5 Strategies for Coping with WFH Cabin Fever

Most of us can agree: the ability to work remotely is a privilege. Sure, it may not have been everyone’s first choice. We, too, reminisce from time to time about the unique joys of water cooler chats.

But: especially in the midst of the pandemic, the peace of mind and financial savings that comes with minimizing your commute – or nixing it entirely – added to the lax dress code (raise your hand if you are wearing pajama pants right now), is in general a great thing. 

Still, while it might feel apropo for the age, working from home can undoubtedly induce a little restlessness from time to time, even for the most well-adjusted introverts. For many of us, going on three years away from an office… the honeymoon phase of WFH is over. It’s time to get serious about how to make “working from home” work for us for the long haul.

1. Designate Your Work Space

If possible, carving out a corner of your home where *only* work happens can do wonders for your mindstate.

Before we go on, we hear you; everyone is working within unique space constraints, and not everyone has the means to dedicate a whole home office for themselves. If you are settled in a big city with roommates, you are lucky if you can find a decent space for a desk, let alone a quality chair.

That said, you don’t necessarily need a lot of room… you just need to be mindful about how you treat whatever amount of room you have. 

Pick a place in your home, apartment, etc. where you feel most comfortable working (a desk, the kitchen table, the floor of your bedroom…no judgements) and try your best to *only* do work there. You might have to get creative about how you define your work area, but trust: compartmentalizing work space from living space will make walking away for breaks and signing off for the day a more meaningful mental reprieve.

EX: If you usually work at the dining table, sit in a different seat than the one you sit in for dinner.

Or, let’s say you want to read or watch something on your laptop during your break (although we wouldn’t recommend adding more screen time to your day than necessary… everyone unwinds in their own way). Carry your laptop into a different room or to a new space to help switch your brain from work mode to leisure mode.

Even simply having a different backdrop in your periphery can help reinforce the boundary between “home office” and home.

2. Recall Your Midday Coffee Run

Remember when a midday pick-me-up was the perfect excuse to get away from the desk, breathe a little fresh air, and disconnect from the hustle? Yeah, you can still do that.

When we spend the whole day holed up indoors, it is nearly impossible to ramp up the motivation to take a stroll around the block once we’ve signed off for the day. Not to mention, it is often dark by the time most of us have tied up our deliverables.

You get the most benefit from a quick walk in the middle of the day, when you can soak up a little vitamin D and utilize that “fresh air” energy boost.

The cup of coffee, tea, [insert your favorite beverage here] is just an added bonus for motivation, if you need it. Especially during the colder months… a hot drink in brisk air can shake off any stale energy that might be dragging you down.

3. Bring the Outside In

On our busiest days (months, quarters…) the time to step outside for a little morale boost can feel harder and harder to come by. Good news: you can still reap many of the benefits from the great outdoors from the comfort of your house, apartment, etc.

However your designated WFH space takes shape, simply placing a few houseplants in view can do wonders for your stress management, memory retention, concentration, and creativity. If you are stationed within a metropolitan area and/or might not have a whole lot of natural foliage in view, this one is huge.

Related: if you are able to open your window (and not feel unsettled by traffic sounds, pollutants, or other not-so-peaceful things) letting in a little natural air throughout the day can also help improve your mental health and approach to your work. In fact, according to Psychology Today, “Our satisfaction with our jobs, and our performance of them, improves when the space where we’re working is a comfortable temperature […] and its air is fresh.”

The same post goes on to add that if you live in an area where opening windows is not an option, circulating air with a fan can be an effective alternative. Adding a visual indicator of “gentle movement” (i.e. a mobile or lighted diffuser near a flowing air source) can also be “profoundly calming.”

4. Wiggle it Out

Working in an office, there are plenty of reasons to get up and walk around. Meetings are held in different rooms, the water fountain is down the hall… you get the gist. Working remotely: your whole day is sitting right behind the same screen.

We might not even be aware of it, but often the panic response we label as “cabin fever” is just our body’s way of telling us that it needs to move. 

Sure, the benefits of exercise to your mindstate are well known and established, but before you skip this section, it’s worth noting: you don’t have to hit the gym every day to shake away your restlessness. Just shake

Yes, really. Even without breaking a sweat: standing up, wiggling around, rolling on the floor – moving however your heart desires – can help circulate fresh blood through your body (and most importantly, your brain).

Another benefit to working from home: only your cat is around to judge your random dance break (and possibly your roommate, but they can get used to it).

5. Take Time to Connect

Cabin fever can also be a symptom that you are lacking social stimulation. You might be thinking: no way… if I have to sign on for another Zoom call…

But let’s be clear: socializing with friends and family feels a whole lot different than a pre-meeting chat with your colleagues, no matter how close you are to your team. The ability to let your guard down and speak freely and intimately with confidants is not something to be overlooked.

Every now and then, use ten minutes of your lunch break to FaceTime a friend or turn that midday coffee run into a walk-and-vent with a family member. For the introverts reading, if you’re feeling talked-out from the day, give that virtual yoga class you’ve been eyeing a try for a little human to human grounding.

Of course, not everyone may want to add more social time into their work day, and that’s ok. However, it is important to recognize that nowadays we spend a lot less time out and about in the presence of people. And even despite our love of the WFH solace, it is important to check in with ourselves every now and then to acknowledge where our heads are, and to nurture the relationships that help keep us sane.