Cabin fever describes the psychological symptoms a person may experience when they are confined to their home for long periods. Symptoms may include restlessness, irritability, and loneliness.

With people around the world in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cabin fever may be more common and widespread than ever.

In this article, we outline the signs of cabin fever and provide tips on how to cope. We also offer advice on when to seek help for the psychological or behavioral effects of cabin fever.

Two young women with cabin fever look at their phones from a couch.Share on Pinterest
Lockdown due to COVID-19 may prompt cabin fever symptoms, including restlessness and loneliness.

Cabin fever describes the psychological symptoms that people may experience when they are unable to leave their home and engage in social interaction.

Traditionally, people may have had to stay indoors due to snowy or icy weather conditions or travel restrictions. Today, people around the world are experiencing cabin fever while physically isolating in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cabin fever is a state of mind that can encompass feelings of:

Although cabin fever is not a recognized psychological illness, its emotional, physical, and behavioral effects are real, and they can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. The effects of cabin fever may include:

Human beings evolved as social animals, and, on the whole, people tend to feel and function better when they connect with one another.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are self-isolating and adapting to shelter-in-place restrictions. The shift from a socially active way of life to a more limited and isolated one can be enough to trigger cabin fever.

Some factors that can cause or contribute to cabin fever include:

  • feeling unable to connect physically with friends and family
  • being unable to partake in activities that the person finds enjoyable or meaningful
  • becoming burned out by work
  • feeling unmotivated and lethargic due to having too little or no work
  • becoming increasingly anxious about finances due to a lack of income

Below are 10 tips that can help people manage cabin fever and limit its psychological, physical, and behavioral effects.

  1. Develop routines and stick to them: Developing and following a routine can help people feel in control of their situation. This sense of control can help stave off feelings of hopelessness and depression.
  2. Find a good work-life balance: People who are working from home for the first time may have difficulty finding a good work-life balance. While productivity can help stave off boredom, working too hard can lead to burnout. People should set aside time for nonwork activities that they find enjoyable or relaxing.
  3. Follow a healthful diet: A healthful, balanced diet is important for mental as well as physical health. Sticking to set mealtimes can help a person establish a daily routine.
  4. Stay physically active: People should aim to develop an exercise routine that they are able to perform in their home or garden. Regular exercise helps keep the body fit and boosts the mood.
  5. Spend time in nature: Spending time in nature helps reduce stress and anxiety, and it can lift a person’s mood. People who do not have access to a garden can still find ways to appreciate nature. Some examples include:
    • taking care of houseplants
    • growing herbs
    • watching a sunrise or sunset from a window or balcony
    • listening out for birds and other wild animals
    • playing with or relaxing with a pet
  6. Get the right amount of sleep: People should try to go to bed and wake up at reasonable hours. The amount of sleep that a person needs will vary among individuals. People should aim to wake up feeling refreshed and avoid napping throughout the day.
  7. Connect with others virtually: Although people may be unable to meet in person, they can still connect through phone calls, video calls, and social media. Connecting with friends and family in this way will help stave off feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  8. Control news consumption: Catching up with the news from time to time can be helpful for monitoring the COVID-19 situation. However, watching the news too frequently can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.
  9. Try to focus on the positives: One way to focus on the positives is to make a point of feeling and expressing gratitude every day. People may want to keep a written record of the things that they feel grateful for so that they can reflect on them later. Some examples of these things may include:
    • being able to spend more time with family
    • having extra time to be creative or inventive
    • having the time to learn a new hobby or finish an existing project
  10. Go easy on yourself: It can take time for a person to adapt to a new way of living. People should not be hard on themselves if they feel that they are not coping as well as they could. Instead, they should try to relax and focus on what they have managed to do successfully.

Human beings are social creatures, but some are more social than others. People who are highly social or active may be more prone to cabin fever than those who are accustomed to spending time alone.

People who have mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, may also be more likely to experience cabin fever. They may find that their anxiety or depression worsens as a result of being cooped up and feeling socially isolated. Some may also have difficulty accessing the therapies or treatments that they require to manage their condition.

People should seek help from a mental health professional if the stress of living in a lockdown situation prompts any of the following:

  • new feelings of anxiety or depression, or an increase in preexisting anxiety or depression
  • newly developed or worsening obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • a marked lack of interest, energy, or motivation
  • inability to sleep
  • inability to eat

Mental health professionals encourage people to seek help as soon as they notice changes in their mood. Mental health issues are easier to address before they become well-established.

Cabin fever is a state of mind that can develop when a person is confined to their home and unable to have social interaction. It may involve feelings of restlessness, irritability, or loneliness. These feelings can significantly affect a person’s quality of life.

People can manage cabin fever by developing a routine and finding ways to stay active and connected. Doing this can take time, and people should not be hard on themselves if they feel that they are not coping as well as they could.

People who feel that physical isolation is having a negative effect on their mental health should seek support from a friend, family member, or mental health professional.