A new book by experts at the University of Nottingham looks at how people cope during prolonged periods of isolation, how people avoided ‘cabin fever’ during lockdown and provides a reflection that may help as we come out of lockdown to understand its impact on our mental health.
The Covid pandemic and prolonged confinement and isolation during lockdown have had a detrimental impact on the mental health of people around the world.
In a new book, Cabin Fever, Professor Paul Crawford from the School of Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham and Data Analyst Jamie Orion Crawford, use their research to look at the threat of cabin fever during the lockdown and the kind of antidotes that have countered it.
Professor Paul Crawford said: ‘While we have faced the greatest period of isolation in our lifetimes, we must remember that cabin fever is not new, it happens at sea, on land, in the air and in space. But perhaps most importantly, it occurs in our minds.
“Fortunately, we know that there are several potential antidotes to cabin fever, such as: accessing outdoor space, not least nature; acceptance of the ‘new normal’; social connectedness (largely achieved digitally during the pandemic); working as a ‘crew’; setting goals and purpose to each day; conceiving home during the lockdown as a sanctuary rather than a prison; looking after the body (nutrition, hydration, sleep, exercise); and engaging with or experiencing creativity through the arts, crafts and humanities.”
As part of their research, the book delves into the origins and history of cabin fever, in particular how the psychological folk syndrome developed out of the affliction of physical infection, notably in the case of typhus, which spread from the overcrowded, rural cabins of Ireland in the Great Famine to the pioneering frontiers of North America.
It was here that the notion of a psychological “fever” or restlessness began to replace the actual physical fever of typhus, as pioneers took to their cabins for long periods, especially during winter months. Similar syndromes, with different names, emerged in other challenging or remote regions.
Professor Crawford and Jamie explore the evidence of mental decline caused by prolonged or extreme social isolation, in particular, what we can learn from penal history and solitary confinement as well as the importance of social connectivity in maintaining good mental health. Accounts from literature, memoir, and reportage reveal the fascinating and sometimes frightening aspects of the phenomenon.
Professor Crawford said: “In the last year, we have all had to learn how to live with lockdown, and sadly this may now be something we have to do in the future too. We hope the book will help people as they come out of lockdown to make sense of it, better understand the experience and mental health challenges they faced and plan ahead in case variant infections escape the available vaccines and we all have to head back indoors.”