In a recent quiz on Paired, while over 70 per cent of those in relationships felt they were able to adjust well to new home and working environments during this year's pandemic, less felt they were able to manage their physical and mental health well together (62 per cent). With this in mind – as many of us approach the next lockdown together – here are some positive steps to practice self-care together while managing the impact of more at-home working and less social interaction.
Firstly, it's important to keep an eye on the mental health and wellbeing problems that might arise from a cabin-fever syndrome during lockdown and acknowledge some of the serious dangers confinement can cause.
The term ‘cabin fever’ refers to a set of symptoms that occur when a person or group is confined together for an extended period of time. Symptoms can include claustrophobia, irritability, restlessness, or irrational anxiety. Although cabin fever isn't a disease, it can lead to behaviour that threatens a person’s safety and wellbeing. An example would be someone who leaves the safety of their house due to feelings of restlessness and wanders off into a blizzard or perhaps risking climbing a high ladder to repair a gutter.
Getting outdoors for exercise and exposure to daylight, either together or alone, can be a way of counteracting this problem. Your exercise routine may include walking, running, or cycling with your partner, or perhaps offering each other new exercise challenges.
There are other physical health dangers associated with confinement. In a recent working paper on research findings during the first COVID lockdown, Craig Gurney indicates a marked rise in accidents in the home and a rise in domestic violence, Guerney, 2020.
Finally, another mental health problem, linked to cabin fever, is Post Incarceration Syndrome, which is a condition that affects people who have recently been released from prison. People who have this syndrome learned to cut off from their feelings and emotions in order to stay safe in prison, which made reintegration back into normal social life painfully difficult. Rather than looking forward to leaving prison, many prisoners would develop serious mental health problems and find themselves reoffending to get back into the familiar world of confinement.
These descriptions are all at the serious end of the spectrum, but there are several other ways confinement and outside stressors may have impacted your relationship in lesser ways. You may have found yourselves feeling overly irritated with your partner's behavior around the house, or flattening your emotions as a way of avoiding strong feelings, for example. This avoidance can also lead to a reduction in the amount of emotional kindness and support you feel it's possible to share.
There are some symptoms of anxiety and depression that you or your partner should discuss with a health professional or GP if they arise. These include: persistent trouble sleeping or loss of energy in the day, mood swings and loss of appetite, or aggressive outbursts. Any of these conditions, accompanied by feelings of paranoia, dissociation, suicidal or self harming thoughts, might indicate more complex problems that need medical assessment as soon as possible.
Even if you don't have any of these symptoms, it's still essential to practice self-care during the pandemic. Here are five tips to consider:
How do you improve as a couple? Download the Paired app to learn more about your partner and relationship by comparing answers to our weekly couple's quizzes.
Try this 'Couple Health SWOT Analysis' to assess your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in managing your health and wellbeing together.
Find time together to answer some of the following questions.
Once you have all this information it should be possible to make a more informed plan about how to manage your mental health and wellbeing in the coming weeks and months.
Discover more key skills to help you handle the stress of the pandemic together in our free course 'Progressing in the Pandemic'.
Download the Paired app forcouple quizzesand daily questions to enjoy with your partner, plus exclusiverelationship tipsfrom the experts on everything from sex and intimacy, to managing conflict, communication in a couple, and keeping the spark alive.
Martin is a registered UKCP and HCPC Psychotherapist and Supervisor who works in private practice with couples and families. He supports a range of problems including relationship difficulties, parenting, loss and bereavement, anxiety, depression, and life-stage related problems.
Over the years, he’s worked with the NHS, Ministry of Justice and other local practitioners to provide better mental health training resources and has won a Prince’s Trust Award, as well as other community and human rights awards, for his contribution.
Martin is a member of the International Association of Family Therapy and has been presenting and training internationally on parenting and relationships for many years.