How to cope with cabin fever during self-isolation

How to cope with cabin fever during self-isolation

Self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic is required of anyone showing symptoms in a bid to stem the spread of the virus. However self-isolation might come with its fair share of psychological side effects. Let’s explore the ‘cabin fever’ syndrome.

Google ‘cabin fever’ and you’ll see a great number of search results on the topic. Cabin fever as an effect of self-isolation has been very much talked about in the news lately. However it has been equally featured in online and printed self-help resources, in literature and cinematography.  Actually, IMDB lists several films with this title. And although the ratings of these films are beyond the scope of this article, this only stands to show that cabin fever may be a concern for many of us.

What is cabin fever?

Cabin fever is not included in the list of psychiatric disorders, therefore there is no official definition of this condition. According to Wikipedia however, a layman’s definition of the cabin fever would be: a claustrophobic irritability or restlessness[1] which an individual or individuals may experience when stuck in a confined indoor space for long periods of time. The informal name of this condition could have originated in the United States when back in the day settlers were confined in their log cabins throughout the snowy winter and had to wait until spring to travel to the nearest town[2].

What causes it?

It looks like cabin fever might stem from an evolutionary need – the need to socialise [3]. Humans are social animals and we require regular contact and cooperation with other individuals for a sound mind. And body for that matter. Another potential cause is boredom. Over a long period of time, boredom will push the brain to seek distraction even in the most extreme shape or form[3].

What are the symptoms?

It looks like people experience cabin fever in different ways, however according to a study[4] carried out in the United States in 1984, some symptoms were common to all interviewees: dissatisfaction at home, restlessness, boredom, irritability, and the need to break routine.

Other symptoms, which cabin fever shares with a recognised psychological disorder – seasonal affective disorder, may include: depression, lethargy, lack of motivation, changes in weight, frequent napping, hopelessness, food cravings and difficulty concentrating, among others[5][6].

It is important to note however that only a trained professional would be able to make a diagnosis. Therefore if you have any symptoms, please refer to the relevant therapy service if you are able to, considering the extraordinary circumstances that we are all facing.

The bottom line is that the restriction in movement involves distress and negative emotions. These are coped with differently depending on people personalities and their temperament [7].

Extroverts will have a more difficult time adjusting to the new conditions, whereas introverts, who find social interaction more challenging, will probably have an easier time at least in first instance.

How to cope?

We are all going through difficult times at the moment. It is only understandable that the requirement to self-isolate will most likely up ramp anxiety and fear. Being confined in our homes may very well bring about cabin fever. However please know there are things we can do to cope better.

  1. Follow a routine

It is essential that you do not to give up your normal schedule. Instead carry on with your regular business as much as possible. This might involve waking up at the same time, showering and having breakfast, cooking or simply doing work – household work or office-related work using the electronic systems available [7].

If you have children, remember they need to have a structure and a predictable routine helps them feel safe and well looked after [8]. Use available resources to implement home-schooling, play together; come up with fun new ways to stimulate their creativity and imagination, dexterity, physical, cognitive, and emotional strength [11].

  1. Stay connected

We are lucky enough to live in an era of technology. So stay connected with your family and friends by phone, email, or social media. Use the mobile apps to video call your loved ones. If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember there are dedicated lines you can call for emotional support.

  1. Stay physically and mentally active[7]

Your health or personal circumstances allowing, exercise whilst indoors. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials to help you out on this front. Exercising helps you regulate your circadian rhythm [3], thus improving your sleep patterns. It also positively impacts your mood through the release of endorphins [8].

If you have a garden, go outside and take a breath of fresh air; listen to the sounds around you; enjoy the sunshine if possible. Keep yourself busy by listening to your favourite music, read a book, work crossword puzzles, organise your closet[6].

  1. Have a healthy diet

Being confined indoors is not an excuse to eat junk food. It is ever the more important to keep a healthy and balanced diet; this will help improve your mood, whilst protecting your brain from oxidative stress[9]. For instance, according to a meta-analysis of 21 studies from ten countries[10],  a diet comprised of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil and low fat-dairy products was associated with a lower risk of depression. It is equally crucial to hydrate accordingly whilst sticking to your normal eating patterns[6].

If you are running low on with food supplies, ask your friends and family for help. Ask them however to leave any groceries outside your door and avoid any unnecessary contact to keep everyone safe. Local community groups across the UK have also rallied in an attempt to help self-isolating neighbours and the most vulnerable members of society in their times of need.


It goes without saying that the world is going though one of the biggest crises since the end of the WWII. It is the struggle of our generation. Therefore, it is important for every one of us to our bit; to keep a clear mind and try to comply with all the precautionary measures advised by the Government.





4. The Meaning of Cabin Fever, Paul, C. Rosenblatt, Roxanne Marie Anderson, Patricia A. Johnson, The Journal of Social Psychology, volume 123, 1984, Issue 1





9. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, Kenneth R. Ginsburg, ; and the Committee on Communications and ; and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health Pediatrics January 2007, 119 (1) 182-191;


11. Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis, Ye Li, Mei-Rong Lv, Yan-Jin Wei, Ling Sun, Ji-Ziang Zhang, Huai-Guo Zhang, Bin Li, Psychiatry Research, Volume 253, July 2017, Pages 373-382