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Light and exercise can banish your cabin fever

by Deidre Ashley

March 8, 2017 | from Sound Mind | The Jackson Hole News & Guide

As spring approaches, the long winter and its significant amounts of snow, cloud cover and extreme cold are taking a toll on valley residents.

With spring break coming up, many people will cope by getting out of town to warmer weather and maybe some beach time. In the meantime, many of us are experiencing some cabin fever.

While cabin fever isn’t an actual psychiatric diagnosis, it can be real. With longer days and more sunlight our bodies are preparing for the next season. Many experience an increase in energy.

However, when the weather forces isolation instead, that extra energy may be bottled up. Picture a can of soda that has been shaken and then opened. While this is more extreme than what really happens, you get the idea. Cabin fever happens when your body is preparing for spring but the weather may not be cooperating and you start to feel cooped up.

Before cabin fever turns into full-on “snow rage,” it may be a good idea to find some ways to cope and head it off. Some of the signs that you may be experiencing cabin fever are:

• Difficulties with focus and concentration

• Lack of motivation

• Feeling lethargic

• Irritation or impatience

• Feeling isolated

• Increased anxiety

• Short-tempered

• Impulsive

• Too much or too little sleep

If you notice these signs the best way to cope is to get your brain engaged, try to find some sunlight — sunlamps work well — and get your blood pumping.

Getting your heart rate up for just 30 minutes a couple of times a week can make a difference. Go for a walk if the weather allows, play board games with family or friends, start a journal or make plans for a spring project or trip. This can be a perfect time for a spring cleaning project, and you can feel even better by getting rid of clutter and making a donation to your favorite charity. Plan activities with friends, join a gym or start a book club. Connecting with others can help you feel less isolated.

Also, try to avoid turning to those things that can make you feel worse, such as caffeine, food and alcohol. Too much caffeine can make you jittery and irritated, and the foods you may be craving this time of year may be high carb or high fat and can make you feel more sluggish. Drinking alcohol too much or too often can lead to depression or exacerbate the symptoms you may be experiencing.

Do not overdose on technology or the news. Too much screen time can add to the irritation and anxiety and compound sleep issues. That can be especially true with the national media blitz going on right now. No matter what your political beliefs, spending too much time with computers or television can be counterproductive.

Keep in mind that your children may also be experiencing some cabin fever. Keeping them active and engaged can stop them from picking on each other or bouncing off the walls. Keeping your kids occupied with games and helping them maintain the right eating habits can do wonders for not only their cabin fever but yours as well.

It’s important to find ways to regulate our mood before we reach the tipping point. While “snow rage” sounds extreme, think of it as the point at which individuals have lost their ability to control their emotions, resulting in reactive behaviors that may have consequences.

If you’re experiencing symptoms that seem more severe than cabin fever, you may be clinically depressed or dealing with something more serious. Consult your health care provider to get a proper diagnosis and discuss the appropriate treatment.


Deidre Ashley is executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in social work.