We are all experiencing the ups and downs of quarantine, within our own range of feelings.
Let’s be clear that what we’re all going through, on personal and collective levels, is a lot. For us, these times are unprecedented. There is no manual for this kind of experience, and in so many ways we were unprepared.
But we are figuring it out as we go, and there is a lot of merit in that.
This post explores one experience that the strong majority of us have shared: the feeling of being “cooped up” and going “stir crazy.”
As uncomfortable as these feelings are, they are feelings worth exploration — especially since they’re so common in our experience now.
What Does It Really Mean To Be Stir Crazy?
At this point, it might feel like we’re experts on the feeling. But it’s important to recognize that this feeling is actually only the surface of layers that warrant exploration.
For starters, a closer look at what stir crazy means: psychologically disturbed, especially as a result of being confined or imprisoned.
Sound familiar? Quarantine feels a lot like being confined — as if something has been taken away from us. Our territories for wandering, playing, and connecting have shrunken immensely. Despite a globally connected world, we can’t venture far from our doorstep. And this physical restriction triggers some interesting reactions in the mind.
What if we take the definition of stir crazy even deeper…
Confined means, restricted in area or volume. Why is this so problematic for humans? For our psyche?
From my point of view, it all comes down to two factors, 1) the nature of our mind and 2) distractions.
Let’s pretend for a bit that the physical space of your house is actually your own mind.
Given our limited radius of movement, we don’t have a choice to escape our mind-house. Normally, we do. We go out, we mingle, we run errands, we work in an office environment. While a lot of this activity is healthy, a lot of it is also derived from questionable motives.
As humans, we often go out so that we don’t have to stay in. This applies physically, but perhaps it originates psychologically. We distract ourselves out of our mind, so that we don’t have to be stuck with what’s inside of it.
We don’t like to be stuck in our minds because minds tend to be full of unpleasant thoughts.
When thoughts get unpleasant, cueing unpleasant feelings — we move outside of our minds in avoidance. We turn to distraction — anything to keep us from facing the discomfort of being in the mind.
We turn to any form of the external — a friend, a work project, a substance, a sport… Rarely do we face the unfiltered discomfort unless we’ve been coached in doing so.
Now we look at the circumstances of quarantine — notice what’s going on. We’ve been asked/required to stay in our houses. To stay in our MIND… And no wonder it’s so challenging.
In quarantine-lifestyle, when the mind gets uncomfortable, there is very little to turn to. Our field of distraction shrunk tenfold.
So to summarize, quarantine means we’re stuck with our thoughts. A circumstance we’ve long avoided, perhaps our entire life. And here we are.
What If This Is A Positive Opportunity?
So what if, instead of dreading the stir-crazy, cooped up, agitated, aimless feeling — we consider it a really interesting opportunity.
The thoughts that always prompted us to soothe with distraction — what are they actually saying? What are those feelings that you’ve long avoided?
And what if you allowed them to stay? This would be our personified version of “cleaning house.”
We can start viewing “stir-crazy” and “cooped up” as signals that an unpleasant thought and/or feeling has arrived. This arrival then prompts what we can view as an opportunity. Experience and clear the thoughts and emotions. Once and for all.
It’s not necessarily going to feel fun. But then again, neither is being “psychologically disturbed” AKA stir-crazy.
Befriend Your Mind
The time of quarantine is the time of facing the mind. And the status of our relationship with it. It is the time of confronting what we’ve long ignored.
Feeling cramped in the house is just our disconnected way of experiencing that we’re feeling cramped in our mind — because the density of our thoughts has barely left space for us to breathe.
So we learn to make friends with the mind… To make space in the mind. And do we really have a choice?
What happens if we don’t dive head first into the feelings of stir-crazy? We distract ourselves momentarily (it can’t last too long given the circumstances), and then when the feeling returns it is likely worse.
We need to understand and feel that quarantine and mental health have an undeniable relationship. Quarantine is the magnifying glass of our mental health status — so what is becoming apparent during this time?
To demonstrate this relationship, challenging as it is to hear — data has shown that domestic abuse has risen during quarantine. Those with eating disorders have reported that quarantine has worsened their disorder. The pandemic without a doubt exacerbates the experience of depression and anxiety.
Those of us struggling with mental health — quarantine can have us feeling like we’re trapped in our house (our own mind) with a monster (painful thoughts and emotions).
It all comes down to, what is there in our minds — and then understanding what happens naturally when the distractions are taken away.
Working With It
Domestic violence, eating disorders, depression — these are all massive circumstances with larger solutions best solved by the mind of respective professionals.
But we’re all struggling with something right now, aren’t we? And that “stir-crazy” feeling is a symptom of partially or fully avoiding whatever that struggle might be. Or perhaps the inability to navigate the struggle on our own.
While there are numerous approaches to working with the troubles in our mind — now is a seriously opportune time to turn toward the lessons of mindfulness and its various forms.
The perspective of mindfulness ultimately comes down to an awareness of our thoughts and emotions. Namely, not resisting them — but seeing them from the distanced perspective of an observer.
As mentioned, we spend most of our time running away from our thoughts and emotions because they are massively uncomfortable or painful. But the more we ignore and suppress them, the more perceived power they have over us.
Stir-crazy happens the moment we’ve got something uncomfortable rising up to the surface, but we don’t pause to realize what it is.
Mindfulness asks us to simply do that: pause. What’s there? What is the thought and/or emotion that’s creating the agitation, the restlessness, all the qualities of stir-crazy?
If you are feeling cooped up, it’s because you’re cooped in your mind. Your mind is jammed with thoughts, and it’s time to shine the bright light of mindfulness upon them to get things flowing again.
How To Practice
There are so many ways that you can apply this concept of mindfulness at the moment the stir-crazies hit… And all of them all have one thing in common…
Stillness. And so it doesn’t matter what method you choose — meditation, rest, sitting outside, journaling… If you want to look at “stir-crazy” as an opportunity, it starts with your willingness to slow down.
Once you slow down, the next step is feeling. Looking inward. Asking ourselves some questions: What are the thoughts here now? What are the feelings here now? What would happen if I let them stay instead of fighting them? What would happen if I acknowledge them?
When we allow the discomfort to stay, when we look at it objectively, we immediately put ourselves into the position of being the observer. And as the observer, thoughts do not define nor control us.
They may still stoke some less-ideal sensations, but we no longer associate our identity and wellbeing with them. They are simply a certain quality of experience, moving through the container of our awareness.
We can’t venture outside of our homes in quite the same way, but we are human beings with an intrinsic need to explore.
Why not adventure inward? Why not explore the infinite and largely untapped terrain of your inner world? And what if that feeling of “stir crazy” was actually a little nudge from your heart that it’s time to look inward?
We are experts at exploring the world around us, but only a few of us have recognized that an even greater adventure lies within. Thoughts, emotions, sensations, breath, energy, and beyond — these are the things waiting for us.
And there has never been a better opportunity to get to know them.
There is no rulebook for making it through this pandemic in perfect physical and mental health, but we have found our Slowing Down rituals to be imperative in keeping the perspective bright.
If you’re looking for guidance, check out our Live Online Class schedule, and book a class to Slow Down With Us.