Cabin Fever Symptoms and Coping Skills

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Cabin fever is a popular term for a relatively common reaction to being isolated in a building for a period of time. Some experts believe that cabin fever is a sort of syndrome, while others feel that it is linked to such disorders as seasonal affective disorder and claustrophobia. Cabin fever is ultimately rooted in intense isolation, which may reach the level of a specific phobia.

If you are experiencing cabin fever as a result of social distancing or self-quarantine in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you may be feeling additional stress beyond that which stems from simply being isolated. There are ways to combat the anxiety you may be feeling.

Symptoms

Not everyone suffering from cabin fever will experience exactly the same symptoms, but many people report feeling intensely irritable or restless. Other commonly experienced effects are:

  • Restlessness
  • Lethargy
  • Sadness or depression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Lack of patience
  • Food cravings
  • Decreased motivation
  • Social Isolation
  • Difficulty waking
  • Frequent napping
  • Hopelessness
  • Changes in weight
  • Inability to cope with stress

Note that these symptoms may also be indicative of a wide range of other disorders, and only a trained mental health professional can make an accurate diagnosis. In addition, not everyone who fears being cooped up at home in the winter has cabin fever. Only when someone exhibits several of the symptoms mentioned above is a phobia more likely.

Coping With Cabin Fever

Like any mental health condition, cabin fever is best treated with the assistance of a therapist or other trained mental health professional. However, if your symptoms are relatively mild, taking active steps to combat your feelings may be enough to help you feel better.

  • Get Out of the House: If you are housebound, this may not always be possible. But if you are able to go outside, even for a short time, take advantage of that opportunity. Exposure to daylight can help regulate the body's natural cycles, and exercise releases endorphins, creating a natural high. Even a quick stroll can help you feel better quickly. If you are not able to leave the house at all, get close to a window and start moving around.
  • Maintain Normal Eating Patterns: For many of us, a day stuck at home is an excuse to overindulge in junk food. Others skip meals altogether. However, eating right can increase our energy levels and motivation. You may feel less hungry if you are getting less exercise, but monitor your eating habits to ensure that you maintain the proper balance of nutrition. Limit high-sugar, high-fat snacks and drink plenty of water.
  • Set Goals: When you are stuck in the house, you may be more likely to while away the time doing nothing of importance. Set daily and weekly goals, and track your progress toward completion. Make sure that your goals are reasonable, and reward yourself for meeting each milestone.
  • Use Your Brain: Although TV is a distraction, it is also relatively mindless. Work crossword puzzles, read books or play board games. Stimulating your mind can help keep you moving forward and reduce feelings of isolation and helplessness.
  • Exercise: Even if you cannot leave the house, find a way to stay physically active while indoors. Regular physical activity can help burn off any extra energy you have from being cooped up indoors. Indoor exercise ideas include workout videos, bodyweight workouts, and online workout routines.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

It is important to note that cabin fever is not the same thing as the condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Cabin fever is specifically associated with isolation, while SAD occurs during the winter months even in people who spend little time at home.

Seasonal affective disorder is not similar to or mistaken for cabin fever or vice versa. SAD has clear parameters that are different from cabin fever and SAD is a recognized and accepted DSM-5 diagnosis whereas cabin fever is not. Treatment of SAD includes light therapy, sometimes medication, and some people need vitamin D; cabin fever, on the other hand, is relieved by leaving the house. People with SAD can suffer significantly for the fall and winter months (most often) and have many of the same symptoms as classic depression.

A Word From Verywell

While staying indoors and social distancing may run counter to our instinct for socialization, it is imperative that we heed the strict guidelines given by the CDC to help minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Ignoring these recommendations will result in an increase in the number of symptomatic cases and deaths. It is important to take this situation seriously and face the necessity of being stuck indoors with ‘cabin fever.’ Read a book, play board games, watch tv, and talk to friends via FaceTime—but stay inside. 

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