Winter is among us. Wind, rain, snow, hail, freezing temperatures, black ice … it’s no wonder staying inside all bundled up is so enticing. When that continues for four months straight though, and you’re on the 6th season of Grey’s Anatomy (you started the show about four days ago) something isn’t right. You become lethargic, impatient, depressed, unmotivated, and withdrawn. You may even crave carbohydrates and find yourself sleeping at odd hours all day (Kelby, 2016). This is when you know you’ve been hit with the mental virus - cabin fever has kicked in.
This state of mental unrest is characterized by symptoms of irritability and listlessness as a result of confinement for long periods of time (Merriam-Webster). A study done in 1984 on The Meaning of “Cabin Fever” aimed to see what this term meant to an average Minnesotan (Rosenwald, 2016). The majority of participants reported “feelings of dissatisfaction at home, restlessness, boredom, irritability, and needing to break routine” (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984).
From these definitions, it is no surprise that cabin fever is most exclusively a side effect of the winter months, especially in areas of extreme weather conditions where going outside is sometimes not an option.
Even though weather is a huge component, it is not the sole contributor. Winter has become synonymous with the holiday season. Children are out of school for a few weeks, many adults take vacation time, and homes begin to fill up. The weather may keep people inside, but so may family obligations. Plus, if you are out of school and out of work, your days are suddenly wide open. Add all that to the typical winter staples such as cozy fireplaces, gingerbread houses, hot cocoa, anything fuzzy and warm, and you’ll notice it all leads to staying inside, even if you live in the warmest areas.
So wherever you are, the winter months will always bring the natural temptation to become a sloth. It’s amazing how much doing nothing can lead to so many negative somethings. But never fear - there are remedies!
Interestingly, recognizing the concept of “cabin fever” in itself can be helpful in connecting the dots and acknowledging what is going on. Once you realize you’re in this rut, it can be much easier to get yourself out of it (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984).
Additionally, here are four categories of solutions that may help you reduce the fever:
Cabin fever is defined by its cause of confinement. Being confined and isolated from the outside world limits one’s activity level. But we are not sloths we are humans. We need stimulation. Getting our hearts pumping and blood flowing increases our mood tenfold. Science has overwhelmingly proven the positive benefits of exercise. So if you can’t get outside or go to a gym, do a workout video, vacuum, or do some jumping jacks in your living
If you can recognize your own cabin fever, you may be introspective enough to help yourself (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984). Examples may include disconnecting from television and social media, deep cleaning your house or room, reading a book, or playing a game. You know you best, so help yourself stimulate your brain by doing some of your favorite activities (Kelby, 2016).
Seek out company
Sometimes we are not the ones to help ourselves and we need outside assistance. You may not want any interaction, but you may need it. Invite your friends and family to make dinner together, play a board game, or even have a movie night. Anything that increases interaction with others helps you feel connected (Gielan, 2011). Making plans with friends and relatives provides purpose, stimulation, and a reason to put on real pants.
Alter your physical/mental scenery
Being stuck in the same environment with the perception of “no way out” is one of the most characteristic symptoms of cabin fever. A way to combat this is to find ways to change your physical and mental environment (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984). After you self-help by deep cleaning your space, move your furniture around to make a whole new room. The novelty of your area will reenergize you.
To change your mental scenery, goals are key. Plan an outing or a trip; make a weight-loss plan or a shopping list. Scheduling exciting things to do and see for the future will give you something to look forward to so you don’t feel so stuck in the present (Gielan, 2011).
If you’re an active go-getter who can’t sit still and is at home mostly to sleep and shower, cabin fever will likely settle in fast. If you’re a natural hermit who has a date with Netflix and wine most nights, it might not kick in for a while; but don’t be fooled, cabin fever affects the entire spectrum of folks, regardless of who you are or where you live. The plus side is that by recognizing what is it, and why it happens, you can learn to reverse its affects by using some of the methods discussed above. It is not an easy task and will require some willpower to get off the couch. If you’re finding it difficult to shake the winter blues even with these tried and true techniques reviewed, just remember that wintertime doesn’t last forever. Soon enough, flowers will bloom and the sun will shine!
Gielan, M. (2011, March 07). Beating cabin fever. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lights-camera-happiness/201103/beating-cabin-fever
Kelby, M. (2016, February 10). Cabin fever symptoms & solutions - pages 1-2. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from empowher.com,http://www.empowher.com/emotional-health/content/cabin- fever-symptoms-solutions?page=0,1
Rosenblatt, P. C., Anderson, R. M., & Johnson, P. A. (1984). The meaning of “Cabin Fever.” The Journal of Social Psychology, 123(1), 43–53.doi:10.1080/00224545.1984.9924512
Rosenwald, M. S. (2016, January 25). Cabin fever is very, very real, and it has been studied. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2016/01/25/cabin-fever-is-very-very-real-and-it-has-been- studied/?utm_term=.2c922b8662b8