Cabin Fever, a real thing

Cabin Fever, a real thing

Cabin fever is something everyone is coming to grips with as South Africans head into our second month of lockdown. Normally, we would associate this term with being forced to stay indoors during a rainy weekend. The fact of the matter is that it can strike anywhere and at any time you feel disconnected from society or the world at large.

Research on cabin fever brought up that, generally, it’s a series of emotions or symptoms people experience when they’re confined for extended periods.

Recognizing the symptoms of cabin fever and finding ways to cope can go a long way to helping with our current situation. So let’s go into how we can manage it.

What is cabin fever?

Cabin fever is described as a series of negative emotions and distressing emotions and sensations that humans can face if they’re feeling cut off from the world.

In place of bad weather, and particularly those who overseas who live in extended bad weather situations like blizzards, we all have the potential for these feelings now as a result of social distancing and other pandemic conditions.

It can be difficult to deal with if you don’t have or don’t know about proper coping techniques, and it certainly isn’t indicative of someone “going nuts” – cabin fever isn’t recognized as a psychological disorder and while that is true it would be cruel to invalidate the feelings and distress that come with it.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms go way beyond being bored or feeling “stuck” in one place. They’re rooted in an intense feeling of isolation and could include: hopelessness, disturbed sleep patterns, irritability, lack of patience, ongoing sadness, possibly even depression, decreased motivation, lack of energy, difficulty getting up in the mornings and your concentration is shot. There could be other indications so if you suspect you could have cabin fever do some research into it.

Some people weather negative feelings more easily; they may take on projects or dive into creative outlets to pass the time and ward off the symptoms, and yet others may find it gets increasingly difficult to manage life until these feelings pass.

How to cope with cabin fever?

There isn’t a standard “treatment.” However, mental health professionals do recognize that while this is not a psychological illness, the symptoms are very real.

The coping mechanism that works best will have a lot to do with the individual’s situation and the reason they’re secluded in the first place. Finding meaningful ways to engage the brain and occupy time fruitfully can help alleviate the distress and irritability that cabin fever brings.

The following ideas are a good place to start.

Spend time in the garden if you have one

Time spent in nature is time well spent for mental health. It not only boosts your cognitive function, but it may also help improve your mood and alleviate stress.

Develop a routine

If you don’t have to report to a boss while you’re isolated, remember that a lack of routine could result in disruptions in eating, sleeping, and activity.

Do your best to keep a sense of structure in your day, try to create a routine that consists of work or house projects, mealtimes, workout time, and even downtime. Generally, people enjoy achieving goals, so make a few to give that boost when you hit them.

Maintain a social life, even if it is online

Meet up with friends and family in a different way. Use real-time video streaming services, like Zoom, or Skype, to chat with your friends, colleagues, and loved ones. I try to keep in touch as I did before lockdown, I touch base with the people in my life at least once every week or so. Face-to-face chat time can keep you in contact with the “outside world” and make living in a small space feel connected.

Connecting with others who are in a similar situation can also help you feel that you’re not alone. Sharing your thoughts, emotions, and challenges with others can help you realize that what you’re feeling is normal. Connecting with others may even help you find creative solutions to an issue you’re grappling with.

Play, find your creative side

Have you not played with your favourite toys, childhood ones or adult hobbies for the longest time? Maybe this is the time to reacquaint yourself with a childhood passion. Do you have piles of photos you once promised yourself you’d put in a scrapbook? What about trying one of Ina Paarman’s recipes – particularly one that will challenge your culinary skills?

Use your time in isolation to reconnect with creative activities that you’ve had to put on hold because life got too busy. Spending time on creative activities keeps your brain busy. Time flies when we’re having fun, and you might just find yourself less bored and restless while you engage with a new feeling, accomplishment.

Create ‘me time’

If you live with others, feelings of cabin fever may be intensified by the nearness of other individuals. My sister-in-law spoke of how parents don’t have downtime during this lockdown. Parents have responsibilities to children; partners have responsibilities to one another. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any time on your own. Give yourself time “away” from others to relax. I am finding that even a half-hour of reading a book or listening to TED Talks is working for me.

Lift a dumbbell or walk

Studies have proven that people who exercise regularly don’t experience anxiety to the same degree as people who don’t. It’s biological. Physical activity lowers cortisol – your body’s stress hormones.

At the same time, exercise causes your brain to release the feel-good stuff – endorphins and they boost your mood and overall feeling of well-being. You can look and find a strength training regime online.


Not every minute of every day has to be planned. Allow yourself some time to rest. Look for constructive ways to relax. You know what you need to relax, so don’t avoid it – gift yourself with it.

When to get help

Cabin fever is often a fleeting feeling. You may feel irritable or frustrated for anything from a few minutes to a few hours, but having a virtual chat with a friend or finding a task to distract your mind may help you deal with the frustrations you felt earlier.

Sometimes, the feelings grow stronger, and coping mechanisms aren’t able to successfully help you eliminate your feelings.cabin fever.

If you feel that your symptoms are getting worse, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you’re experiencing. Together, you can identify ways to overcome your feelings of anxiety.

Of course, you’ll need to look for alternative means for seeing a mental health expert, so reach out to your doctor for recommendations about mental health specialists who can connect with you online.

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