Cabin Fever Is Not a Psychological Condition, But We’re All Feeling It


Apr 8, 2020


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Living in isolation and being stuck at home has left many feeling bored, irritable, hopeless, restless, or all of the above. These feelings are associated with a condition commonly called cabin fever. Although not considered a psychological condition, the psychological impact it can have is nevertheless quite real, according to psychologist and director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association, Vaile Wright.

Historically, cabin fever has been attributed to those living away from civilization for long periods, in cottages on the outskirts or submarines, for instance. Today, however, citizens across the globe find themselves isolated from society in the confines of their very homes. The coronavirus pandemic has, in essence, ensured that everyone gets a fair taste of cabin fever. 

However, according to Wright, temperament and personality are factors in determining who develops cabin fever, and how quickly. Those who are more extroverted, and hence not used to being at home for extended periods, may be quicker to experience it. On the other hand, those viewing the lockdown as a much-needed opportunity to clean their home, spend time on a hobby, or do things they wouldn’t otherwise have time for might take longer to reach this point, explained psychologist and professor emeritus of family social science at the University of Minnesota, Paul Rosenblatt, to CNN.

Cabin fever can cause lethargy, trouble concentrating, impatience, and excessive sleepiness or sleeplessness. People with existing mental health conditions might find it even harder to cope. For some, extended periods of isolation could worsen symptoms and possibly trigger bouts of depression or anxiety. 

Some of the most effective ways of combating cabin fever, Paul and Rosenblatt assert, reflect the same advice mental health professionals have been advising since the start of the coronavirus pandemic: establishing a routine, eating right, exercising, and maintaining social connections.

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But while coming together is important, Rosenblatt and Wright suggest that being able to distance oneself is equally important, because chances are that not everyone is on the same page as you. “That’s a problem too — dealing with your differences and how you deal with cabin fever,” Rosenblatt said. For families and couples living together, it’s important to strike a balance between togetherness and staying apart. In such cases, being in different parts of the home or taking out time for doing activities alone can help.

Although some might find it easier to deal with the frustration and irritability through tasks that distract them, for some others, however, cabin fever may not be as short lived. Being unable to find coping mechanisms or tasks to help eliminate feelings of isolation, sadness, or depression is quite normal.

The key to managing cabin fever is to accept that these feelings are temporary. “There’s a learning curve to dealing with it,” Rosenblatt said. “You can feel like it’s hopeless or really hard today. And then tomorrow or an hour from now, you could be learning things or getting into a different groove where things work out.” 


Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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