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Mental Health

What’s Behind Your Blues?

If you’re spending too much time indoors, perhaps in connection with the winter season or the surge of Omicron-related isolation, you may be feeling the effects of “cabin fever.”

Cabin fever, a term dating back to the early 20th century, refers to the feeling of restlessness associated with a person or group of people stuck in an isolated location for an extended period of time. It's not an official diagnosis, instead it describes a common set of symptoms including irritability, anxiety, and loneliness.

Taking active steps can help you feel better. Some ways to engage your brain and occupy your time while still keeping yourself safe, may include some of the following ideas:

  • Get outside: Spending time outdoors and getting Vitamin D from the sun boosts your cognitive function, improves your mood, and alleviates stress. If getting outside isn’t an option, open your windows periodically for fresh air. 
  • Establishing a daily routine: A routine will help you keep track of your hours, while also providing tasks to complete throughout the day. Though you may feel tempted to binge a favorite TV show, try to avoid too much screen time. In addition, keep your sleep hours consistent and avoid naps.
  • Increase light in your home: Open your shades during the day and consider timers on lamps to mimic dawn and dusk.
  • Exercise: Physical activity lowers your body’s stress hormones and causes a release of endorphins which boosts your mood and feeling of well-being.
  • Explore a new hobby: Many creative interests can help you enjoy increased time in your home and distract your thoughts from worry.
  • Engage your mind: Mental exercises stimulate your mind and can reduce feelings of isolation or helplessness. Bring down your resting anxiety level by using mental exercises such as mindfulness, meditation, puzzles, games, or reading.
  • Healthy diet: You are what you eat! Make sure to stay hydrated with water, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables daily, avoid foods with high fat or sugar content, and look for proteins high in omega fatty acids to prevent depression. Additionally, avoid increased alcohol consumption which is a depressant with long term use.

Cabin fever is often short-lived. If symptoms don’t improve and last more than two weeks, you may be dealing with depression. Symptoms of depression include changes in sleep, changes in appetite, lack of interest in doing your usual activities, irritability or difficulty getting along with others, and fatigue or anxiety during the day. Symptoms occur together, lasting more than two weeks, and affect everyday functioning. Thoughts of hopelessness or suicide can occur.

If you feel that your symptoms could be related to depression, please contact your primary care provider. Treatments are available including antidepressants, talk therapy, and light therapy if there is a seasonal component to your depression.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, don’t wait, reach out for help. The national Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741.

Dr. Sonia Rupp is a referral-based, board-certified psychiatrist specializing in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Barton Psychiatry in Stateline, NV.