Published on December 29, 2020

Four children looking out a window.

Reduce cabin fever by freeing your mind and senses

Cabin fever can set in quickly during the winter months, especially during the pandemic when spending time at indoor public spaces is not recommended. Due to the cold, time outside may be limited, and mobility or transportation issues may keep some people at or near home.

When you are stuck inside, how can you stimulate your mind and senses?

ProHealth Care psychologist Katherine Frost, PhD, advises people to shift their perspectives when they can’t get out of the house for prolonged periods.

"When people say they feel trapped, or have cabin fever, it could mean that they need a change in their lives," Dr. Frost said. "Changes can be physical, but they can also be emotional, behavioral or cognitive."

The first step in moving forward is to recognize what you are feeling, perhaps even writing down what you would prefer to feel or do. Take a close look at what you may be missing and start to brainstorm practical ways to move toward your preferred state.

A next step is to look at your current habits and routines. Are you getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising, and staying in contact with people you care about and enjoy? Ask yourself what changes you can make to feel better.

“A healthy routine can keep people in balance and also highlight areas for change that allow you to break unhealthy habits and reduce frustration or anxiety,” Dr. Frost said.

You might consider doing a new type of exercise, trying new spices or foods, learning a craft, or reading about history or other cultures.

Once you have some ideas of the change you would like to make, set one or more change-related goals that enable you to have new experiences or learn about something or yourself. Goals could be measured in numbers or time, by the quality of your experience, or simply how you feel when trying something new.

"Tracking progress toward a new goal does wonders for balance and wellness and brings a sense of newness to life," Dr. Frost said.

If you think you exhausted new ideas for stimulation in 2020, perhaps you hadn’t yet considered interviewing family members about their lives, creating a home scavenger hunt or learning a language. There are countless online opportunities to explore museums, zoos, performances, talks, documentaries and other events that can get you thinking about life outside your usual spaces.

"New experiences allow us to make new connections in the brain," Dr. Frost said. "When we choose ways that help us move forward from stagnation or negativity, we are able to take in new information and shift our thoughts and feelings."