On top of everything the pandemic has disrupted, it’s no surprise that it has wreaked havoc on an environment many find solace in: home. The spaces we live in — whether it’s a house, apartment, residence hall or anything in between — are central and influential parts of our lives.
For many of us, our homes are our sanctuaries — places that provide security, privacy and joy.
“My home is my safe space,” Leanna Ordonez, junior graphic design major, said. “It’s where I can wind down after a long day and spend some time with myself. It’s the place that I feel most comfortable in.”
Yet, when most of the country went into lockdown last year — forcing millions of Americans to stay inside and practice social distancing — it didn’t take long for cabin fever to set in and for people to view their homes in a negative light.
In July 2020, 52% of 18 to 29-year-olds were living with one or both of their parents — the highest percentage since the Great Depression, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
When Missouri State announced they would be transitioning online for the rest of the 2020 spring semester, I moved back to my parents’ house and stayed with them until the end of the summer, like many college students.
I’ve always felt warmth toward my parents’ home — the space I lived in for 18 years of my life. The family photos and elementary school art projects scattered across the walls make me feel safe. My parents’ muffled voices I’m so used to hearing in the hallway are steady and comforting, like white noise. The high school report cards my mom still has displaced on our worn down refrigerator are beyond endearing.
Yet, the feeling of confinement — of being stuck somewhere — still lingers. As much as it was a joy to be with my family, spending five months inside the same place was stifling.
The poorly drawn art projects on the walls became eyesores. The sound of my parents’ early morning conversations began to annoy me. The high school report cards plastered on the fridge started to look ridiculous; why was my mom still holding onto those?
By the time the fall 2020 semester commenced, I couldn’t wait to escape my parents’ house to a new apartment — hoping that living in a new place would rejuvenate me.
While not every college student moved back into their parents’ house during the lockdown like I did, many can relate to growing sick of their living spaces, an environment we’ve all had to spend more time in because of the pandemic.
Cassidy Farrar, junior intercultural communications major, said living in her apartment for so long, with few places to run away to, was a depressing and monotonous experience.
“At the time, I was living in a two bedroom (apartment) with my partner and another roommate, and it very quickly felt claustrophobic,” Farrar said. “Spending so much time in this older and kind of crappy apartment made its faults a lot more glaring. The appliances didn’t work well, there was no outdoor space I felt I could escape to or relax in, it wasn’t the safest and it didn’t get much natural light.”
Although not technically recognized as a psychological disorder, cabin fever — extreme restlessness and anxiety caused by long periods of confinement or isolation — is still an agonizing experience. If you’re living with other people while experiencing this, it can feel especially suffocating.
“When I was living with my parents during the lockdown, everything at home was very high tension because we were all stuck under one roof without being able to leave,” Alec Rothman, MSU alumnus, said. “It was hard not to be in each other's space at all times.”
While a majority of places are back open for business and people are no longer forced to do 1000-piece puzzles with their families just to pass time, the days still tend to run together in the pandemic time realm we currently live in.
Even though we aren’t in lockdown anymore, every day feels the same and the restlessness hasn’t quite gone away. I’m still sick with cabin fever.
With all of my classes online, sometimes it feels easier to stay inside, even if it doesn’t make me feel better. To combat this, I try to take a walk outside once a day, study in the library rather than my room and consciously take breaks away from technology.
If you feel like you’re in a rut, Healthline suggests connecting with nature, redecorating or rearranging your space, and exercising to help cope with cabin fever.
There may be no perfect answer to overcoming restlessness; even our homes seem to be feeling it. Last week, two of the burners on my stove stopped working, one of the lightbulbs in my room went out and my floors sound creakier than ever. Perhaps my apartment is getting tired of me too.
But cabin fever doesn’t — and won’t — last forever. Taking breaks away from our living spaces is important and necessary, and even though our homes may feel unhomely at the moment, our relationship with them won’t be fragmented forever. Maybe we’ll even learn to appreciate them more.
Follow Paige Nicewaner on Twitter, @indienerdtrash
Subscribe to The Standard's free weekly newsletter here.