in during the day.” Exercising during the day (just not right before bedtime) can also help you sleep better.
TRY NOT TO DWELL ON UNCERTAINTY
Many people are wondering when things will go back to normal. But since there’s no clear answer, it’s crucial to try to make the most of the present.
“Fully commit to the idea that quarantine could last indefinitely,” says professional counselor Eric Patterson of mental health site Choosing Therapy. “By acknowledging the social distancing as a long-term solution, people are more willing to explore new ideas for finding happiness.”
Focusing on things you can’t control will only make you feel more stuck — and feeling powerless can be exhausting.
“Make a list of can versus can’t controls,” suggests clinical and forensic neuropsychologist Judy Ho, author of “Stop Self Sabotage.” “What can you control about what’s going on, and what is out of your hands? Plan an action item for each of the things you do have control over. For what you can’t control, take a deep breath and let it go.”