How Cabin Fever Syndrome Feels As An International Student


Lockdown has been lifted and Italy heads towards Phase 3 with the reopening of theatres, cinemas and children creches. In the past few days, I analysed my current situation and the future. While I’m happy the world is going back to a new normality, I realised I’m not ready to leave the house and rewind my frenetic life. This article will guide you through what’s happening inside my mind, hoping you will find some comfort in knowing another person’s struggles.

My Lockdown Timeline

When the COVID-19 pandemic started in China in early January, I thought it would never reach Europe. Although most people in the halls I lived in were coming from there and could have had contacts with infected individuals, I did not worry about it too much. My mom was staying with me at the time and I remember us looking at the news and trying to figure out what the state of affairs was. We started noticing people with masks, but I was more concerned about my Semester 1 exams than the recent illness that had popped up.


After I remained by myself, I focused on Semester 2. As always, the period after the assessments is quiet. When adrenaline leaves your body, you are less inclined to reflect on anything else apart from getting some deserved rest. This state of tranquillity was soon replaced with fear.


At the end of February, I suffered a head injury that has left me with sight issues. Even though they do not affect my everyday life much, I still experience difficulty seeing in parts of my visual field. My mom came to the rescue a few days after my accident and accompanied me to the hospital several times. When we realised I needed extra support, we came back to Italy. Long story short, we barely got to my hometown on the 11th of March, as the Italian First Minister declared lockdown on the same evening. To read more about it, check out my article.


Struggling to cope

I spent lockdown inside with my parents. I wish I could say I enjoyed every minute, but it got difficult after a while. The most daunting aspect of it was to not be able to plan. As a control freak, I struggled to live day by day and be content with it. In the article How To Schedule Your Routine I introduced the way I plan my daily activities to experience a sense of fulfilment. Although I kept busy, my mental health took a powerful hit towards the end of April and through May.


At the time I’m writing this article, it’s the middle of June. My life took a turn at the beginning of the month. I understood I need not stress about September and I must focus on the things that keep me happy. However, as university anxiety faded, I realised I might not be ready to go back to the UK.


While talking with my mom, I unwrapped my concerns about being an international student in Southampton. Apart from the uncertainty related to Brexit, I had to accept the hard truth: I do not enjoy being far from home. I imagine most of my indecision is connected to the PTSD the entire world is facing because of the pandemic, but I think my personality has also something to do with it. This lead me to wonder how many people are in my same situation. If you know me, you might guess I had to research about it.


Discovering Cabin Fever Syndrome

Media in Italy talk about the “sindrome della capanna”, also known as cabin fever syndrome. Even though academics do not accept it as an official mental disorder, psychologists acknowledge its symptoms, which include restlessness, irritability, impatience, feelings of lethargy, difficulties concentrating, low motivation, food cravings, and sleep disorders (The Manfred Kets De Vries Institute ).


When I read about the cabin fever syndrome, it was the best description of what I was experiencing. The page I linked gives advice on how to cope with it, so go check it out if you identify with the symptoms.


The twist about cabin fever syndrome is you can become “addicted” to staying inside. While reflecting about it, I realised how much my perception of lockdown changed through it. In the beginning, I felt constrained and forced to be in a situation I hadn’t expected. While days, weeks and then months passed, staying inside has become embedded in my life, so much so that now I consider being in lockdown normal. And I had to come to peace with this shift.


Cabin fever or tired of my hectic life?

The label I put on my discomfort initially satisfied me. I am trying to change this aspect of my life, but I get stressed when I don’t know what goes on with my body and mind. This goes back to be a control freak.


Once I understood more about the syndrome – from the perspective of a curious person – I realised it was still not the point. Even though I had experienced the symptoms of cabin fever, something was missing. I have always enjoyed staying inside, but I realised it is more than that.


I stopped for a second and I thought about it. What if I am just tired of my hectic life and lockdown has given me the chance to halt and take advantage of every second in my daily life? Going deeper into this, I noticed how many things I completed throughout these months. While at university, I had to make almost all aspects in my life secondary to my career path. However, once I had to stay at home – and the amount of inputs from my faculty decreased – I could also take up again hobbies I had to leave on the side. Let me elaborate.


Although I put a stop to my podcast, I have otherwise achieved so much. Apart from successfully ending the school year, this blog is running steadily, I started learning how to code, I took my theoretical driver’s license exam and I am the proud mom of a 2-month-old kitten. Perhaps I did more during lockdown than before it began. The answer is: I had the chance to do what I enjoy doing without having to worry about going to university, cleaning my house, doing the laundry, buying groceries, etc. I have been more productive, but I did all the activities I enjoy doing. And this is the reason I might not be ready to go back to the UK.


While I realise I need to finish university to achieve my career goals, it has been nice to take the weight of all my responsibilities off of my shoulders. As an international undergraduate, I forget how many duties I have towards my family and myself. This lockdown gave me the opportunity to be young again, to allow someone else to make the tough decisions for me. And I’d like everyone who thinks I’m being dramatic to reflect on how life abroad challenges us. We live far away from home without the support system we would have in our own country and we need to figure out the solution to every issue by ourselves. In a time like this, I believe taking a break from all of this is healthy.


A message for my fellow international students

I’d like to close this article with a brief message to all the international students out there.


It’s okay to worry about going back to university. It’s okay if you are a first year and moving away from home concerns you.


We are all in the same situation. We just spent the most horrible months of our lives so far and it traumatized us. What’s important to remember is we need to build our futures now, so we will manage the upcoming challenges of the world we live in.

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