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Safe from Sandy, but so, so bored

There is a lighter side to the story of Sandy, one many people are finding themselves living right now: They’re bored. They are very, very bored. And because they are bored, they’re getting on each others’ nerves. They have “cabin fever.”It's not like there's an official psychological disorder called cabin fever, but Nicole Papantoniou can confirm: It exists.“I live at home with my fam
Ellen Seidman and her son, Max, are stuck at home during the hurricane.
Ellen Seidman and her son, Max, are stuck at home during the hurricane.Yasmeen Anderson / Today

There is a lighter side to the story of Sandy, one many people are finding themselves living right now: They’re bored. They are very, very bored. And because they are bored, they’re getting on each others’ nerves. They have “cabin fever.”

It's not like there's an official psychological disorder called cabin fever, but Nicole Papantoniou can confirm: It exists.

“I live at home with my family,” Papantoniou, 24, began with a big breath. “My mom and dad and my 22-year-old sister and a little, blonde, Pomeranian that never stops barking. And my family is Greek and Italian so we communicate by yelling. I knew it was going to be bad when we started watching old episodes of ‘Glee.’”

Her family lives in Queens, didn’t lose power, and consider themselves lucky. But by yesterday, they were bickering about who made a mess in the kitchen and who was going to do dishes.

5 ways for families to kick Sandy-induced cabin fever

Meanwhile, in Dumont, New Jersey, Chrissie Schiraldi answered her phone by saying “Thank God, I need to talk to somebody else!”

She’s stuck at home with two kids, Dominic, 13, and Alexis, 9. Her husband works for the town so he’s not been at home for several days. Power and Internet are out, but the family has a generator so Dominic can sit in his Penguin costume – about the extent of Halloween for him – and play “Minecraft” on the computer. But the family can’t go outside because power lines are down and people have been warned to stay indoors.  

The kids got into a fight, she said. “I don’t know what started it, but it ended with my daughter throwing something at Dominic and hitting the TV and cracking the screen. We need to get out of this house!”

People are so eager to get out of their houses, they’re going to work even though they don’t have to.

Angela Cravens, 33, lives in the Manhattan’s East Village. When the power station blew up in the spectacular flash many of us have seen on TV or online, her power went out. She’s newly married to her husband so her problem wasn’t so much bickering as it was tech withdrawal.

“We were joking ‘We’ll have to actually have a chat instead of being glued to the laptop,’” she said.

But as time passed, she missed media more and more. Today she walked to her office at a major retailer where she’s a copy manager because the building is located in midtown where there’s power.

“I immediately charged, refrigerated, and caught up on news,” she said, laughing. “It’s isolating when you don’t know what’s happening.”

Papantoniou made a three-hour trek by bus into Manhattan where she works as an assistant web editor for More magazine. She’s staying overnight with a friend in Manhattan. “Is that a relief? Yes, absolutely!” she said.

Such scenarios sound familiar to Mark N. Bing, a psychologist and professor of management at University of Mississippi’s business school. Bing has served as the principal investigator for a U.S. Navy program called SUBSCREEN. It’s aim is to screen out sailors who are unsuited for the isolation, boredom, and close quarters of submarine duty.

“What happens is guys make fun of each other to pass the time,” Bing said. “They make jokes when they’re bored. But sometimes these are taken too seriously and if you have people down there with a negative affect,” like depression or anxiety, or sleep deprivation “then things go south.”

Marc Shepanek, lead investigator for aerospace medicine at NASA headquarters, has spent months living in the Antarctic as part of his research. He explores ways to keep astronauts from cracking up in space. The key to combating the interpersonal friction, boredom, and stress, he says, is to keep busy and keep a schedule.

Ellen Seidman and her son, Max, are stuck at home during the hurricane.Yasmeen Anderson / Today

“It’s the same thing your mother told you,” he explained. “Be purposefully busy, do something useful, go over skills. Astronauts in space do specific tasks at specific times. Consciously do things you know you should do because you’ll feel better.”

That’s just what’s helping Ellen Seidman, 44. She lives with her husband and two children in the New York metropolitan area. Power is out at her house and, like Cravens, she’s suffering some tech withdrawal, too. (She writes a popular blog called LoveThatMax.com about special needs children.) But her son has cerebral palsy so she’s “doing what I can to keep his mind stimulated by reading to him, going over math and spelling, trying to massage his limbs so they don’t stiffen up.”

She can’t wait for schools to reopen but, so far, she said, the cabin fever’s been kept at bay. 

Brian Alexander (www.BrianRAlexander.com) is co-author, with Larry Young Ph.D., of "The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction," (www.TheChemistryBetweenUs.com), now on sale.

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