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Man and woman standing in falling snow.

Is It Cabin Fever or Is It SAD?

As the weather changes, it can be very common for people to stay indoors more often, eat more, and sleep more than usual. This can lead to a state of “cabin fever” which is a term dating back to 1916 referring to a state of restlessness from being in a remote, confined space for a long period of time. Usually, cabin fever is time limited, and improves when you can get outside in the sunshine.

Some people can be predisposed to an atypical type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. SAD is a reoccurring major depression that has a seasonal onset and lasts most of the winter months. It can affect adults as young as 18 years old and can affect women more often than men.
Clinical features of SAD include:
 - Onset in the fall but worsening as daylight lessens during the day
 - Increased need for sleep
 - Increased appetite especially for comfort foods and carbohydrates
 - Irritability
 - Isolation from others and difficulty getting along with close relationships
 - Fatigue during the day
SAD symptoms occur together and affect every day functioning.

Tips to cure cabin fever and possibly prevent SAD:
 - Get on a regular routine for sleep and wakeful times
 - Increase light in your home by opening shades during the day and consider timers on lamps to mimic dawn and dusk
 - Exercise especially outside (being involved with nature can improve memory and mood)
 - Find ways to relax and enjoy times in your home, such as;  hobbies, music, art
 - Avoid too much time with media like TV or computers and increase social contact instead
 - Avoid alcohol or other depressants
 - Add vitamin D3 supplements even if you are outside in the sun during the day

If you feel that “cabin fever” symptoms are more than being bored indoors during bad weather and don’t improve with the above mentioned tips, meet with your doctor to see if you could be dealing with SAD. Treatments are available including light therapy, antidepressants and talking therapies.  

Dr. Sonia Rupp is a referral-based psychiatrist at Barton Psychiatry in Stateline, NV. For questions, please call 775.589.8946.