The first few days of quarantine, Brian Oliver found himself obsessing about the news of the coronavirus pandemic. He soon realized he couldn’t continue this way. So he turned to a something that brought him comfort in the past — woodworking.
“Part of this is to keep me sane,” the 44-year-old nonprofit marketing professional from Chevy Chase, Maryland, told TODAY. “Part of my quiet space is when the saw is running and I can’t hear anybody.”
At first, he planned just to build birdhouses with daughters, Madeline, 9, and Emma, 6, but he realized that others might like making birdhouses, too. So he and his daughters made kits, about 35 in total, which they have sent as far as Tennessee. Assembling the kits and writing directions is just one of the many ways Oliver and his family are dealing with cabin fever. They made homemade slime, had DIY spa nights (even dad wears a mask), iced cookies and had a dance party in the front yard in the rain.
“It just gets your mind off of being stuck in the house,” he said. “I have to be honest with you, I’m scared … so I find anything other than that to do.”
Oliver is not alone. People across the country are coming up with creative ways to cope with cabin fever (and impending dread). And the experts say engaging in engrossing activities is a great way to deal with frustration.
“Many people are feeling stir crazy,” Shilagh Mirgain, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin Health in Madison, told TODAY. “Engagement in something that is a series of steps that gives you something to look forward to, gives you that sense of accomplishment and occupies your mind.”
When Ryan Ferrebee learned that he would likely be laid off from his job as a fundraiser in the arts, he started jotting down lyrics to a parody of the Lizzo song “Good as Hell.” His take, “Bored as Hell,” includes lines such as, "I can’t go outside anymore. I’m staring sadly at the door."
“Putting it together helped keep my mind off being laid off. It gave me a creative outlet,” the 31-year-old told TODAY. “I thought maybe if I made a couple of people laugh we’d forget about the world for a little bit.”
To complete it, he needed to learn how to use Garage Band and iMovies plus film the 67 shots he wanted. It’s been viewed about 18,000 times on Facebook and he is shocked by its reception. He’s not sure if he’ll do another parody but he has a few ideas (plus a new tripod and ring light in the mail).
“If that would put a smile on a couple of people's faces then I would I would totally consider doing it again,” the Pittsburgh resident said.
Making other people smile is what motivated Todd Cameron to take pictures with his 17-month-old son in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Cameron and his wife, Nicole, are no strangers to humorous photos— their maternity photos were “Alien”-themed. One cabin fever photo shoot includes Cameron dressed up like the Nanaimo Sasquatch (who Cameron refers to as the “social distancing world champion”) with his son, Jack. While he hopes to bring joy to friends, he wants to encourage good public health practices.
“Some people said when they saw them, they got their first smile of the day,” the 45-year-old DJ told TODAY, via Facebook Messenger. “We are making a serious situation a bit lighter for a few moments, giving people a chance to laugh in what might seem like a lonely or scary situation.”
Even children appreciate activities that combat cabin fever. Jamie Davis Smith’s 12-year-old son, Ben, misses Boy Scouts so much that he’s been teaching his 9-year-old sister, Sarah, how to camp in the backyard. For two weeks, they have set up the tent and campground and slept outside of their Washington, D.C. home.
“It’s a time consuming process so it’s something I never thought about doing before being in isolation but now we have the time,” Davis Smith, 45, told TODAY.
It allows Ben to practice his skills while his siblings learn. He recently navigated them through camping in rain.
“My son was able to use his scout training to explain how that would be OK. We are also cooking dinner over the campfire and he is giving advice,” she said.
Lauren Stein of Franklin Park, Pennsylvania, turned to a beloved hobby to keep her occupied during the quarantine: Jigsaw puzzles. She’s working on a 24,000-piece puzzle with her 7-year-old son while she juggles teaching Latin virtually and helps her son learn.
“I can lose myself in it for a few hours and the anxiety just drains away. It is an incredibly meditative experience,” the 34-year-old told TODAY via Messenger. “This is a great hobby for anyone. You don’t need a giant puzzle.”
But she certainly enjoys them: Next up is a 32,000-piece panoramic of the New York City skyline.
Doing things for others, such as giving blood or shopping for an elderly neighbor, can also help with cabin fever, Mirgain said.
“Generosity is one of the best things we can do for our own happiness,” she said.
Serving others certainly helps Liz Bortnyik and her children. She asked friends to share names and addresses of essential employees so they could send thank you notes and prayer cards to them. Her children color each note and she laminates the prayer cards so they can be sanitized. So far, they sent 75.
“A lot of people have said how uplifting it is,” the 35-year-old from Harmony, Pennsylvania, told TODAY. “It helps keep me busy. It helps keep my kids busy. It gives us hope.”
And, she’s teaching her children to be resilient.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed,” she said. “I want my kids to find the best in all situations because we are truly blessed.”