What to do when Spring Fever turns into Cabin Fever
Spring is here, ready or not. In our hemisphere, the calendar tells us that Spring starts today, March 20th. Time for picnics, walking in the woods, visiting parks and playgrounds. But not this year. It’s frustrating to be stuck indoors as the world around us starts to blossom and bloom. It’s hard to sit inside the apartment watching Spring unfold outside our windows. That’s true for most of us, and especially for people like me who are a bit hyperactive: Ants in your pants, my Dad used to say about me. I’m a doer, not a sitter and watcher.
Lucky for me I had a chance just a couple weeks ago to wander in the woods and take in the glorious green vistas. My friend who lives right at the edge of a forest took me for a wonderful walk, through wooded hillsides adorned with pastel pink cyclamen and red anemones. The sights and smells are with me now, as I sit inside. In Japan, stressed-out city-dwellers go walking in the forest for therapy, called Shinrin-yoku – “forest bathing”. I feel blessed to have gotten the chance to forest bathe a bit just before going indoors, into this surrealistic lockdown which is the new normal.
So here’s what I’m doing these days to keep from going crazy. I’ve changed the desktop background on my computer to a slideshow with the images from that gorgeous walk in the woods. Changing scenes of pink, purple and red flowers meet my eyes whenever I’m in between applications. And I’m sprinting around the apartment in between online sessions – hurrying back and forth from room to room. I take frequent short breaks and get up to get something from another room. Coffee or water from the kitchen, a pad of paper, an extra pen or marker – really unnecessary since I’m working online. But I’ll take any excuse to get up and move. Then back to my laptop where the welcome sight of a student’s face in my video chat alleviates the feeling of isolation.
Every morning I get up early and reorganize my living space just a bit. I set up my home office in the living room, even though I’ve got a work nook in another part of the apartment. The living room is lighter and airier. I’ve got all my pc accessories, power cords, etc. in one corner of the room near my Wi-Fi router – that’s my IT department. And in the center of the living room, there’s a sofa and a coffee table with a bowl of fresh fruit and some magazines – my break room. Everything a high-tech worker could want (except for the fun and camaraderie of the face-to-face workplace). I’ve set up one part of the living room as a fitness center – setting out my hand weights, exercise mat, resistance bands and even my hula hoop. Silver lining department: hula hooping to loud music during a 5-minute break is not something I can do when teaching frontal courses at client sites. Exercising for very short intervals in between my teaching sessions keeps me from going stir crazy. Sometimes instead of exercising on my break, I turn up the music and dance. And while I’m on an exercise break, I watch the spring scenery on my screen saver, rather than looking out the window. The sight of all the rooftops and concrete buildings around me can get a bit boring here in the crowded center of town.
I’m keeping my work habits as close as possible to my pre-lockdown routine: stopping for lunch at a regular time and not turning on the TV during the day. I don’t eat at my “desk” – which is a challenge since my desk is actually my dining table! So I’ve set up a tray table in another part of the room. I try to keep regular working hours, “clocking out” at 6 or 7 every evening. I close the lid of my laptop and put it aside, to avoid looking at it when I’m off duty. Since I’m used to being online, the temptation is to just keep working on and off all evening. But I know I have to avoid that. Compartmentalization is the name of the game for me now, to prevent my work from seeping into every moment of my home life. None of this wisdom is new or original. Having worked online for years, I’ve learned these healthy habits from many others who work from home full time.
I know I’m lucky to be able to work online. I don’t take it for granted. Neither do I slack off: I make sure to keep my schedule full. Now that I have less work, I have more time to volunteer – something I can also do online. I write and edit content for a humanitarian aid organization when I’m not teaching online. The main thing is to keep doing, keep going, keep on keeping on as we used to say in the 60’s. And when my workday is done, it’s time to go offline. If I’ve kept busy, active and productive all day, I feel entitled to a nice relaxing evening. It’s time to cook dinner and binge watch TV or call friends or family to catch up. What to do when spring fever turns into cabin fever? Keep busy and keep active. And when all else fails, dance around the apartment. Hey, no one’s watching – silver linings department.