Good Ole Cabin Fever’s Here Again

Cabin fever probably got its name from people actually be forced to remain in their cabins during these bitter cold winter months of the year. That’s the reason for all those root cellars where hardy vegetables were stored in barrels of sand and the insanity associated with canning before the frost hit and lots of other good American traditions—all of which are here in one form or another. Liquor probably played a role, too.

We may live in single family homes with indoor plumbing and heating or we may bunk in condos and not log cabins but our internal mechanism that regulates both our mood and our metabolism is printed in as any hard-wired program we may conceive. The laws of survival (nod to Charles Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck) hammered specifics into our genes to predetermine how we manage the cold winters no matter where we live.

As the sun shifts its angle at which it strikes the earth, our eyes imperceptibly note the changes and begin to initiate a program via these neural pathways. It is this evolutionary-primed pathway that will begin to express its power in us and animals.

Birds will strike out on their journeys to southern climes, bears will begin to prepare for hibernation and we will, seemingly, go about our normal everyday routines—but we won’t because Mother Nature’s Gene Patrol will be active in us, too.

Think about it. Is it really the cold weather that forces you to curb your activities and to be, probably, less active or might it be something else? On those gray days of winter, do you get up with less vigor and motivation than you do in the Spring?

You can shrug it all off to anything you wish, but it’s your eyes that hold the key to happiness here. OK, maybe not the key to happiness (I’ll leave that to other writers to impart their pearls of wisdom) but certainly they enter into this primitive equation. Probably more effective than any Python program you could write, this program will fight you tooth and nail, but all is not lost. You do have several remedies.

Light coming into the eyes travels along the optic nerves (really brain stalks, but who’s being picky?) and hit the pineal gland that then releases melatonin. This brain hormone is responsible for sleep, reproductive activity and has been called the “third eye.” The gland is well-known as a regulator of our body’s biological clock and it’s the gland that tells birds to head out on their migration, but for us it means downtime. Computer geeks would think it needs to be “hacked” and that’s just what you can do because it is hackable.

Researchers have been talking about the value of adjusting the light in our lives to combat what they’ve labeled as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but I tend to wonder if they’re right. My reasoning? Not everyone has winter SAD and some people actually have it in the summertime when there’s lots of light available. So, what’s up with that? I don’t believe they’ve given us an adequate answer to that but it just has to be light-related, yes? OK, maybe not.

Although you may feel a bit less active in the winter months, you probably don’t have SAD and might just be experiencing a lack of available activities outside your home and you’re getting bored and antsy. So what do you do? Obviously, you begin to do things in the home to counteract this.

Combating Winter Sluggishness/Cabin Fever

The first thing to do is begin to:

1. Plan activities for the Spring or later in the year. This can bring a good measure of fun and anticipation into your life. Use these darker times to plan something you’d really like to do.

2. Try to get some sunshine whenever you can, even if it’s in the home/office reading near a window. You really don’t need a fancy light box because full-spectrum light isn’t an absolute necessity. Just get into some light and it will brighten you up.

3. Exercise in your home. You don’t need a treadmill or expensive equipment. A 1 lb. can of tomatoes can serve as a good dumb bell for arm exercises and elastic stretch bands can provide all-over exercises. Keep the bands in the office, too. Take a look at YouTube for some videos that you can do. Download the videos and watch them at home. You can choose any YouTube download software you want, so don’t think this is the only program that will work for you.

4. What about activities with friends and family where you watch a movie, play a board game or discuss a film/book/whatever? You’re not the only one feeling isolated and down, you know. Build it into your schedule and set one night a week aside for this.

5. Watch your diet! If there ever was a time to be careful, it’s in those winter months. Carbohydrate craving can spark an interest in foods that may make you feel good, but will show up on your waistline. Yes, fresh fruit, vegetables and lay off the sauces, sugary drinks and bread. I know, I know, there’s nothing like fresh baked bread, so who said you can’t make a few loaves with friends and share them? Good idea if you don’t then sit down and eat everything you’ve just baked.

6. Learn something new like computer programming? Ah, now that’s going to be something you can appreciate and do for years and it helps in the job market, too. Yes, there are free on-line courses that will teach you one of the most powerful languages around, Python, and there are wonderful bookswith videos to help. Go at your own pace and you CAN DO IT. Two authors placed the books online free and they do provide links to where you’ll find them. Here’s one and here’s another.

There you have a few things to get you through this year and every year to come. It’s a list that lives and to which you can add things that are especially helpful to you. Now, go do it.

Written by

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website:

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