Updated on 1/19/2022
The feelings of restlessness and irritability that accompany staying inside for too long are very common. So common that there is a name for it: ‘cabin fever.’
Are you feeling a little trapped these days? Cooped up? Perhaps the walls seem as though they are closing in on you, and you feel an intense urge to do something wild and impulsive. While the term ‘cabin fever’ is often associated with winter blues or being stuck inside during the long winter months, the term is taking on new meaning for many.
What is Cabin Fever?
So, what is cabin fever? While it is not a defined psychological disorder, it does capture the anxiety and exhaustion a person feels when trapped in a confined indoor area for extended periods. Fortunately, treating the symptoms of cabin fever can make a significant difference in coping with the difficult emotions that come along with it.
Signs and Symptoms of Cabin Fever
No matter the cause of your cabin fever — a global pandemic, natural disaster, lack of transportation or other health issues — being confined to your home for a long time is hard. A feeling of isolation and disconnect from the world around you are just a few examples of the emotions people may experience when they are stuck inside, but cabin fever symptoms extend beyond feeling bored or stuck. The most common signs of cabin fever include:
- Challenges with waking up
- Lack of motivation
- Sleep-pattern disruption
- Distrust of others
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent sadness or depression
Not everyone who experiences cabin fever will have the same symptoms. While your personality and natural temperament will go a long way in determining how cabin fever impacts you, many report feeling intensely irritable or restless. In some cases, you may find it difficult to manage day-to-day life until these painful feelings pass.
“We can’t always rely on others to tell us how we’ve changed, so it’s important to have some self awareness about your baseline functioning to understand that even the slightest shift in nutrition and sleep can be a result of cabin fever. Oftentimes, a dwindling motivation can clue us in on the need for changing up our routines.”
How to Build Coping Skills to Overcome Cabin Fever
No matter the situation bringing you homebound, chances are your usual routines and distractions are no longer an option. That is why it is more important than ever to establish new, consistent routines that can ease anxiety and quiet the unhelpful noise in your head.
Try adding these 5 healthy habits to your new schedule:
1. Focus on nutrition
While comfort foods can bring some short-term relief and enjoyment to an otherwise uneventful day, neglecting nutrition will leave you feeling weighed down and sluggish. Try to consume comfort foods and alcohol in moderation while filling your meals with nutrient-rich ingredients wherever possible. There are particular foods and vitamins that can help with boosting your mood if you are experiencing cabin fever:
- Vitamin D
- Foods high in Omega-3 such as salmon, plant oils, and nuts
- Folic acid from foods like legumes, eggs, and leafy greens
2. Get moving
Exercise does just as much good for your mental health as it does for your physical health. Building in regular activity can help reduce stress, ease depression, and combat anxiety while helping you sleep better. Try daily walks or jogs outside or stream an online workout class.
3. Prioritize sleep
It seems like a no-brainer, but going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help you get a full night’s sleep. As tempting as it is, try to minimize napping during the day whenever possible. If sleep struggles continue to negatively impact your daily life, you may be suffering from more severe issues like insomnia.
4. Try something new
To fend off boredom, it is essential to mix things up and try something completely new. Perhaps it is having a picnic with your family outdoors (or indoors) or learning a new skill — such as a new song on the guitar or make up a new dance routine.
5. Establish moments of zen
Try mindfulness meditation techniques or other types of meditations that reduce anxiety to help reduce stress and keep your mind focused. This may even mean you have to carve out some alone time to get a few moments of quiet.
Finding Ways to Connect Despite the Distance
Loneliness and social isolation for an extended period can be the most difficult parts of cabin fever. It goes without saying that these feelings can have a significant negative impact on your mental and physical health — contributing to depression, sleep troubles, and even heart problems. While you may not be able to be physically in the room with someone safely, there are ways to connect virtually to help bridge the divide. Try any of the following:
- Get a happy hour on the books. Find a regular time to video chat with friends or family members over video. While hearing a lovely one’s voices over the phone is one thing, being able to see their face, expression, and home can be particularly soothing to help you bridge the connection.
- Send some physical mail. While texts are important ways to stay connected when far apart, writing letters is a valuable retro way to show someone that you are thinking of them. After all, don’t we all get excited when receiving something in the mail?
- Get vulnerable. When you do connect with your loved ones, embrace your emotions and what you are feeling. Being honest and open about your anxieties, fears, and dreams can help relationships grow stronger despite physical distance — your loved ones are more likely to open up if you do, too.
The coping mechanism that works best for your cabin fever will have a lot to do with your personal situation and why you are experiencing isolation in the first place. For most of us right now, that reason is the coronavirus pandemic, which is leaving us anxious about our health and frustrated by our isolation.
“Resilience can often be isolating as we tend to navigate so many changes in the world and in our own environments. But, challenging our comfort zones with a refined self care plan can impact and elevate our stress response by offering more clarity and a path forward.”
Finding new, healthy ways to establish routines filled with physical activity, food that nourishes your body, and new experiences to keep your brain active have become essential. Additionally, overcoming the physical distance in meaningful ways and finding connection with friends and family can help ease the time apart. And, honestly, these healthy practices will help you during the pandemic and beyond! The experience of cabin fever is not easy to deal with, but there are ways to build resilience and come through stronger on the other end.
- Asp K, CRT, RPSGT. Seasonal affective disorder (Cabin Fever): Symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Aastweb.org. Accessed December 28, 2021. https://www.aastweb.org/blog/seasonal-affective-disorder-cabin-fever-symptoms-causes-and-treatment-options
- Smith M. ECU psychologist offers tips for coping with COVID-19-related cabin fever, stress. News Services. Published April 15, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2021. https://news.ecu.edu/2020/04/15/ecu-psychologist-offers-tips-for-coping-with-covid-19-related-cabin-fever-stress/