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The Daily Grind

What to do when cabin fever sets in

February 13, 2010
By KIMBERLY SHORT WOLFE

If you find yourself becoming restless, irritable and developing a new phobia I have coined, Imsickofsnowaphobia, you are not alone. Many are finding that the beautiful white stuff that adorns so many Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kinkade paintings has simply lost its luster, beauty and appeal.

I am seeing it, hearing it and experiencing it to a certain degree. Now, because time is precious and we don't want to waste a single day, let's take a look at this cabin fever, as some call it, and determine what we can do to prevent it from taking over our lives.

Here are a few dictionary definitions for cabin fever:

- Boredom, restlessness or irritability that results from a lack of environmental stimulation, as from a prolonged stay in a remote, sparsely populated region or a confined indoor area.

- Distress or anxiety caused by prolonged confinement in a small or remote place, as in, "We've been snowed in for a week and everyone has cabin fever." Originating in the West, this term at first alluded to being penned up in a remote cabin during a long winter but has since been applied more broadly (late 1800s).

- A claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in, in a small space with nothing to do for an extended period (as in a simple country vacation cottage during a long rain or snow).

Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, forgetfulness, laughter and excessive sleeping, distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the (less miserable) rain, snow or dark. The phrase is also used humorously to indicate simple boredom from being home alone. The term was first recorded in 1918. Other references have the term in use at least to 1906.

From time to time we all occasionally experience some form of cabin fever. However, this winter with the consecutive poundings of blizzards we have been experiencing on a regular basis, cabin fever is everywhere.

Cabin fever can be a horrific degenerative mood-altering dilemna. Therefore we need some knowledge on combatting cabin fever. Knowledge is power, right? I know, as a homeschool mom for nearly 20 years what it is to be hemmed in during the winter months. Most of our years homeschooling I did not work therefore I had to find ways to creatively enjoy and not just spend our days during the long winter months. I can remember a few times when my kids were babies that we didn't get out into the world for three weeks at a time due to weather or illness or both.

One key in thriving and not just surviving the winter is to grab the sunshine whenever you can. Though the sun is a shy and illusive being this winter, when it does appear make sure you get out in it or at least sit by a window and bask in it. The vitamin D our bodies need to absorb calcium and boost our moods is from the sun. Personally I have added vitamin D to my vitamin regimen, but only do this after getting permission from your doctor. Vitamin D is one vitamin that a body can have too much.

I have also read in naturopathic books that we need to avoid sunglasses for at least 20 minutes a day to better absorb the sun's powerful mood boosting ability. I don't know if that's true but I am trying it just in case. Other vitamins are also essential to mood health beginning with a good multivitamin. I add vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, zinc, C and flaxseed oil for mood improvement as well as overall health.

Some fortunate folks, like my dear mom, escape the drifts of snow in sunny Florida. Her mood has drastically improved as she is able to get out and walk every day and enjoys the many activities and socialization of her friends and senior community. If that is an option, go for it. But for most of us, that's not even a possibility.

Getting out when possible and enjoying the cold and snow is one key to surviving the winter. I urge my guys out every day to play in the snow, sleigh ride or play airsoft rifles ... yeah, they were goggles and protective gear.

Changing the way we think and talk also helps. Instead of saying, "It's so miserably cold," we could say, "This cold is invigorating." You may think this sounds silly, but our words have power to influence ourselves as well as those around us. If we do nothing but complain, then we are adding to the depression that sometimes comes with winter and not helping ourselves or those around us. Words have power.

We live in a winter wonderland with ski resorts within a short driving distance. Though there is a cost, many enjoy winter much more with this added to their lives. Skiing, snowboarding and tubing are great exercise as well as just good fun. This can be expensive, so freebies also include walking in the snow, snowshoeing, playing like you are a kid again and enjoying a hobby you usually do not have the time to enjoy: woodworking, scrapbooking, painting, needlework, board games and many others.

Also, planning ahead with seed catalogs for you gardeners, making vacation plans or simply grabbing your calendar and making some plans in order to have something to look forward to is a great way of giving yourself hope that "this too shall pass." Seasons come and go, if we enjoy them we are living. If we endure them, we are just surviving.

Here's a thought for those of you with children homebound from school. As a homeschooler, we have a schedule that moves us through our day. We begin with school. That takes many hours. (Hey, you could do some assignments so the kids won't be behind from missing so much ... oh, won't your kids love this?) Then chore time is next. I know this is old fashioned, but chores give a sense of responsibility, belonging, family and teaches them to work.

Our rule is work then play. You do not play until you complete your work. This will help them in their adult years. My future daughters-in-law will love me also. How do I know this? Well, my guys have to help with outside chores, but also household chores including laundry and everything in between at one time or another. They will know how to do all household chores and hopefully be helpful to their wives some day. That's why I think my sons' future wives will love me. So a list is given before I go to work and chores are to be marked off as they are completed, and then and only then do they have their own time for outdoor fun, video games, TV or whatever hobby they might be enjoying.

There is a lot to be said for structure and schedule to bring stability and thus create a better mood. This goes for adults also. We need some structure, goals and plans in order to feel accomplished and have purpose.

Now, while talking about cabin fever, I must add that humor is a must for me each and every day. This is only me and probably has something to do with my line of work, but I only watch funny shows and movies. Being a grief counselor has its own rewards and I love my work. But I simply will not watch anything sad, and many of my friends who work in funeral homes have said the same thing.

There is a time for everything, but with winter going out like a lion, humor, laughter and good clean fun is a must. Laughter creates the feel good chemicals in our brains and will carry us through much of the winter if we allow it.

(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a homeschool mom and the grief counselor/bereavement coordinator for Mountain Hospice. To contact her, e-mail kwolfe@mountainhospice.com or call 304-823-3922, ext. 136.)

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