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Family looking out into a snowy wood.

What Is Cabin Fever? 10 Tricks To Beat The Winter Blues

Jeannette Baum7-Minute Read
February 27, 2020

You’re sitting on the beach, the soft, white sand squishing between your toes. You close your eyes as the warm sun blankets your face. Paradise.

Then, you wake up.

You mosey out of bed, your body heavy. Wandering into the dim kitchen, you start the coffee pot and glance out the window. It snowed again last night, but in late February, it’s no longer exciting. You think back to your dream, allowing thoughts of swaying palm trees to fill your mind again. For a split second, you even consider – for the third time this week – picking up your entire life and moving it to Hawaii for good. Sigh. You take a big gulp of your coffee, willing it to give you the motivation to step out into the frigid wind and scrape the ice from your windshield.

This is a familiar scene for many of us, especially those living in a northern state year-round. What’s worse? Staying pent up in the stuffy house any longer or risking your nostril hairs turning to icicles the minute you step outside? It’s a toss-up, but the reality is that most Americans opt to hunker down in their houses until spring brings the first thaw. Frigid temperatures, heavy snowfalls and darker days make cabin fever easier to catch than the flu.

Cabin Fever, Defined

Cabin fever, the term referring to the listlessness and irritability that occur from living in confined indoor areas for long periods of time, is common in the winter. While cabin fever is often referred to as just being stir-crazy, it can have serious negative effects on mental health.

Cabin Fever Symptoms

Common symptoms of cabin fever include boredom, depression, isolation and shortness of temper. Have you noticed yourself giving snappy responses to your loved ones lately? Are you restless or excessively tired? These are all signs you could be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some doctors use the terms SAD and cabin fever interchangeably. You don’t need to be severely depressed to be experiencing SAD. Severity can range from “winter blues” to significant mental health decline. Long winter months affect each of us differently, but all of us to some degree.

Why Do You ‘Catch’ Cabin Fever?

Cabin fever can be caused by a combination of things including:

  • Inability to leave the house and do normal activities
  • Difficulty maintaining exercise routines
  • Lack of sunlight inside and outside, creating a darker home and lack of vitamin D
  • Isolation from the outside community and from nature
  • Worsened sleep schedule due to lack of exercise and light changes
  • Worsened diet due to travel difficulties
  • Cold temperatures

Winter has a way of making you feel trapped at home, isolated from the rest of the world. But if you turn your home into your own personal getaway to weather the winter months, it can be much easier to avoid the dreaded struggle that is cabin fever.

10 Ways to Transform Your Home To Prevent Cabin Fever

1.    Winterize Your Home

Man caulking a window.

Warm and cozy is key here. Making a home more comfortable and energy efficient can give you the peace of mind of knowing your house is prepared for the frigid months ahead. Make sure your home is a place where you’ll feel safe to endure the winter chill. Winterizing your home can also combat worries about energy costs, leaving you extra dough to spend on fun indoor projects.

2.    Take Up Interior Decorating

Woman organizing plants in a vase.

Make your space so aesthetically pleasing that you’ll want to spend every waking minute there. Use the time you can’t be outside to focus on the inside. Pass the time by exploring some DIY home trends and trying them out in your own space. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started: 

3.    Create An Exercise Space

Woman and her dog exercising.

Part of what creates the built-up angst in the winter is your body being stagnant for long periods of time. There are plenty of ways to get moving that don’t involve leaving the house. Find what movement works best for you and incorporate that into your space. Do you love the gym but don’t want to leave the house? Convert a room into your own home gym. Do you love yoga? Bring the studio to you. Lay out your mat, gather some incense and press play on the Yoga Girl Playlist of the Month. The best way to keep moving at home is to designate a space specifically for exercising. When you’re in that space, you’re in the mindset to get moving. It can be easy to let well-being fall to the wayside in the wintertime, but exercise releases endorphins, especially when practiced long-term. Endorphins work wonders for counteracting the blues, no matter what time of year.

4.    Bring Nature Home

Plants on a window sill.

Just 20 minutes spent in nature can relieve stress. Since most of us aren’t able to get outside and frolic among the grass and the trees in the cold winter months, it’s a good idea to bring nature into the house. There are endless varieties of indoor houseplants you can choose from to help you get your nature fix. You can even save your holiday greenery by misting them with water as often as possible. Pro tip: If you spray an anti-desiccant on the needles, it will keep the moisture in longer, making your holiday greenery last well past New Years.

 

5.    Complete A Project With Your Housemates

Friends painting a bedroom.

A main contributor to cabin fever and depression in general is lack of social interaction. Winter is the perfect time to re-invest in the relationships with those who share your living space. Take one of those house projects you’ve been dying to try and recruit your housemates to help out. Paint that guest room, add some new handles to the kitchen drawers or do some online shopping for home decor. You’ll be amazed with how quickly time passes when you have someone to work with.  

 

6.    Play With Light And Bright Colors

Modern living room.

Our bodies are hardwired to wake up with the light and fall asleep when it’s dark. It’s no wonder it’s difficult to wake up in the morning when the days get shorter. If it’s pitch-black outside when your alarm goes off, your body naturally tells you to stay in bed. Tackle this by replacing the yellow, dim lighting in your home with bright white lights and other lighting trends. It’s dreary and gray outside, but that doesn’t mean your home has to be. Adding bright pops of color to your decor can help create a more vibrant atmosphere, too.

 

7.    Create a Home Entertainment Room

Friends watching sports.

Have an extra space you’re not sure what to do with? Turn it into a spot to socialize. While it can be as in-depth as remodeling a room into a home theater, it can also be as simple as setting up the furniture to better allow for face-to-face conversation. From there, invite the friends over to play a few video games, watch some sports, maybe have a few drinks. It turns out crushing your friends in Super Smash Bros. is also good for combatting the winter blues.

 

8.     Rethink Your Bedroom Decor

Hip and colorful bedroom.

As mentioned before, your circadian rhythm naturally gets thrown off in the winter, affecting sleeping patterns. Turn your bedroom into a haven for sleep. Stay away from reds in the bedroom. The brain associates the color red with anger and danger, so reds can contribute to sleeplessness. Bringing soft blues and relaxing decor into your bedroom will send signals to your body that it’s time to relax. Blue is calming and it’s linked to lower blood pressure and a lower heart rate. Make the bed the main, if not the only, focus of the room. Your body should know that the minute you step into your bedroom, the only thing you’ll be doing in there is sleeping. Minimizing the other activities you do in your bedroom will make this more clear.

Dr. Anna Cabeca, triple board-certified, Emory University-trained physician and Amazon #1 best selling author suggests adding light therapy lamps to your home. “Being inside because of the cold leads to less vitamin D, more energy-sapping blue-light, and even more moodiness,” she says. “For starters, light therapy lamps are a great way to help treat SAD when the sun is in hiding this winter. The light actually affects brain chemicals linked to bettering one's mood and sleep habits.”

 

9.    Focus On Your Kitchen And Dining Room

Family in the kitchen.

This is another great place to optimize social spaces. Eating meals together has been a form of human bonding since the Stone Age. Set up a dedicated dining area to make meals a daily shared event. Better yet, make an effort to make those meals healthy. Good nutrition is the first place to look when you’re not feeling your best. Getting all the nutrients your body needs in the winter is one of the best ways to get a good night’s sleep and combat cabin fever.

“What you eat affects your sleep – good or bad,” Cabeca says. “When your diet is filled with sugar and carbohydrates, your sleep can become disturbed.”

You can even bring the family together to get some of those house projects done in the kitchen. There are plenty of things we all should be keeping up with in our kitchens that most of us probably don’t.

 

10.    Spend Some Time In The Yard

Young boy shoveling.

If the weather breaks for a day or two and you’re met with a random sunny day, take full advantage of it. Shoveling snow can be a pain, but with the right attitude and a couple of snow removal hacks, you can actually make it enjoyable. Plus, it’s great to get outside and get vitamin D straight from the source: the sun!

Conclusion

You don’t have to move to Hawaii to escape the winter blues. There are plenty of ways to turn your home into a getaway that might even make you forget about the icy chill outside. But if all else fails, invest in stronger coffee.

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    Jeannette Baum

    The Rocket Homes blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.