If there is any comfort in cabin fever — besides cozy blankets, but I’m even annoyed at those — it is knowing that cabin fever is a legitimate feeling. It is legit because it has been studied. And not just studied. STUDIED BY MINNESOTANS.
The study’s title: The Meaning of “Cabin Fever.”
When and where it appeared: 1984, The Journal of Social Psychology. (I told you this was legit.)
The author’s affiliation: The University of Minnesota. (The only school more qualified is the University of Saskatchewan.)
The first sentence of the abstract: “Elicitation interviews on the topic of ‘cabin fever’ were carried out with a sample of 35 Minnesota men and women, ages 17 to 84.”
Cabin fever is a folk term. The researchers wanted to know what the phrase meant to those Minnesotans because “careful probing of beliefs and understandings that center on a folk term may reveal implicit theories connected to it.” Whatever the implicit theories might be, I don’t understand them.
Anyway, the researchers began their interviews with the following statement: “I am interested in studying something that many people call cabin fever. There is no right or wrong or set definition of cabin fever, but I want to know what it means to you and how it affects your life. Could you tell me what cabin fever means to you?”
Eighteen of the respondents came up with classical definitions related to “depression, boredom, feeling dissatisfied, irritability, or moodiness in reaction to some sort of confinement, bad weather, routine, isolation, or lack of stimulation.”
Or as one farmer put it: “I guess the thing is that it’s not so much that you are confined to the house, but the fact that you can’t get away. Just knowing the fact that no matter what comes up you can’t leave is probably more aggravating than anything else.”
Another man’s answer: “Temper gets short, very short.”
Of her husband, one woman said: “He’s just terrible at the end of the winter. I like to do stuff in the house, but he doesn’t.”
Not everyone expressed definitions of cabin fever that related to what I just overhead my wife say: “STOP FIGHTING. YOU GUYS ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY.” By that, I mean this: “Four thought that ‘cabin fever’ meant wanting to own a cabin in the wilderness.”
How did the respondents cope?
Chores. Housework. Planning a social event. Reading. Watching television. Also, calling a physician and talking to a minister.
The easiest cure seems to be reducing the number of children in the house to zero, if possible.
“This is the first year I haven’t felt that way in the wintertime,” one woman responded. “Now it might be that the winter is less severe. It might also be that my children are all in school this year for the first time.”