Cabin fever describes a concoction of psychological symptoms a person experiences when they are cooped up inside the house for an extended period of time. Some often associate it with being forced to remain inside during a winter blizzard, but in reality, cabin fever can occur anytime you find yourself alone or disconnected from the world outside.

While cabin fever does not represent a specific diagnosis, the range of symptoms a person can experience when being confined to their home for days or weeks in a row can become overwhelming for one’s mental wellbeing. 

Social distancing and self-isolation during the pandemic have made cabin fever more widespread than ever before. This is why it has become more critical than ever to understand what these symptoms mean and how to find healthy ways to cope with them. 

What is cabin fever?

In common language, the term cabin fever is often used to describe the feeling of boredom or drowsiness experienced when you are forced to stay inside for several hours one day. In reality, however, the situation is much more complex. 

Cabin fever can be described as a chain of negative emotions some people experience when they feel cut off from the world. These emotions can include impatience, irritability, lack of motivation, and loneliness.

The issue itself is not yet recognized as a psychological disorder, but that does not make these feelings any less real or difficult to manage. In numerous cases, cabin fever leads to a prolonged state of distress that can make it strenuous to cope with everyday life. 

An individual’s personality and mood tendency matter tremendously in determining how cabin fever affects them. While some people don’t have much trouble in overcoming these feelings by finding outlets that help the time pass and keep them connected to the outside world, others face them with great difficulty. 

Are all symptoms the same?

While some symptoms are common, not everyone experiences the same feeling when dealing with cabin fever. Just as their coping mechanisms are different, so can be the symptoms. These are strongly related to each individual’s biochemistry, experiences, and social life. 

Symptoms of cabin fever include:

  • Decreased motivation
  • Lack of patience
  • Hopelessness 
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Frequent need to take naps
  • Lack of concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

If not addressed in time, these symptoms can lead to the development of unhealthy coping habits such as the need to consume intoxicating substances, sleeping too much, changes in eating habits, and self-neglect. 

Factors that can contribute to cabin fever

As human beings, we are built to need social interactions. In fact, it was proven multiple times that, when we are connecting with the world around us and have an active social life, we tend to function better. When this changes, and we are forced to limit social interactions and stay at home for days in a row, the feeling of isolation can be enough to trigger cabin fever. 

Other factors that contribute to this can be:

  • Inability to physically connect with people
  • Being unable to engage in activities that are fun or significant to the individual 
  • Work burnout, emphasized by working from home
  • Feeling unmotivated as a result of doing very little or no work
  • Anxiety generated by lack of income

While the pandemic has exacerbated cabin fever symptoms, this has been an issue long before COVID-19 was known to the world. And, because the issue is not defined as a psychological condition, there is no exact treatment.

By discussing with you and learning more about your personal situation, a mental health professional can help you recognize the factors that triggered cabin fever. They may be among the ones mentioned above, but there are plenty of other reasons an individual may want to seclude themselves.

Building healthy coping mechanisms

If your symptoms are impacting your everyday life and threaten to affect your mental health, you need to find healthy methods to cope with these feelings. Talking to a therapist is much recommended in this situation, as they can help you find ways to limit the psychological and behavioural effects of cabin fever. To give you a starting point, below are some of the activities many counsellors recommend when coping with the feeling of isolation. 

  • Get out in the daylight

Exposure to natural light is very important for regulating the body’s natural cycles. This is why we tend to feel drowsier during winter. If you are able to, go outside for at least 30 minutes every day. A quick walk around the neighbourhood is enough to feel recharged. If you cannot leave the house, let as much natural light inside and do some light exercises. 

  • Maintain healthy eating habits

Being stuck at home can lead to unhealthy eating patterns, such as wallowing in junk food or skipping meals. Keeping a healthy eating pattern will help increase energy levels and motivation, reducing the feeling of lethargy and improving concentration. 

  • Set small goals

It’s very easy to end up doing nothing when you are forced to stay at home, but this can lead to a lack of motivation and a feeling of hopelessness. Setting up small daily or weekly goals helps overcome these sensations and gives you a sense of purpose. Stick to reasonable goals, and don’t forget to reward yourself when accomplishing them. 

  • Stimulate your brain

Watching movies all day can count as a distraction, but this rarely challenges your brain. Reading books, playing board games, and doing engaging activities will stimulate your brain and can diminish the feeling of isolation or lethargy. 

  • Stay physically active

Physical activities release endorphins, which is known as the “feel good” molecule, helping you see life in a more positive way. There are plenty of simple workout routines you can try at home, even if you are not a fitness enthusiast in particular. 

Be it due to the pandemic or any given reason, cabin fever is an issue that needs to be treated as seriously as any other health concern. If you feel you may have trouble coping with the feeling of isolation, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can bring a unique perspective to the table, helping you find methods that can help you cope with these feelings in a healthy and appropriate way.