According to Google Trends, during the months of March and April, there has been a huge increase in the internet searches for ‘cabin fever’. Cabin fever refers to the experience of being forced to stay for a long period of time in a small, confined space with very little to do. The origin of the term probably dates back to early 1900s North America. People who lived in remote areas ended up snowbound and isolated in their cabins during the long winters. This experience was both stressful and boring. Despite containing the word ‘fever’, cabin fever is not a recognized medical condition. This does not mean that it’s just a myth. Surely the experiences of millions of people during the current lockdown prove that cabin fever is very real. Symptoms of cabin fever include negative feelings such as lethargy, irritability, frustration, impatience, anxiety, and anger.
For sure, scientists have been studying this phenomenon for decades. An interest in a special kind of cabin fever called ‘space madness’ began in the 1950s in the United States. It was the dawn of the space age, and astronauts were training for the first manned missions. How would they fare in very small capsules in the great void of space? Science fiction authors had already imagined such a situation. Many of them had written stories of astronauts cracking under pressure and going crazy. NASA psychologists were seriously worried that this might truly happen. They devised experiments that replicated the confinement and isolation that the astronauts would experience. They put astronauts in replicas of space capsules, and kept them there for long hours doing stressful work. Luckily, after more than 60 years of manned missions in space, there has never been a case of space madness. This is also thanks to the scientists at NASA, who are still studying and providing solutions to help astronauts cope with the loneliness and anxiety they might experience.
Cures for cabin fever
So what are the remedies for cabin fever (and space madness)? The first step is to acknowledge the situation and accept the distress it’s causing. Then, experts suggest that it’s important to establish a routine: you should follow a well-structured daily schedule. It’s important to keep physically active. If a room is all you have, you can still do some calisthenics or dance to your favourite song. Being mentally active is also important. NASA’s Jack Stuster, who has been studying how crews live and work in space, offers some valuable advice. “My primary recommendation,” he says, “is for people to view the self-quarantine as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.” It’s a chance to work on a meaningful creative project such as writing a book or learning to paint or to cook. Reading can also be a great activity: a book can take you far away from the confines of your home and your current problems.
Connecting with others
Regarding the people you have to live with, Jack Stuster has this to say: “Set getting along as your highest goal.” He advises being considerate and respectful. He suggests eating together regularly. It’s also important to have group leisure activities such as movie nights or board games (but avoid divisive ones, such as Monopoly or Risk). Stuster also advises respecting each other’s need for privacy. The psychologist Paul Rosenblatt, who studied cabin fever in the 1980s, agrees. He says that families “need a certain balance of togetherness and apartness.” Connecting with those who are not living with us is also important. Luckily today technology offers great assistance. In the past social media have been criticized for depriving us of real social contact, but during the current crisis they can be an important resource. People have found ways to dine, celebrate birthdays, and to participate in weddings using their smartphone or computer. Indeed, the current lockdown could be an opportunity for self-improvement and for re-connecting with others in a meaningful way.
1) Do you have cabin fever? How can you cure it? Here is some advice from CNN:
2) Are you interested in the hazards of isolation and confinement in space exploration? Here are a couple of useful links:
3) Read Jack Stuster’s detailed advice on how to deal with the problems of the current lockdown:
4) Here is some more advice for families under lockdown from The Guardian Australia:
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1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the right alternative.
1. The expression ‘cabin fever’ originates from
- a medical condition first discovered in North America.
- people being stuck in cabins for long periods of time.
- people having a fever during winter.
2. Cabin fever is caused by
- confinement and isolation.
- the boredom and stress of long winters.
- negative feelings such as frustration and impatience.
3. Space madness can be described as
- the dawn of the space age.
- no more than an invention of science fiction writers.
- cabin fever in space.
4. NASA’s psychologists believed that
- astronauts could crack under pressure.
- it was impossible to replicate the confinement and isolation of space.
- space madness was inevitable.
5. So far, there have been no cases of space madness, probably because
- space madness does not exist.
- astronauts are taught how to deal with the pressure of their missions.
- space missions do not produce stress and loneliness.
6. When dealing with cabin fever one should first
- pretend that all is well.
- accept rather than fight against the negative sensations it produces.
- get rid of the distress it causes.
7. Jack Stuster says that self-quarantine
- is a great opportunity for everyone.
- is an obstacle.
- can be turned into an opportunity.
8. Creative projects are important because
- they are fun activities.
- they help you keep mentally active.
- they help you keep physically active.
9. Jack Stuster says that you should share time with the persons you live with. He says you should
- have dinner together.
- play Monopoly.
- dance to your favourite song.
10. Social media
- are always a good alternative to real human contact.
- are criticized during the lockdown because they are depriving us of real human contact.
- can help us feel less lonely during the current lockdown.
2) Complete the sentences with the following words. Put the verbs and nouns in the right form, if necessary.
to fare * manned * to crack * to devise * snowbound * to cope * calisthenics * leisure * to acknowledge * to dine
1. Instead of saying ‘to have dinner’ you can say ‘________’.
2. Push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks are examples of ________.
3. There’s so much snow outside that we can’t even open the front door. We’re ________!
4. In my ________ time I practice my hobbies.
5. ________ with difficult and dangerous situations is an astronaut’s everyday job.
6. NASA has launched several spacecraft; some were autonomous, others were ________.
7. If you ________ something, you admit that it exists or that it is true.
8. The engineers at NASA are trying to ________ a spaceship capable of taking people to Mars.
9. You want to know how I ___________ on my driving test? I passed it!
10. Just like a plank of wood can break under too much weight, a person can ________ under too much pressure.
GRAMMAR – Adverbs of time and of place
3) Complete the following sentences choosing the correct adverb.
Adverbs of time: soon, daily, still, ago, later, all day
1. The first manned moon landing happened more than fifty years ________ .
2. I think the lockdown will end ________.
3. I’m tired of staying home ________.
4. We will watch a movie ________.
5. I ________ believe that the quarantine was absolutely necessary.
6. I do my calisthenics ________.
Adverbs of place: upstairs, here, somewhere, indoors, nearby, underneath
7. Because of the lockdown, we’re forced to stay ________.
8. My grandparents live ________ but we can’t visit them.
9. I would like to go ________, anywhere, just to get out of the house.
10. Come ________, I have to show you something.
11. I’m going ________, to my room. I need to be alone for a bit.
12. I couldn’t find the remote control. It was ________ the sofa.
1) What have been your best and worst personal experiences during the lockdown? (60-80 words)
2) How is your life and the life of your family different during the lockdown? (60-80 words)
3) Cabin fever is a very popular narrative device. Putting a few antagonistic characters in a confined and isolated place is an excellent setup for creating interesting stories. Find an example in literature, cinema or TV where cabin fever is used. Write a short summary of the story you chose, describing the effects of cabin fever on the protagonists. (60-80 words)