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Cabin Fever Symptoms and Coping

By Lisa Fritscher Medically reviewed by Carly Snyder, MD Updated on March 18, 2020

Cabin fever is a popular term for a relatively common reaction to being isolated in a building for a
period of time. Some experts believe that cabin fever is a sort of syndrome, while others feel that
it is linked to such disorders as seasonal affective disorder and claustrophobia. Cabin fever is
ultimately rooted in intense isolation, which may reach the level of a specific phobia.

If you are experiencing cabin fever as a result of social distancing or self-quarantine in the wak
of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you may be feeling additional stress beyond that
which stems from simply being isolated. There are ways to combat the anxiety you may be

Not everyone suffering from cabin fever will experience exactly the same symptoms, but many
people report feeling intensely irritable or restless. Other commonly experienced effects are:

Sadness or depression
Trouble concentrating
Lack of patience
Food cravings
Decreased motivation

Social Isolation
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Difficulty waking
Frequent napping

Changes in weight
Inability to cope with stress

Note that these symptoms may also be indicative of a wide range of other disorders, and only a
trained mental health professional can make an accurate diagnosis. In addition, not everyone
who fears being cooped up at home in the winter has cabin fever. Only when someone exhibits
several of the symptoms mentioned above is a phobia more likely.

Coping With Cabin Fever

Like any mental health condition, cabin fever is best treated with the assistance of a therapist or
other trained mental health professional. However, if your symptoms are relatively mild, taking
active steps to combat your feelings may be enough to help you feel better.

Get Out of the House: If you are housebound, this may not always be possible. But if you
are able to go outside, even for a short time, take advantage of that opportunity. Exposure
to daylight can help regulate the body's natural cycles, and exercise releases endorphins,
creating a natural high. Even a quick stroll can help you feel better quickly. If you are not
able to leave the house at all, get close to a window and start moving around.

Maintain Normal Eating Patterns: For many of us, a day stuck at home is an excuse to
overindulge in junk food. Others skip meals altogether. However, eating right can increase
our energy levels and motivation. You may feel less hungry if you are getting less exercise,
but monitor your eating habits to ensure that you maintain the proper balance of nutrition.
Limit high-sugar, high-fat snacks and drink plenty of water.

Set Goals: When you are stuck in the house, you may be more likely to while away the
time doing nothing of importance. Set daily and weekly goals, and track your progress
toward completion. Make sure that your goals are reasonable, and reward yourself for
meeting each milestone.

Use Your Brain: Although TV is a distraction, it is also relatively mindless. Work crossword
puzzles, read books or play board games. Stimulating your mind can help keep you
moving forward and reduce feelings of isolation and helplessness.

Exercise: Even if you cannot leave the house, find a way to stay physically active while
indoors. Regular physical activity can help burn off any extra energy you have from being

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cooped up indoors. Indoor exercise ideas include workout videos, bodyweight workouts,
and online workout routines.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

It is important to note that cabin fever is not the same thing as the condition known as seasonal
affective disorder, or SAD. Cabin fever is specifically associated with isolation, while SAD occurs
during the winter months even in people who spend little time at home.

Seasonal affective disorder is not similar to or mistaken for cabin fever or vice versa. SAD has
clear parameters that are different from cabin fever and SAD is a recognized and accepted
DSM-5 diagnosis whereas cabin fever is not. Treatment of SAD includes light therapy,
sometimes medication, and some people need vitamin D; cabin fever, on the other hand, is
relieved by leaving the house. People with SAD can suffer significantly for the fall and winter
months (most often) and have many of the same symptoms as classic depression.

Read Next: What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

A Word From Verywell

While staying indoors and social distancing may run counter to our instinct for socialization, it is
imperative that we heed the strict guidelines given by the CDC to help minimize the spread of
the COVID-19 virus. Ignoring these recommendations will result in an increase in the number of
symptomatic cases and deaths. It is important to take this situation seriously and face the
necessity of being stuck indoors with ‘cabin fever.’ Read a book, play board games, watch tv,
and talk to friends via FaceTime—but stay inside.

Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within
our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content
accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

1. Seitz D. Yes, cabin fever is real—here's how to prevent it. Don't let winter isolation ruin your mood.
Popular Science. January 18, 2019. https://www.popsci.com/prevent-cabin-fever/

2. Mull A. Polar Vortex 2019. Being Trapped Indoors Is the Worst. The Atlantic. January 31, 2019.

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3. Gielan M. Beating Cabin Fever. Psychology Today. March 7, 2011.


4. Rosenblatt PC. Anderson RM. Johnson PA. The Meaning of “Cabin Fever.” Journal of Social Psychology
1984;123(1):43-53 doi:10.1080/00224545.1984.9924512

5. Kurlansik SL, Ibay AD. Seasonal affective disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(11):1037-1041. PMID:

6. Wirz-justice A. Seasonality in affective disorders. Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2018;258:244-249.


Additional Reading

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th
ed.). Arlington, VA: Author

Christensen, R. Cabin fever: A folk belief and the misdiagnosis of complaints. Journal of Mental Health
Administration 1984;11, 2–3. doi:10.1007/BF02829015

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