For those who are familiar with “cabin fever,” they’ve likely experienced it around the time that spring begins, after a period of being stuck indoors during the cold winter months. However, many more people are now finding themselves dealing with cabin fever symptoms than at any point in recent history — regardless of the weather outside — as many are cooped up at home due to concerns over going out and socializing.
So what do you do when you have cabin fever? If you’re feeling anxious, lonely and bored indoors, experts recommend that you take some simple steps to improve your mood and outlook — such as exercising, connecting with others over the phone or via social media, and if possible spending time in a safe place outside in nature.
What Is Cabin Fever?
What does it mean when someone says she or he has cabin fever? The meaning of cabin fever is “extreme irritability and restlessness from living in isolation or a confined indoor area for a prolonged time.”
Cabin fever is not considered a diagnosable psychological disorder (it’s not listed in the DSM-5 manual that psychologists use), so there isn’t one official definition to describe it. Still, it can be a common complaint among people who can’t get outdoors much, and as one psychologist told CNN, “It may not be a real condition, but the feelings it’s associated with are.”
What is cabin fever like? While it’s not totally synonymous with confinement or isolation, it’s an anxious feeling of being “cooped up” and going “stir crazy.”
When it becomes severe, another word for cabin fever can be claustrophobia, which is defined as “extreme or irrational fear of confined places.”
Cabin fever is also believed to be associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — or the “winter blues,” a diagnosable form of depression that usually affects people in the winter due to factors like less light exposure — as well as generalized anxiety disorder in some instances.
What are the symptoms of cabin fever? While not a true disorder, cabin fever is thought of as a “syndrome” that usually includes some or all of these symptoms:
- Irritability/lack of patience
- Listlessness and distress
- Anxiety symptoms
- Depression, sadness and hopelessness
- Lack of motivation
- Trouble concentrating
- Food cravings or loss of appetite, and sometimes changes in weight
- Difficulty waking and/or frequent napping
Can cabin fever cause neurosis or psychosis? Some who deal with severe cabin fever may feel like they are experiencing “temporary insanity,” however this isn’t true for most.
Hallucinations during isolation tend to occur among people who have another psychiatric disorder or if isolation lasts for a long time (such as in prison).
Is cabin fever a real threat to your health? It can be, assuming it lingers on for months or leads to depression, chronic stress or paranoia.
If you have a history of mood disorders (especially seasonal depression), anxiety or phobias, then you’re more likely to deal with serious symptoms when isolated. If you find yourself feeling hopeless, delusional or paranoid, it’s recommended that you speak with a professional (more on this below).
You may actually be experiencing SAD, a type of clinical depressive disorder that can cause symptoms as serious as other forms of depression.
How to Cope With/Improve Cabin Fever
How do you treat cabin fever when you’re stuck at home? According to experts, here are some ways to cope and help lift your mood:
1. Get Outside
If there’s such thing as a cabin fever cure, it’s going outside to spend time in nature.
If it’s safe for you to leave your home, even briefly, this can be a great way to recharge and calm down. Exposure to sunlight is important for regulating your “internal clock” (your circadian rhythm), meaning it can help you sleep better and feel more awake/productive during the day.
Spending time in the sun and nature is also a natural mood-lifter.
Try going for a walk around your neighborhood or, even better, a nearby park or beach. If you have a backyard, give earthing a try, in which you make direct contact with the ground (usually by laying or walking on the grass without shoes on).
If getting outside isn’t an option, sitting close to a window that allows sunlight in to reach your eyes is also beneficial. A light box that helps expose your eyes to the same type of light wavelengths as the sun might also be a worthwhile investment if you’re dealing with SAD.
Most people with SAD require between 15 to 30 minutes of light therapy a day to start feeling improvements within two to four days.
2. Schedule Your Day
Setting yourself up with a daily schedule and “to do” list is a helpful way to keep a sense of normalcy and to maximize efficiency if you’re working from home.
- Try to stick to a regular wake-sleep cycle, another important way to regulate your circadian rhythm, which affects your energy and mood. Get enough sleep, about seven to nine hours for most adults, but try to avoid sleeping or napping too much, which can actually worsen your mood.
- Eat meals at regular times, rather than skipping meals or grazing all day long. (Boredom and sadness might trigger cravings, so be careful about keeping temping junk foods like sugary snacks in your home.)
- In addition to eating healthy meals, consider adding a vitamin D supplement to your routine, since many adults who spend lots of time indoors have low levels of this key vitamin.
- Even if you’re working from home and not going to your workplace like usual, still try to work on a regular schedule (for example between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.) by making time slots/appointments for yourself. This will help prevent you from overworking or procrastinating.
- Schedule time in your day to take breaks and do enjoyable hobbies or activities that give you a sense of accomplishment or joy, such as something creative, reading, cooking or baking, writing in a journal, etc. Find creative ways to learn something new and engage your mind, ideally even getting into a “flow state,” such as by doing puzzles, board games, meditating, even cleaning/organizing your home, etc.
- Even if you’re mostly at home alone, keep up your hygiene, which is important for mental health and your mood.
3. Get Some Exercise
Exercise is one of the best ways to release natural endorphins, creating a “natural high” and giving you more energy. If going outdoors for a walk, run, bike ride, etc., is not safe for you to do, try at-home workouts using just your body weight or simple equipment like bands and weights.
You can also do yoga, pilates or barre workouts at home with basically nothing but a mat on the ground (and even this is optional). For even more free workout ideas, check out YouTube, fitness streaming services or fitness websites online.
4. Be Careful of Too Much Screen Time
Watching TV or playing on your phone or computer all day long will likely make you feel drained and unproductive. A bit of screen time is a fine way to catch up on news, read, listen to music or a podcast, or connect to others, but it’s important to balance your day by also doing more active hobbies and going outside if you can.
Ideally, keep electronics out of your bedroom and other spaces that you find relaxing. And to help you sleep, minimize or eliminate screen time during the two to three hours before bedtime.
5. Connect However You Can (Phone Calls, Online, Etc.)
For introverts and extroverts alike, loneliness can really take a toll on your physical and even mental health, so prioritize keeping in regular contact with friends, family and co-workers as much as possible.
Texting, emailing and slacking can be helpful for staying in communication, however phone calls and video calls might be even better for dealing with loneliness. When you’re not chatting with others, even watching YouTube videos or listening to podcasts may help you feel more connected to others.
When to Seek Outside Help
If you’ve taken the steps above but still don’t feel like yourself, consider speaking to a professional. This is especially important for you’re feeling depressed, delusional or having suicidal thoughts.
A therapist, such as one trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you learn coping mechanisms, skills and habits you can employ at any time to deal with difficult feelings. You can also discuss the use of medications and a light box with your therapist if you suspect these might be helpful for you.
- What is cabin fever? The meaning of cabin fever is “extreme irritability and restlessness from living in isolation or a confined indoor area for a prolonged time.”
- What’s another word for cabin fever? It can be described as feeling stir crazy, cooped up or even claustrophobic.
- Cabin fever symptoms can include irritability, anxiety, depression symptoms like fatigue, boredom and loneliness.
- Some of the best ways to cope include getting outside however possible, getting sunlight exposure, exercising, setting a daily schedule, connecting to others using technology and limiting screen time.