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Get Out to Get Over Cabin Fever

Updated on February 13, 2010

Trapped by epic snow in the Mid-Atlantic? Has a new job forced you to relocate from a warm climate to a cold, snowy climate and you don't know how to cope? Are you sick of being stuck indoors because of the snow? Are your kids driving you crazy? Well, you're not alone.

Cabin fever isn't a made-up concept. Agitation, frustration and a mild sense of insanity from prolonged isolation are all well known symptoms of being stuck indoors for too long thanks to terrible weather. And, as many have experienced this month, it isn't just an experience suffered by those long-gone adventurers who set off to stake a claim in remote parts of the nation when the US was young. Call it condo-fever, townhouse fever or apartment fever, it's very much alive today and those of us who aren't accustomed to large amounts of snow have been getting more than a taste of what it feels like.

Cabin in snow
Cabin in snow

The good news is that you don't have to suffer from cabin fever if you don't want to. The symptom is more a result of inexperience with snowy climates than some inevitable consequence of snow. Entire cultures who spend far more time buried under the white stuff than the rest of us have been coping just fine for centuries. And if you study them carefully, they all have the same coping mechanism. They get out in it!

Engaging in your environment, be it snowy or not, is a great way to fight depression and cabin fever. Being out in the sun and interacting with your neighbors even when bitter temperatures and a few feet of powder suggest doing otherwise is exactly the cure you and your family need. Here are some suggestions to help you.

It's ALWAYS grilling season

As the Washington DC suburbs were buried under record snow this year, I found myself out early and often, shoveling. My objective was to stay ahead of the snow as best I could. I kept doing so even into the early morning hours. When I awoke the next day, my neighbors were just beginning the daunting task of getting out from under almost 30 inches of snow from two consecutive storms while I only had to undo the mound of snow behind my truck put there by the snow plows that had come through during the night.

While my early efforts paid off, my neighbors were certainly suffering. After helping out a couple of my older neighbors, I decided I could do more. Our fridge was well stocked so my wife and I dragged the grill out front and started grilling hotdogs for our neighbors as they shoveled. While I grilled hotdogs and handed them out, my wife kept brewing coffee and hot chocolate. We gave out everything free and neighbor after neighbor came over to chat, eat, chug coffee and warm their hands over the hot grill..I met neighbors with whom I'd never exchanged more than a casual wave. As cozy as the heat from the grill may have been, it was the sense of shared suffering and community that warmed all our hearts.

If grilling isn't your thing, a cozy bonfire is another great way to bring a community together on a cold winter day. While living in Europe, my neighborhood would host bonfires almost daily when the weather was particularly bleak. Again, it's a chance to get out of the house, chat and catch up with neighbors or even to meet them for the first time. And it definitely keeps that crazy cabin fever feeling at bay. Obviously, this isn't an option for urban and most suburban communities, but if you live in a more rural setting or own a nice piece of land, you could be the toast of the town by getting a nice bonfire started and inviting everybody to join. Be sure to bring marshmallows!

Of course, not every solution depends on your neighbors. Some of our northern friends live in remote locations where the distance between neighbors is measured in miles. These folks keep their sanity by still getting out and passing the time in their wilderness surroundings. There are two great ways you can do the same.


Enjoy A Snow-blanketed Forest

Even when the snow is deep and powdery, you can still get out and enjoy the wilderness around you, providing you're willing to shell out a little money for snowshoes. Snowshoeing is a 6000 year old activity but the technology behind snowshoes has come a long way. The sport has become much more approachable for families as we can now pick up snowshoes specifically made for kids or get a pair of womens snowshoes that will make the outing fun for the whole family. Add a pair of trekking poles to the kit and you have everything you need to get out there. And, let me tell you, folks, the woods near your home have never looked as beautiful as they do when blanketed in fresh snow. Go blaze a trail and don't forget to bring your camera for some fantastic outdoor shots!

Requiring a bit more practice and skill, cross country skis are another suggestion from my past in Europe. Just about every family I knew owned a pair. While there's a bit of a learning curve and equipment required, cross country skiing will let you zip through the snow-blanketed wilderness near your home without sinking mid-thigh in powder. Like snowshoeing, cross country skiing is great exercise and a wonderful way to enjoy the snow rather than suffer through it.

Have a Snowball Fight

Finally, if you're an urban dweller, take a lesson from DC and enjoy a neighborhood snowball fight. In a couple of the big storms to roll through the Washington DC area, locals, driven by Twitter and bloggers, gathered together in Dupont Circle for a free-for-all snowball fight. Hundreds showed up for the fun. While the first snowball fight was marred by an ego maniac cop with a gun, nobody got hurt and everybody had a blast. Any kind of group activity in the snow will bring folks together and help break the monotony of day after day stuck inside, wishing for sun. If snowball fights aren't for you, you and your neighbors could build a snowman community, igloos or a snow maze for kids to navigate.

The simple fact is ALLOWING yourself to be stuck indoors will only compound your frustration and depression. Get out and enjoy yourselves, strengthen family and community bonds and enjoy the rare beauty and fun to be found in a fresh blanket of snow. You'll not only feel healthier, you'll BE healthier.


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