Have you ever been worried about catching “cabin fever” over the winter?
Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining is an exaggerated warning of the dire effects of being cooped up inside for too long. Most of us are familiar with the idiom, but did you know that cabin fever, while not technically a medical condition, refers to an actual psychological phenomenon?
Without access to the outdoors, people have a tendency to develop stress, anxiety, claustrophobia, and even depression. The cold winter weather often prevents us from being physically active. Time spent in the outdoors gives us the opportunity to stretch our legs and focus on natural stimuli that gently catch our attention, allowing our brains time to recharge from actively focusing on computer screens, advertisements, and printed materials.
Cabin fever historically referred to the bacterial disease typhus, which spread quickly among people living in confined spaces. Typhus was a particular problem during long winters in the north, where blizzards would keep people snowed-in for weeks at a time. The more casual meaning of cabin fever, which most of us are familiar with, was first used in 1918.
When the weather turns cold, people tend to stay indoors and watch T.V. or play computer games. These activities pass time, but do not allow the same energy outlet as a game of baseball or tag, particularly for children. In addition, indoor activities tend to require our constant, directed focus. In contrast, outdoor activities tend to engage a person physically, while allowing their mind to shift more casually between various natural stimuli. Because the person is not being bombarded with pictures and text that require very direct attention, their brain can recharge.
Humans aren’t the only ones that tire of staying indoors all winter. Honey bees spend the colder months huddling for warmth inside their hives, but do not actually hibernate. In order to maintain a clean and healthy hive they store up body waste and debris. Only on warm winter days (about 50°F or more), will the bees exit the hive to stretch their wings in a “cleansing flight.” They also survive the entire winter on honey stored from the previous fall. Can you imagine that cabin fever?
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to combat cabin fever. Many local hotspots offer opportunities to engaging in winter sports and getting outdoors even when it is cold. A change of scenery, though still indoors, can help break the monotony, so museums and galleries are always an option. Get out of the house and visit Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve in Fairfield, PA to learn more about how honey bees deal with cabin fever during part one of the 2013 “Bee-ginner Backyard Beekeeping” series at 12pm on Saturday, January 12th.