Cabin Fever Is No Joke, but It Doesn't Have to Wreck Your Winter

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Go ahead and admit it. Snow days are awesome for kids, but not so much for moms. After you've heated up that tenth cup of hot chocolate and buttoned and laced and snapped everyone in and out of their snow clothes so often that your fingers hurt, you're left in a funk. Cranky. Resentful. There's a name for this, FYI. And no, it's not PMS. It's cabin fever.


You won't find it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But cabin fever is real, dammit!

"It's a colloquial expression used to describe the feelings of irritability, listlessness, and boredom that result from being confined indoors for long periods of time, especially during the winter," explains Joseph Burgo, PhD, a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy via Skype. "In more extreme cases, it might show up as mild depression or seasonal affective disorder."

Anyone stuck inside is at risk, Burgo adds -- in particular, moms of small kids who find themselves suddenly unable to access their usual outside resources, be it the local park, a playgroup, or other moms you give sympathetic waves to at library storytime.

But! There's good news. "Except in extreme cases, people suffering from cabin fever can ease their condition with lifestyle changes," says Burgo.

Here's how:

1. Get moving as soon your alarm goes off. If your body clock is off, you may feel sluggish as soon as you wake up, explains Laura Cipullo, a registered dietitian and author of The Woman's Health Body Clock Diet. To combat that, try a quick three-minute routine Cipullo calls "The Eye-Opener": a lunge, squat, prone cobra, and plank with leg-lifts.

"This quick morning routine will help you increase cognitive alertness, especially if you're snowed in and can't get to Starbucks for your grande latte," Cipullo says.

2. Soak up some sunlight. "Bundle up and go outside for a walk," says Burgo. "Vigorous outdoor exercise is often your best remedy for cabin fever." Not only will you get your heart pumping, but you'll also get exposed to some much-needed light.

"Thirty minutes of sunlight per day has been shown to elevate levels of vitamin D and serotonin, which are important for mood and sleep patterns," Burgo explains. If it's a dreary day or you just can't get outside, think about buying a light box.

3. Eat regularly. Skipping meals is not going to do your mood any favors. To keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day, "eat breakfast one hour after waking up and every three to four hours thereafter," Cipullo suggests.

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4. Try to relax. Anxiety, fear, or just the aggravation of being stuck inside can raise your body's level of cortisol, aka the "stress hormone." "Meditation is your key to bring it down," says Cipullo. "Download an app like Calm or Headspace and follow along."

5. Reach out to others. "Sharing your shut-in feeling with others will make you feel less isolated," says Burgo. "If you can't connect in person, reach out to loved ones via Skype."

6. Stay sober. When you're snowed in and surrounded by kids who are literally bouncing off the walls, you might be tempted to spike your next cup of coffee and take the edge off. Bad idea. "Many people drink to alleviate the boredom, but because alcohol interferes with normal sleep patterns, it might exacerbate the problem in the long run," Burgo cautions.

Oh, and while you're at it? Limit your coffee intake for the same reason.

7. Get creative. You roll your eyes when your kids say, "I have nothing to do!" -- so why should you allow yourself to be bored? Teach yourself to knit or finally get around to updating your Pinterest boards. Read a book, bake bread, or better yet, invent a crazy game you play with your kids.

"Sometimes, your imagination can help you escape that 'cabin,'" says Burgo.

And take heart. Spring is (sort of) on the way.


Image © Jutta Klee/ableimages/Corbis

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