Friday Facts: Alaska Winter Blues & Cabin Fever

As I poured my first cup of coffee this morning, I smiled to myself at the light in the window. Sunrise. It was 7:30am. The Alaska Winter Blues & Cabin Fever would be retreating again soon. Earlier in the week, we had passed the 10 hour (10 hours of daylight) mark and we will be gaining light fast now.

Winter Blues & Cabin Fever

Winter Blues & Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever is a term first used in 1918. Not in the funny way, of being home alone and bored. It describes the feelings and emotionally based illness on aspects of isolation. Isolation caused by weather, cold-cold days and endless nights of Alaska, distance and the claustrophobia of being shut-in or secluded from other people.

Winter Blues & Cabin FeverToday, even if we do find ourselves isolated, most of us usually have access to a telephone or the internet and that provides that link to other people. Other people and social stimulation are never more than a click away.

This emotionally based illness is not so prevalent now and the phrase “Cabin Fever” is used as a humorous phrase rather than to describe someone who has been driven mentally unstable by lack of stimulation.

The symptoms of Cabin Fever may include:

  • Excessive sleeping
  • Inactivity
  • Moodiness
  • Sleep Loss
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Irrationality
  • Frustration
  • Crankiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Sudden bursts of laughter or tears
  • Distrust of other people

Winter Blues & Cabin FeverSomeone suffering from Winter Blues & Cabin Fever will feel a desperate need to escape, to get outside, even in the rain, snow or dark. They may act in a completely irrational manner to “get away.”

There is relief.

Although Winter Blues & Cabin Fever are not  technical psychiatric diagnoses, they are well recognized illnesses. Winter depression and the symptoms that afflict the victim are very real to millions of people.

For those people suffering from Cabin Fever, the fastest relief is to get out of the isolated situation and to interact with other people. People have a strong need to socialize. Simple interactions, like sitting in a restaurant with other people around you, can help and allow a slow reintroduction back into the mainstream way of living again.

It can be as simple as getting outdoors and interacting with nature. Usually, most sufferers of Cabin Fever experience relief if they start spending more time outdoors.

There is certainly an link between the winter months and symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

Winter Blues, Seasonal Depression and SAD

Winter Blues & Cabin FeverThe Winter Blues or Seasonal Depression, or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a depression that occurs each year at the same time. Usually starting in the Fall and ending in the Spring or early Summer.

It is a serious condition and should not be taken lightly.

Seasonal Depression or SAD is a condition in which a person experiences symptoms of mood disruption, including depressive symptoms and sometimes anxiety due to decreased sunlight during the dark winter months.

Often, it does result in a pretty significant social function disturbance and does require, quite often, light therapy or anti depressant medications prescribed by a doctor.

The cycle of sunlight and darkness has always set the rhythm of human life. Cold temperatures, snow, and limited daylight can make it challenging to maintain emotional balance.

Research on SAD in the United States began in 1970 when Herb Kern, a research engineer, had also noticed that he felt depressed during the winter months.

Lack of natural light affects different people in different ways. The dark has strong natural energetic influence in all climates, especially the cold.

Winter Blues & Cabin FeverAs the natural light of Winter decreases, our bodies begin to ‘hibernate,’ our glandular system responds by slowing down. Fatigue, or lack of energy, can set in.

Unfortunately, this energy shortage affects our immune system, causing it to slow down and thus not do its job as effectively. This is why the cold and flu season always happens in the winter, in the dark!

Dark and overcast days can intensify depression or make our bodies sluggish. Alcoholism, drug addiction and family violence often increase from the pressure of the dark. Thoughts and attitudes can become negative. Our bodies change as the summer tan fades and we begin to look pale. Some of us gain weight in the winter, and our mood can go down hill as we stay indoors more often.

People who suffer from Winter Blues, Seasonal Depression and SAD have many common signs and symptoms.

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Increased desire to be alone
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Hopelessness

Winter Blues & Cabin FeverBetween 4 and 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD, while 10 to 20 percent may suffer from a more mild form of winter blues. Three-quarters of the sufferers are women, most of whom are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

This illness is more commonly seen in people who live at high latitudes, where seasonal changes are more extreme. It is estimated that 1 percent of Florida residents, 4 percent of Washington, D.C. residents, and nearly 10 percent of Alaska residents suffer from SAD.

Our health, mood, and behavior are affected when the quality and quantity of sunlight is lessened.

As light enters the eye, it hits the retina and is transmitted by nerve impulses to the pineal gland. The pineal gland controls melatonin and serotonin secretions. These set the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm.

We can easily overcome the influence of the dark. Two basic remedies that balance out the dark are light and exercise.

Winter Blues & Cabin FeverA SAD light is a very bright light created for the treatment of seasonal depression. These lights are available through medical prescription or for sale at stores. Studies have proven that the influence of this artificial light stimulates the pineal gland and keeps the body running efficiently.

Light therapy can raise the level of serotonin in the day and melatonin at night. Serotonin keeps us alert and full of energy during the day while melatonin helps us rest and recuperate at night. Both promote optimum health.

There are few more things you can do to help effectively deal with SAD or wintertime blues.

  • Don’t overdose on the news. (Let’s face it, the news is depressing.)
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • Maintain contact with friends and family.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Happy thoughts!

Happy thoughts produce brain chemicals that make you happy, for emotions are side effects of thoughts. Happy thoughts will help you get through the months of Winter Blues & Cabin Fever as well as Seasonal Depression.

And always, remember to see your doctor. Tell him or her what you are feeling. Ask for help dealing with it.

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14 Responses to Friday Facts: Alaska Winter Blues & Cabin Fever

  1. I definitely have a case of “Cabin Fever”! Zach always throws me out of the house on the weekends so I can get over it. Tomorrow is a day of play in the sunshine with Champ!

  2. Are you taking him out, Carrie?! (Yes, that was a whine…) Oh man…I am so jealous!
    I haven’t even been across the river to check the horses with the guys yet, this winter!

  3. Oh Boy..I hear you! This week has been the pits..there was..still IS no getting outside to even go for a walk let alone ride(I’m jealous Carrie!)..Ice under a foot of wet heavy snow that froze with a icy, thick crust on top..I wll NOT fall on my’m not sure how you do it with as little daylight as you get, it’s bad enough here!
    Excellent article. So many people get SAD in Michigan too, though I prefer to call my crabbiness and potato chip craving Cabin Fever. I take Vit.D3, It’s been proven to help, and go outside alot! I hear “shut the darn door” all the time..well yes you now why I pop out..LOL..Today is the first really all day sunshine since January something. it’s been snow, snow and MORE snow! So it looked like Spring today, even if it didn’t feel like it..patience..sigh…
    My Fav TV show is still the Northern Exposure ((yes before your time) where old crusty Walt gets one of those lights to wear like a visor..and won’t take it off..and gets goofy and silly. Makes me crack up for a whole hour! I have it on a cd now finally.
    Hang in there..your Favorite thing that starts with “M” is on the way!

    As Always ~*~

  4. Ann! You BETTER not (!!%$^%$%$) fall on your butt! GOSH.

    You do know, don’t you, that I can vividly and clearly remember (I aint THAT old…) not too long ago, all these comments from all over the place, “Oh, I wish it would snow…” ??


    Anyhow! LOL, I am going to invest in a SAD light. I have decided that because I do spend so much time indoors, to be online…I owe it to myself.

    Bring the movie! LOL

  5. Important post Amber-Lee! Too many people don’t realize that it’s more than just being little blue and there is something that they can do about it! Where I live it we get approximately 300 days of full-on sunshine a year. Still, when it’s 115+ for weeks on end, we can’t go outside much during the day. Many residents sit in their homes, lights off to help with cooling and blinds drawn. Depression worsens for many in this self-created dreary time when the sun is actually sparkling outside! I guess cabin fever is a world-wide thing! Who knew! :)

    • Alli, there IS a Summertime Seasonal Disorder as well. I didn’t do much research on it, particularly, but came across it referred to and referenced as I was preparing this post. I really don’t think I would do well with that much unrelenting sunshine… hmm, so speaks the girl in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun…

      The biggest difference in the illnesses was that I found that Cabin Fever is more of an anxiety and people as well as claustrophobia based paranoia and the Winter Blues or SAD are a lack of daylight mainly. Thus the reason Cabin Fever was turned into a psycho-movie not SAD…

      Thanks for being here, Alli!

    • LOL, Are in sittin’ in daylight now?
      It makes a difference, it is a fact. I go for a walk with my little Alaska Chick-let at least once a day… sometimes it is the only light that touches me. It is hard, but it can be handled. I plan on handling it better!
      ~ Amber-Lee

  6. Good information. I suffer from SAD and it’s very challenging. I also have read that people living in Alaska make up a pretty size-able percentage of the U.S. population that is affected by seasonal affective disorder. It’s something like 6% I believe.

    Light therapy has shown very promising results for people who struggle with seasonal depression and we owe a lot to Dr. Rosenthal for his research on this. You can read a lot about light therapy at which has quite a bit of information on the subject.

    I also appreciate your remark on staying away from the news. It is depressing, and it’s more entertainment than it is actually informative these days. Anyway, really solid article – love your information.

    • Wow, Jonathan, thank you for sharing the link for light therapy and for being here with us.
      It really is very challenging because it hurts- it hurts us who suffer and it hurts those who care about us, because it is very real and can be very scary.
      Thank you for speaking up.
      ~ Amber-Lee

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