Has this winter season made you feel impatient, irritable or otherwise trapped (figuratively or literally)? Well, you may have a case of cabin fever. The term, that you’ve probably heard at least once or twice in your life, is often used to describe a feeling of isolation or confinement, which for some, may evoke an image of a lone explorer making his or her way across an untamed frontier, building a home in the middle of nowhere, doomed to never bump into another living soul for the rest of their life.
Historically, the term first popped up in colloquial English in 1918, according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, a time where it must have been extremely easy to find yourself isolated simply by leaving the relative safety of the smaller cities of the time. Heck, the state of Georgia as a whole only had roughly 2 million citizens living there during the 1900s. Sadly, even in today’s bustling metropolises, cabin fever is a feeling that’s still at large and more likely than not you or someone you know is going through it right now.
Present-day Georgia is a far cry from the frozen tundras of Alaska, so it’s impossible to get cabin fever here, right? Not necessarily. During the winter months, the colder temperatures keep people from leaving their warm abodes unless absolutely necessary. January through March months are also considered the wettest in Georgia, which cuts into the enjoyment of fun outdoor activities. And let’s not forget daylight savings time which makes our days shorter and further restricts our access to the feel-good rays of the sun. Also, during the holiday season, some could argue they are trapped in close confines with the same relatives for up to a week at a time, slowly losing their senses and sanity. One could already feel captive just thinking about all of those awkward silences and uncomfortable lines of questioning.
Though you won’t get the chills or sniffles with this “fever,” there are some subtle symptoms that accompany this annoying sensation, namely lethargy or extreme restlessness and agitation. A good (yet dramatized and exaggerated) example of this phenomenon would be Jack Nicholson’s character in the cult horror classic, “The Shining,” who slowly descends into madness while living in an isolated hotel with his family in the frozen mountains, haunted by ghosts who met the same fate. Hopefully, these annoying sensations won’t lead you to pick up a sharp object and go on a rampage like Jack’s doomed character, but they can take a toll on your personal relationships if you don’t recognize the symptoms. If you’re snappier than usual at a loved one who is also the only person you’ve seen or interacted with for the last couple of days, it might be cabin fever rearing its ugly head. One could also argue that social media may actually make existing cabin fever worse if you also suffer from a crippling case of “FOMO” from constantly scrolling through your Instagram feeds and wishing you were somewhere, literally anywhere else.
All isn’t lost. WebMD outlines a few things you can do to beat back the feelings of cabin fever. One of the most tried and true treatments for mental maladies is getting active. Just going out for a quick walk around the corner or exercising at the gym for a little bit will release a surge of endorphins that will kick away those feelings of restlessness. It seems harder, in this age of Uber, Postmates, and drive-thrus, to sneak even some moderate exercise into our daily lives since everything is getting so stinkingly convenient. If you’re feeling trapped, it may be as simple as putting down the phone, leaving the car keys behind, and strolling to the grocery store for your weekly necessities. Another tip is to take the time to hang out with your friends. Turns out that weekly gabfest may be better for your health than you thought! Humans are naturally built to be social beings, and engaging in a positive face to face connection can really help lift your spirits.
Lastly, try and exercise your brain. Pick up a puzzle or create a to-do list of things to try and accomplish either over the week or year. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s something active, not passive. Whether you are choosing to stay stuck inside because of the harsh weather, the threatening flu season or the extremely stressful and depressing political landscape at the moment, remember to treat yourself, exercise your body and brain and you’ll be saying bye-bye to cabin fever in no time!