IT may not feel like it, but it’s only been a week. If, as Harold Wilson is supposed to have said in a lobby briefing during the sterling crisis of 1964, that is a long time in politics, it is an eternity in your sitting room watching Netflix.

Those who are not yet buckling under the strain may nonetheless have found it slightly daunting when Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, told us the other day that the measures requiring us all to stay in our homes could be

in place for as long as 13 weeks. If, as other experts have suggested, we could be confined to some degree or another for six months, there are going to be an awful lot of cases of cabin fever.

I speak from some experience since, for a variety of reasons, not all directly a result of the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve been confined to quarters for more than five weeks now. I haven’t quite reached the stage of cooking and eating my own shoes, like Chaplin in The Gold Rush, but things have definitely become a little weird.

That’s the more peculiar since, for the most part, my normal routine hasn’t actually altered very much.

Like a lot of freelancers, I hardly ever left the house anyway, even before all this started. I can’t remember who it was (Flaubert, perhaps?) who claimed that a writer’s aim should be not to go out, and real success was not having to leave your bed. But even for those of us with Proustian or – let’s be honest – bone-idle tendencies, there’s a marked psychological difference, somehow, when you’re not allowed to.

This is trivial, of course, when measured against the problems of those who are actually unwell, those who are working flat out tending to them, or those who are experiencing anxieties about work or money as a result of the lockdown.

But the mental health aspect of isolating huge swathes of the population is a potentially serious issue, as will become apparent the longer these restrictions apply. And there are, naturally, implications for those with strained domestic arrangements or, worse, where there is the threat of abuse.

The questions that have been asked, sometimes jocularly, about the lockdown’s effect on the divorce and birth rates will probably turn out to have real, and perhaps worrying, demographic effects.

The mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal declared in 1654 that “All humanity’s problem’s stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” As is often the case with the best-known apercus, Pascal’s broader point wasn’t quite as blunt as that (in some ways he was arguing the opposite, for complicated and paradoxical reasons having to do with the Fall of Man). It turns out, however, that there is a scientific basis for the claim.

Researchers at the University of Virginia, in a trial conducted 360 years after Pascal’s insight, asked volunteers to sit quietly in a room for 12 minutes with only their own thoughts to occupy them. The only rules were that they couldn’t get

out of their chair or fall asleep. The room also contained a button that would give them an unpleasant electric shock – which they tried out at the beginning of the experiment.

Faced with the prospect of doing nothing but think pleasant thoughts for under a quarter of an hour, 70 per cent of the men in the study chose instead to give themselves another electric shock. (The women were more sensible, but even a quarter of them pressed the button.)

At the moment, the vast majority of the population appears to be complying with the restrictions placed upon them with remarkable good cheer, but the real test will come when they begin to chafe at their constraints; the danger is that that moment may come before it is safe to start returning to something like normal life. That, one assumes,

was the thinking behind holding off on a general quarantine until the point when it would be most effective.

But notions of what constitutes normal life may shift; I now find myself mildly surprised when a film or television programme shows more than a couple of people in a scene, as if physical proximity, or the concept of a dinner party, had been relegated to the realms of the fantastic.

A visit to the supermarket (which you should of course be undertaking as seldom as possible, and after washing your hands) is already a distinctly surreal experience, even if you’re lucky enough to locate eggs or toilet roll.

Even with plenty to read, watch or listen to, and even though many of us are still able to work, more or less as usual, from home, it turns out to be surprisingly difficult to do nothing.

A few motivated souls, like the Abbé Faria in Monte Cristo, may be galvanised by their confinement into self-improvement, but I think that most of us, if we’re honest, know in our heart of hearts that we’re not actually going to spend the next couple of months productively, learning a language or a musical instrument, and probably not even clearing out the cupboard underneath the stairs.

Indeed, we should all be praying that some projects never get off the ground, or we’re going to get, for one thing, lots of very bad novels with titles like Love in the Time of Coronavirus.

It’s possible that people might get better at cooking, since being cooped up tends to make you start thinking about what to have for dinner shortly after breakfast. The difficulty is that you won’t have the ingredients, since a large part of effective cookery is daily shopping, which we can’t do any more. About the best we can hope for is that someone comes up with an exciting new recipe involving dried pulses.

We constantly seek diversion and activity, though part of us knows that they make us wretched; we know that happiness is found in rest and not excitement, but we remain restless. Our parents’ question – why can’t you sit still? – is an eternal and unanswerable one.

Read more: Sturgeon aims to recruit 'army' of NHS volunteers