The holidays are over, the novelty of the first snow has worn off, and the realization that we have a long winter ahead is finally setting in. You know when it’s so cold that, upon stepping outside, the wintry wind immediately brings tears to your eyes that then freeze to icicles before they reach the middle of your cheek? Or when your toes or so cold you worry you may trip and be buried under the snow, not to be discovered until the first thaw?
Welcome to February in Chicago! My first Midwest winter was two years ago and, this being my third trip around the sun here, I feel like I am now a winter veteran. I have seen some things and am forever changed. Until I was advised by the National Weather Service that it was unsafe to be outside for longer than six minutes because the windchill is -35 degrees, I did not know cold. I thought I did, but I did not.
It’s easy to feel like the winter will go on forever, that facing you is an endless torrent of dark evenings and freezing commutes. So, you must get creative! Here are my top 10 favorite indoor activities for when it is simply too cold to go outside:
1) Start that book you’ve been meaning to read for months
My absolute favorite thing to do in the winter is read. But, if you’re anything like me, I always have a stack of books lined up that go almost completely untouched in the warmer months. Winter is the perfect time to start working through them! There’s nothing better than snuggling up with a hot cup of tea and a new book. Settle in!
2) Pick up a craft or hobby
What better time to start crafting than when you’re stuck inside all day? There are countless crafts and hobbies out there to try, from the mundane to the strange. Last winter, I took up painting. This winter, who knows?
3) Visit museums and galleries
True, you will have to technically leave the house for this one, but just the short time it takes for you to hop out of your car and run in the door. Many cities schedule periods of time where entry into various museums are free or at reduced cost – and most will do this in the winter time. Chicago, for example, does Chicago Museum Week every January, where you can visit top museums like the Art Institute Chicago or the Field Museum at a discounted admission. There’s nothing better than spending a snowy Sunday with Sue the enormous T-rex.
4) Hit up some new restaurants!
It’s only natural to want to eat all of the things when it’s cold outside, and winter food can be the best kind of food! Check out the new Ramen in town or hit up that new pub down the street. Or, better yet, see when your city’s Restaurant Week is happening. They’re usually in the wintertime and are a great opportunity to try some new fancy restaurants at a portion of the cost.
5) Binge something on Netflix
We all do it – there’s no shame in it! With the millions (literally, millions) of TV shows and movies out there, there’s no end to the amount of hours you could spend in front of the TV this winter. Obviously, you’ll want to stop before you brain turns to absolute mush, but if there’s nothing going on that day, go for it! Sink into a season or two of Shameless or Sons of Anarchy – guilt-free.
6) Try something new in the kitchen
If my favorite thing to do in the winter is read, my second favorite is to cook. Trying out a new recipe on a cold winter evening can be as warming as a summer day. Plus, you get to eat it afterwards!
7) Work somewhere outside of your house
One of the worst things about winter is cabin fever. If you work from home or do some side-hustle work after hours, look outside your living room next time. Hit up the new café or maybe even check out a co-working space.
8) Write something. Write anything!
One thing that winter really lends itself to is some good old introspection. It’s the perfect time to start that journal or maybe some sort of creative writing project you’ve been thinking about starting.
9) Join a gym or take up an indoor sport
You’ll probably need something to counteract all of the Restaurant Week-touring and yummy new recipes you’ve concocted, right? A lot of gyms offer “new year discounts” in the winter to attract customers. See if any near you do the same! Also, there are tons of indoor rec leagues you can join in on- from soccer to bocce ball.
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