November 26, 2020

How to Overcome Cabin Fever

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Dr. Ronald DeVries, licensed psychologist for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. Together, they discuss how to overcome cabin fever this winter.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • What we should be looking for in our behavior when it comes to cabin fever.
  • Positive psychology through ‘flow’ and its impact on our happiness.
  • Coping strategies for combating cabin fever.
  • Steps we should take if we find ourselves struggling with isolation.

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast, episode 68. Coming up, we discuss ways to overcome cabin fever.

Chuck Gaidica:
Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. This is a podcast that’s dedicated to navigating how we can all improve our well-being through small, healthy habits we can start implementing today. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica. And every other week, we sit down with a certified health expert from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and we do a deep dive into topics that cover mental health, well-being, a whole lot more. And in this episode, as I said, we’re discussing cabin fever. How to overcome it. With us today is licensed psychologist with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, Dr. Ronald DeVries. Ron, how are you?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
I am great, Chuck. Thanks for having me.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, it’s good to have you again. And we should mention that Dr. DeVries got his undergrad from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, master’s and PhD from Fuller Theological out in Pasadena. And then he worked in LA with the VA, and then moved to Seattle and eventually made his way back to Western Michigan. So, we’re glad he is with us again. And we talk about this, we’re not the only state in America with cabins but we do relate to them quite a bit. But as we hunker down here into winter, we do hear this phrase, Dr. DeVries, cabin fever. Can you explain what that is?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Yeah. It’s one of those phrases that we use and really it’s about, and psychologists don’t like to use the word crazy, but it really fits. It’s that stir crazy feeling that we get. That distressing kind of claustrophobic feeling. We get irritable, restless, the walls are just closing in around us. And even though it’s not a DSM category in the diagnostic, it’s a human experience. We know it, we research it, it exists. In its most extreme form it can lead to being paranoid where you just don’t trust people, and honestly, can even get suicidal.

Chuck Gaidica:
Now we’re coming through a period of time and we’re still navigating through it, where we’ve been hunkered down at home. And we hear this idea of social distancing, right? And we’ve been practicing that, I guess, in so many different ways, but all of that comes together before we hit a Michigan winter. And before the clouds roll in from your side of the state to mine, and we’ve got a lot of complications from wellness of the world to the physical nature that we sit in. So, there’s a lot of stuff that’s been coming at us and continues to come at us with this idea of, as you put it, stir crazy or cabin fever, what should we be looking for in our own behavior? I guess, that’s a good place to start before we look at the people around us.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Right. And you are right on when you’re saying, “Hey, we’ve got a perfect storm heading our way.” The numbers are going up just as we’re all going back into our homes. And so what we really have to watch for is that boredom, that low motivation, that loneliness, where it just feels like, I’ve got to get out of this place. And we really have to pay attention to that. There’s a difference between a lazy Saturday morning or a lazy Sunday morning, where you just want to close off the world and just hang out and not do very much, but that can’t become a lifestyle. And that’s what starts to happen in that cabin fever, where you just are isolated and alone and you feel bored and you have no motivation.

Chuck Gaidica:
And you know when it gets super cold here in the state, which we know is coming like clockwork every year, it comes about the same time. I know that for me, even with two dogs who take me for a walk every day, I’ve got to force myself in the midst of January, February to make that walk, the lengthier walk that I’m accustomed to completely around the neighborhood, instead of just run out, the dog’s paws don’t want to hit the snow and ice, I don’t want to hit the snow and ice. But yet, if I push myself on a blue sky day that happens to be 15 degrees, it turns into a pretty good walk. So there are those times where even the little baby steps can help us, right?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
You’re right on. Matter of fact, you’re going right into the list of things that we can do to try to combat cabin fever, and getting outside is a huge part of that. And we have to really push ourselves. I like to contrast this whole discussion with the concept of flow.

Chuck Gaidica:
Okay. What is flow?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Flow is described, it wasn’t invented by no means, but it’s described by a psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. And what he noticed when he was studying what we call positive psychology, the things that make life more meaningful and beneficial and happy, he discovered this idea or describes this idea of flow. And we’ve all had it. It’s that time in our lives where we’re so utterly immersed in a task that we’re oblivious to the outside world. We’re so interested in what we’re doing that time seems to either just fly by, or time is so slow because we’re so concentrated, it’s just clicking, and we’re in our element. And it’s very much related to pleasure. He will even use the word ecstatic. And writers will talk about this. Painters will talk about this. But we’ve all had this at different times in our lives. Where it just, you know what? It’s working and I’m flowing. I love that description. I’m just in flow.

Chuck Gaidica:
And you know for so many of us who have varied interests, that’s sometimes a challenge. I’ll give you a couple of examples. My wife is into making Barbie dresses, custom by hand stuff. It is meticulous. She said years ago, “I’ll never do this.” Her mom was the one that started it. And then when her mom passed, to honor her mom’s memory, she started this as a hobby. She was always a seamstress. Well, she can get lost. I call it the sewing command center. Right? But she can be lost in there for hours. And I’ll say, “Have you had lunch?” She’s like, “Oh no, I forgot.” That’s what you’re talking about, right? Where you’re enjoying yourself, you’re immersed in this, and time just goes away.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Exactly. And that is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. And so, when we compare cabin fever with flow, I just like to use that as a kind of two ends of a continuum. We really want to organize our lives so that we start to go in the direction of flow. Now, you can’t live in flow. We have to be realistic. You’re not going to live every day, every moment of that experience. And people who, again, are very creative writers, sculptors, painters, they enjoy those moments but they can’t recreate them by snapping their fingers and just having it happen. But you want to at least try to organize your life so that you can go in that direction, because it’s really the best way to fight a Michigan winter when we’re all stuck inside.

Chuck Gaidica:
And you know it could be as simple as a hobby, and for others I’ve heard it described and I’ve gone through courses where they try to help me find my Gallup strengths from a strengths’ finder. And what is your passion? If you can do something where you’re helping people, if you can do something where you’re doing something bigger than self, if you can find a cool hobby like Susan has that’s turned into a little bit of a business, whatever that is, that seems like that’s the stuff where maybe you should jump in the deep end and see if that isn’t what helps you get into this state of flow.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
But that is just a great example. I mean, I think getting out of ourselves, getting out of that mindset and to think about other people, focusing on other people really helps us. Again, it lays the groundwork for us to be, maybe closer in that experience of flow.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Yeah. I know I’ve mentioned this, and I think I have in the past, but Susan and I were lucky enough to get on a cruise that Christopher Cross, the singer, was on, and he sings the song, Sailing, giant hit. Right? And it’s been a song that touches us as a couple from the day we were married. And so, we got a chance to listen to him being interviewed. And someone said, “How did you come up with this song? Everybody thinks it’s about a boat and you’re sailing away.” He said, “No, it’s got nothing to do with water.” He said, “I had a friend who was a painter, and I went over to her studio and I watched her painting this big canvas.” And I said, “How do you do that?” And the painter looked at him and said, “Well, I just get in it, and I just sail away.”

Chuck Gaidica:
And it’s really so cool to hear you describe this clinically to those of us who maybe don’t get it, because here was this example and now I know forever, and you know and whoever’s listening, that’s how Sailing was created by Christopher Cross. It had nothing to do with sailboats, but that to me is an enviable place to be for that artist to say, “I just get in it, man. And I’m just sailing away.” How great is that?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
I love that story. I’m going to hold on to that story. That is exactly what I’m talking about.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. So, let’s talk about actual coping mechanisms then if we feel we’ve got cabin fever. We know we should try to get into a state of flow, even if it’s little bits at a time, right? Give us some other tips, other hacks we can use to get away from and cope with cabin fever.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Right. The first really is to create a daily routine. We are working from home and it’s so easy to fall out of our normal routines. If you find yourself falling into cabin fever, you really want to just organize your day. Get up, get breakfast, get up exercise, just however you want to plan your day and then you want the next day to repeat that as closely as possible. And the next day to repeat it. Human beings are creatures of habit. We love organization. We love routine. And cabin fever, it just takes away that motivation. And a lot of times we just give in to that feeling.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
We’re already not motivated so then we just say, “Oh, I just don’t feel like doing it.” So we just have to push ourselves, like what you were saying about pushing yourself to do the longer dog walk. Just get into the routine and follow it. And of course with that, and this leads right into that next one, you got to make sure you’re doing good sleep. Pay attention to your sleep hygiene. With clients, I’m always asking how much sleep do you get at night? And most people need right around eight hours. There’s some people who need less. Some people can maybe get by with six. I always say it’s eight plus or minus two. So it’s six to 10 hours of sleep. If you’re getting less than six, you’re not getting enough. And if you’re getting more than 10, you’re getting too much.

Chuck Gaidica:
And there are some clinical things I guess, or medical things that we should think about in this time, or maybe we have opportunities to tackle them, sleep apnea. I don’t know what your view is of supplements. I know people have talked about melatonin and other things, vitamin D making you healthful, but it seems like there are other things we can do that may be just particular to us that can help us get a restful night of sleep. Right?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Correct. I am all for anything. I mean, I think people can be their own guide on this. Everybody is different. So you just do an end of one study we call it, “Okay, what’s going to help me maximize my sleep?” And sleep apnea, this is a good time to go in and get that sleep apnea test and find out if a CPAP machine is actually going to help you get that eight hours.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Okay. So what else should we be thinking about?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Well, you mentioned it a moment ago, just getting outside. Michigan is cold and frigid outside in the winter time, but we got to get outside. And while we’re outside, again, getting moving. This is a time, and we could have a whole topic on mindfulness, I know you have. But this is just a really good time to be mindful of outside. Listen to the crunch of the snow below your feet. Feel the cold wind on your cheeks. On those days that we do, the sun does come out, even in the midst of the coldest days. That warm sun, you can feel it on your hands, you can feel it on your cheeks, and just soak it in, soak in what you’re experiencing outside.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Snow, when it’s snowing. One of the things I love, I grew up in Southern California, I mean we did not have snow. So I just still love a snowy day. I didn’t even see it snow until I was like 18 years old for the first time. And so, when it snows, there’s just something so beautiful about watching the snow fall. But I’m always shocked on how quiet the world gets when it starts to snow. And that silence is just palpable. You can actually hear how quiet it gets. And so, that’s another thing, just to pay attention. So, get outside, get moving, but while you’re outside, really zero in on the smallest senses.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And take time to smell the coffee or watch the birds. I mean, whatever’s appropriate. Right? When you’re out there. Because there are times I go out, I put my earbuds in, and I go outside, and I’ll get halfway into something, podcast or something, I’ll think, I’d rather just be listening to nature. I’d really would. And the crunch of snow is there. And this idea of getting outside, I remember years ago I interviewed Dr. Oz, and he’s in New York City. And he said, even in the dead of winter, he’ll go out and sit on a park bench somewhere in New York and roll up, this sounds weird, roll up the bottom of his pant legs and even push his parka up on his arms. And he said, “Just 10 minutes, just sit there and let sun soak into your skin.” Part of that was that vitamin D machine. He was talking about the healthfulness of it. But he said, “Just to feel the sun. Not in a day when it’s 20 below. But if it’s something you can do just be moving.” I think that’s such great advice.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Right. And it really helps with cabin fever. In Michigan there’s that motivation again, Oh, you look outside and the wind is blowing and it’s cold. But just to push yourself and say, “No, this is really going to be good for me.”

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. All right. So keep us going here. Cabin fever, we want to get out of it.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Right. And it’s kind of what you were talking about with your wife, finding creative outlets. Right now, especially with everything that’s happening with COVID, this is a great time to possibly take up a new hobby. Great time to take up a new skill. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the guitar. Okay. Well, I’ve got some time. Maybe I’m going to be stuck at home. I’m going to pick up a guitar and start playing, but start finding those creative outlets. We fall too much into the easy things, the electronic devices, watching TV, watching movies, being on our computers or our iPads. And this is really a time to say, you know what? What else can I do? Even TikTok can be really fun. Practice those dances and those moves with your family and just be creative. But looking for creative outlets.

Chuck Gaidica:
One of my sons years ago studied in Italy for a semester, an overseas deal. And he brought me back a mandolin. Now, this is honest to goodness, over a decade ago, and I still have it. And I just recently went online and I searched, and you would not believe, Ron, how many apps and videos. So, I’m going to get into it. This winter, that’s one of my challenges. To get out this mandolin. I have no idea what I’m doing. And I thought, well, somebody is going to hear it. No. I have no idea. But I don’t care.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
I love that attitude. That is exactly what I’m talking about. This is a time when we are facing potentially this very dark winter. This is a time to say, you know what? I am going to learn to play the mandolin. I love it.

Chuck Gaidica:
You wait until spring. I’m going to sound like I’m Italian. All right. And then in this time we can also focus on things that are not healthful, right? We can get negative, certainly if you’re watching the news. I mean, I came from a TV news business for almost four decades. But if you watch too much of it, that’s what the remote control is for, turn it off.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Correct. And we really have to work. Cabin fever, one of the things that fuels it, is this negative self-talk. We have got to challenge the ways we catastrophize. This is what I do clinically with my clients, work on the ways that we’re catastrophizing the world around us. Or we get stuck in, I can’t stand it. And I always challenge them, “Well, you sound like you’ve got, I can’t stand-ititis right now.” And so, we just got to get out of that mindset of that, oh, that negativity. And you’re right, if news is fueling that for you, then you turn it off.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And I’m not castigating television news. It’s not necessarily their fault because they’ve got a 24/7 cycle. They got to fill it with stuff. Right? And we’ve had so much stuff to fill it with, from politics to a pandemic, to keep on going, hurricanes and all the rest. So, all that stuff may not affect the world you’re in, but you can certainly let it get in there. I’ve got a buddy who I was sitting with, having a socially distance lunch with not long ago over the late fall. And he said to me, “My stomach is just reeling.” And he started digging into all this stuff about news. I said, “Just calm down. It’s okay. The world will keep on moving.” And that’s easy for me to say, I guess.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Right. But it’s important for us to say to ourselves, you know what? The world is going to keep moving. I’m going to get through this. I will survive. That self-talk can help us, especially when we’re stuck in the doldrums of being inside.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. We touched on the virtual world a little bit, apps and videos we can all watch, and stuff we can do. But what else about the virtual world? Because we’ve also got to be careful. That’s not the thing that captivates all of our time and leads us down one of these bad paths of cabin fever.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Correct. On one hand, we want to celebrate it. I mean, there are so many wonderful things, like you talked about apps. Apps to find how to play the mandolin. There are so many ways. I mean, Thanksgiving is going to be very, very different this year. But I would just encourage everybody to think about the holidays in new ways, and celebrate how we can virtually connect with people. And we want to use all those tools to our advantage. I mean, it’s incredible the things that we can do electronically. But, and you nailed it, we have got to unplug. And I challenge all the clients that I work with, when are you not connected to all the electronic devices? Because if we go from our computers, to our iPads, to our phones, to our TVs, back to our computers, and that’s how you spend your day, you are just, again, fueling that cabin fever sense. And there are times where you just have to unplug.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. I have to admit to you something, I guess I would be qualified as a type A guy, but I’m an entrepreneurial mind and I just tend to be driven. Right? But I do unplug, to be fair.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Good.

Chuck Gaidica:
But for the longest time I found that hard, and I’m going to get this quote wrong. You may know it. There’s an author who wrote a quote, something about, unplugging for people who are driven. She uses the analogy of a vacuum cleaner. “You can unplug a vacuum cleaner and leave it in the closet for three days, and come back and plug it back in and it still works.”

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Right.

Chuck Gaidica:
And I’ve always thought about that because we’re so afraid some of us. That if we unplug, Oh man, we’re just going to be unplugged forever. The whole week is going to go away. No. You can unplug for an hour, for eight hours, whatever it is. Take a walk, and plug back in, and guess what? It works again.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Yes. And I have found, because I’m more of a type A myself, I have found that I actually can get more done when I look at my week or even my month when I build in my unplugged times. I tend to have more energy, more focus, and I’m more creative. I just feel more successful, maybe is the right word. I just feel like, “Hey, that went well. I feel like I accomplished more.”

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, that zips us back to maybe, it was your first point in this discussion, of how to beat cabin fever by creating a routine. You’re literally building it into your schedule. So, you know this afternoon from 2:00 to 4:00 I’m taking a walk, or I’m doing something outside rain or shine. So that’s helpful.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Correct. And building it in and actually asking, when is my unplugged time for the day?

Chuck Gaidica:
So, if we start to think about all these things that tend to have a little bit of self motivation, there are things that we can certainly find healthfulness in. What if we get to a point where we’re feeling swamped. Where maybe we, and the loved ones around us, or we’re seeing somebody in our circle, where the symptoms aren’t improving or, God forbid, they’re even getting worse. So, then what?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Right. Well, as a clinical psychologist, I’m always worried about how cabin fever crosses over into something more serious. Like I was talking about getting paranoid or getting suicidal. It’s so easy to slip back into or slip into anxiety or depression. And if that’s the case, we really are talking about maybe seeking outside help.

Chuck Gaidica:
And the same would be the sense if there’s something even more critical that you’re seeing, whether it’s an eating disorder, and that can go either way. I mean, if I were to watch too much news at 11 o’clock at night, I could probably blow through a whole package of Oreos. You just have to know yourself. But if it starts to get dire, or if you start to hear people verbalizing, even your children, because this is tough on all of us, everybody being in the same house and maybe everybody getting cabin fever, seeking professional help is good. Where do people turn? What are the first buttons people should push then?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Well, again, this is where we can celebrate the virtual world. You can start, I mean, mental health, there’s community mental health. If you put in depression, or depression treatment near me in a Google search, you’re going to get all kinds of resources to sort through, more than you probably even want. So you just want to start. And of course, insurance companies, Blue Cross is a great place to start. And certainly Pine Rest on the West side of the state. We are an organization that tries to make it very easy for people just to reach out. And of course, telehealth has just taken off. That’s probably something that is going to change the way we do mental health, because so many people really seem to like it and it takes out some of the barriers.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And there are other topics that we could probably spend as you’ve mentioned, a half an hour on each one. But this time of the year we have recollections of loved ones who have passed. There may be active situations where, because of the pandemic or otherwise, somebody passes away so you’ve got grief issues. It’s a season of a lot of heavy stuff if you let it become that. Right?

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Correct. Which is my take-away. I just think people have got to give themselves a lot of grace during this. We have just got to be kind to ourselves and realize, we are in the midst of a Michigan winter, in the midst of a pandemic. And those two together are just ripe for cabin fever. And we have got to recognize that, and know that, and give ourselves grace in the midst of it.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And that grace you’re speaking of, and that’s such a good word to use, it’s got to be extended to others around us. Doesn’t it? I mean, we’ve got to be charitable in the way that, even if I got snappy because I’m getting some kind of pressures, or I’m trying to run Zoom while two kids are running around and my dogs are barking, there’s just stuff that happens where we’ve got to extend that grace outward in our circles.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
You bet. Grace for ourselves, grace for others.

Chuck Gaidica:
I’ll tell you what, speaking to you is so encouraging. And I think that’s a take-away for me, is that, with all that’s going on, it’s so easy to say, “Oh, well, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a vaccine coming. Once we get past January the news comes down politically or whatever.” But the idea that we can all be encouraged, there are so many different ways for us to attack this idea of cabin fever and you’ve brought those to our attention. So, thanks for that. It’s been great.

Dr. Ronald DeVries:
Hey, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Chuck Gaidica:
Dr. Ronald DeVries has joined us today from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. Take good care and be well. Thanks, Ron. We’re glad you’re with us today. Thanks for listening to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It is brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like our show and you want to know more, you can check us out online. Here comes the virtual connection for you, ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast. You can take us with you as you go for your walks. You can listen at home. You can leave us a review or rating on Apple podcast or Stitcher. And you can get new episodes on your smartphone or tablet. Be sure to subscribe to us on Apple podcast, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Don’t forget, this is episode 68. So, as Ron mentioned, we’ve got some great episodes on everything from eating habits to mindfulness, oh it’s a catalog of stuff you can listen to. So just dive in and let it be one of your resources as we all try to navigate cabin fever. I’m Chuck Gaidica. Stay well.