Our COVID-19 site helping to break the cabin fever

Author: Bruce J. Little

Ever find yourself confined to a small space with overly familiar surroundings and the strange sensation that you don’t have enough room to breathe? Commonly known as ‘cabin fever’, this state may not be a diagnosable medical condition, but according to Healthline, it is remarkably similar to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression often related to changes in seasons and spending a lot of time indoors.


What cabin fever looks like 


In an article for Netdoctor, Dr Meg Arroll, a chartered psychologist and author of The Shrinkology Solution lists the following symptoms commonly associated with cabin fever: 


  • Restlessness

  • Impatience

  • Lethargy

  • Low mood

  • Lack of motivation

  • Cognitive challenges (e.g. difficulty concentrating)

  • Sleep difficulties (struggling to fall asleep or constant tiredness)

  • Constant hunger or cravings

  • Stress or anxiety.

Dr Arroll believes that cabin fever is a serious enough condition to be considered a syndrome, which is a group of symptoms that are consistently found to occur together. 


Coping in the cabin from within


It may not always be possible to leave the confined space or situation that has brought about the cabin fever, but there are some things we can do to cope better with our predicament. 


Sometimes it is best to sit with the feelings as they arise. Dr Arroll told Netdoctor that you should “turn the tables on cabin fever and view each sensation through a lens of inquisitiveness – ask yourself what each sensation feels like in your body. Is it in certain areas – the head, chest, or limbs, for example? Can you give it a colour, name or character? By investigating each sensation, you will grow accustomed to it and the negative influence these symptoms have will diminish”.


Don’t OD on the news


WebMD recommends you try not to overdose on the news if you’re prone to cabin fever. There’s only so much stimulation we can take, and the news is very good at making situations seem more dire and stressful than they usually are, which can be anxiety-inducing. One news-free day per week should help if it doesn’t give you anxiety that you’re missing out on something vital. 


Go easy on the cabin cocktails


WebMD and the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned that alcohol may aggravate feelings of depression, isolation and frustration. In fact, whilst some would turn to alcohol to unwind or ease their anxiety, Dr Aiysha Malik from the WHO says it “can make things worse”.


Get active


Try to get some exercise every day, says WebMD. Running on the spot, a digital fitness class, yoga or even just a spirited spring-clean will get endorphins and blood flowing.


Connect to the world outside


In an article for Psychology Today, positive health and wellness expert Michelle Gielan suggests that you “re-energise social relationships” to keep the cabin fever from getting the better of you. She suggests finding fun ways to energise your social life, which will help you “feel connected to the people you love”. This can be done online via social media or even a good old-fashioned phone call.


Watch out for cabin food


Healthline suggests you switch to a diet that is rich in lean protein and omega 3 fatty acids, instead of the usual crunchy, easy-to-consume processed snacks. It suggests fatty fish like salmon or pilchards, which are also rich in vitamins B12 and D, “important for emotional regulation”.


Set goals and get with the schedule


If you are in a cabin fever situation that involves a partner, some children and perhaps even a pet or two, Dr Earim Chaudry, GP and Medical Director of men’s wellness platform Manual, suggests you break the day up into hourly chunks. “In times of uncertainty, structure and predictability are very important for your children,” he told Netdoctor. And when it comes to being part of a marriage that can survive such constant close proximity, he recommends that you set up separate work areas and create regular routines, so that you can respect one another’s boundaries and personal space. 


Finally, Dr Arroll suggests creating and sticking to a routine. She recommends going to bed and waking up at the same time every day to establish a circadian rhythm. This will allow a better balance of neurochemicals like serotonin and melatonin, which can do much to help us regulate our moods and states of mind. 




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