by Kimberly Allen, RN
After months of cold weather and what seems like endless amounts of snow to many lots of people complain of ‘cabin fever’. While cabin fever is not an actual disease it is a term that is used to describe a group of symptoms or syndrome. cabin fever tends to occur after being cooped up indoors during the long cold gray days of winter. For years many have associated cabin fever with other conditions like seasonal affective disorder or claustrophobia. Even though these conditions have been linked to cabin fever they are not interchangeable. The main component that differentiates them is that cabin fever is specific to isolation where as seasonal affective disorder that occurs during winter months develops even if the person is rarely home.
People that are forced to stay confined to their homes or inside are lacking environmental stimulation. This lack of environmental stimulation can have actual, tangible side effects that have a damaging impact on those suffering with it. Many experts also believe that people that are or have a history of being mentally unbalanced tend to be the most dramatically affected.
Though cabin fever can affect anyone it is frequently experienced by those that are unable to get out without assistance like the elderly and disabled, both of which have a greater risk of developing depression. Cabin fever has been used to describe the group of symptoms that have been associated with long periods of isolation since 1918 and has become such a universal plight that books and movies have been written and made dramatizing its effects on people and their mental state. I think probably the most dramatic demonstration of how the isolation can affect a persons state of mind is Stephen King’s “The Shinning”. However, it is important to remember both the book and the movie are fictional. It is very rare for people suffering from cabin fever to become violent. Although, people with a history of aggression and/or instability as well as domestic violence tend to become more aggressive and the incidence of domestic violence also tend to go up over the winter months.
The symptoms of cabin fever usually mimic those of claustrophobia, anxiety and/or depression. Most people with cabin fever complain of feeling restless and irritable with very little patience. Most are usually lethargic, have difficulty concentrating and lack motivation. Many complain of feeling hopeless and demonstrated a poor ability to cope with stress. Some people spend alot of time sleeping and have difficulty waking.
As with any mental health condition cabin fever should be treated with the assistance of a trained mental health professional. However, if you are experiencing relatively mild symptoms of cabin fever there are thing you can do to help improve your state of mind including getting out of the house. Though it’s not always possible, especially with heavy snowfall, it’s important even if you can only walk to the mailbox. It’s also important to maintain your eating habits as close to normal as possible. Some people tend to spend their time cooped up eating junk food, while others tend to skip meals and eat less because they aren’t doing anything to make them hungry. It’s important that even though you are stuck inside to stay busy, set goals both daily and weekly and work toward completing them. And even though it’s easy to while away the time watching TV you’ll find that activities that work your brain like reading,doing crossword puzzles, or playing some board games stimulates you mind and helps to reduce those feelings of helplessness and isolation. My aunt stocks up on large jig saw puzzles for the long winter days of the UP. Most of them are bright flower gardens and water scenes which she says reminds her that the snow will be gone again soon.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.