The term ‘bug out’ apparently gained popularity during World War 2, the term being inspired by cartoons of bugs scattering underfoot when discovered. As for bugging in, that refers to doing the opposite: staying put. It’s something you might have to do if there’s a natural disaster like a blizzard, tornado, heavy rain or snow. Unfortunately, bugging in for a long period of time comes with a phenomenon commonly known as cabin fever.
Most of us have heard of it, but just what causes cabin fever and what can you do to keep it at bay? Let’s take a closer look…
Defining Cabin Fever
“Unfortunately, there isn’t a strict psychological definition of cabin fever per se,” says psychologist Maxine Chown. She defines the phenomenon as the feeling people get when they are “isolated or confined for a prolonged period of time.” This could happen to you during a natural disaster. What if you were snowed in or had to brace yourself against the storm and wait for rescue?
According to Chown, there are many things that can cause cabin fever, and it is bound to affect everyone differently. “In general, being stuck in a similar routine, place, or position for a prolonged period of time where the experience…becomes stagnant would cause cabin fever-like feelings.”
Symptoms of Cabin Fever
The Meaning of Cabin Fever (1983) looked at the defining factors behind the condition. According to this study, which looked at 35 men and women from Minnesota, some of the most common symptoms reported to researchers during the study were irritability, restlessness, dissatisfaction, and the need to break free from the daily routine.
Other symptoms of cabin fever include:
- Feelings of hopelessness and depression.
- Changes in sleep routine (sleeping too much or too little).
- Changes in diet (cravings or complete appetite loss).
Just how long cabin fever takes to set in varies. It’s different for everyone and is highly dependant on their individual mental states and experiences. For example, cabin fever can be made worse by existing mental conditions like anxiety or clinical depression. Other factors might also have an effect on worsening cabin fever: Are you getting enough nutrition? Are you hydrated enough? Are you getting any exercise?
The symptoms of cabin fever are similar to, but not the same as, Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of clinical depression related to changes in season. In addition to boredom and frustration, you may have feelings of isolation, even when other people are with you. This is why people cooped up together for too long sometimes start turning on each other. If this happens, understand that it’s probably just the cabin fever talking.
An Expert Opinion: When Cabin Fever Hits
“Some relief could be found from cabin fever and its symptoms by a change in physical and mental scenery,” says Chown. “What can be done if people are held up together with no choice would be to do anything that would create spontaneity in routine and bring satisfaction.”
Alleviating cabin fever, says Chown, is down to getting rid of what stirred up the negative feelings to begin with: Dissatisfaction, boredom, or simply feeling trapped. “Do something different that would cause a more free and creative feeling.”
“If people cannot get out in open spaces to see nature, which generally helps, doing ‘fun’ activities–spring cleaning the space around them, doing something new, planning new activities, and revitalizing relationships with each other–could help.”
Tips for Dealing With Cabin Fever
- Meditation: Learning to quiet your mind with mindfulness meditation is an essential skill, and there’s a very good reason U.S. Army handbooks prepare would-be soldiers for the mental side of isolation as much as the physical side of survival. Take a step out of the situation and breathe.
- Distraction: Don’t let your mind get the better of you. Instead, keep yourself distracted. Distraction can come in many forms – get up and clean something, grab a notebook and doodle, walk to another room and back five times if that’s what it takes.
- Occupation: You should keep your mind busy while you’re at it. (There’s nothing wrong with a book of puzzles as part of your bug in kit. Again, mental health is as vital as physical health.) Prepare for this ahead of time and make sure you have resources, however menial, to keep your brain occupied.
- Discussion: Speak to the people around you: Mistrust can quickly set in when people are holed up together, and that only creates weak links in a group. Just think of how badly that goes in any kind of slasher movie. Discuss past experiences and future plans: This, too, manages to distract.
Cabin fever is a Hollywood staple and the effect isolation has on people has been portrayed in movies like Cabin Fever (2002), Panic Room (2002), The Shining (1980), The Mist (2007) and countless others. But have you ever experienced it yourself and lived to tell the tale? Leave a comment and let us know.