The Writing Life: Overcoming Cabin Fever When You Work at Home

Updated: May 25, 2021

Overcoming Cabin Fever When You Work at Home

By Joanne Troppello

The first historical reference to the term “cabin fever” occurred in 1918. The consensus among historians is that the term was used to describe when sailors would go mad from being out at sea too long or when the early settlers in the U.S. were confined in their cabins for long periods due to extensive winters. An individual who is stuck inside for long periods of time—such as in a snowstorm—can experience boredom, irritability, or a general malaise from being cooped up indoors.

According to a report from Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs, 3.9 million workers or nearly 3 percent of the US workforce are working at home. This amount constitutes both full and part-time telecommuting. The number has increased from 1.8 million in 2005. If you are a freelance copywriter or do other telecommuting work from home, you may experience cabin fever at some point. Consider implementing some or all these seven steps into your work day to overcome cabin fever and become more productive in your work.

1. Get Outside Daily

A basic method for handling cabin fever and solitude is to get outside daily to interact with nature. According to research conducted by Stephen Kaplan, Marc Berman, and John Jonides that was published in Psychological Science, “even brief interactions with nature can promote improved cognitive functioning and overall well-being.” Find a reason to leave the house every day even if it’s so cold out that you’d rather stay inside with a cup of hot chocolate. So, check the mail, visit a friend, go out for lunch, or simply take a walk to get out of the house.

2. Lighten the Mood

Proper exposure to sunlight each day will improve serotonin levels and boost your mood. If we lack the right amount of sun exposure, that can cause a chemical imbalance in our brains and lead to severe depression and cabin fever. It’s best if you work in a home office or other space in your house that has large windows to let in the sunlight. If you don’t have expansive windows, purchase lighting which mimics the natural illumination from the sun. Light therapy is considered an effective treatment from SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder from lack of exposure to sunlight. Create a workspace that has a cheery wall paint color like pale yellow or light green to make you feel like you’re outside.

3. Stay Active

Take the time throughout the day to exercise during a break or get outside to take a walk. Purchase a standing desk to increase productivity while you work. Consider taking up yoga, Pilates, plyometrics, or aerobics that you can do at home or join a gym. When you exercise, endorphins are released and they “interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.” These endorphins create a feeling of euphoria and will significantly improve your mood. Spend shorter times at your work station then stop for a break and continue this process throughout the day. Of course, you need to make sure that you complete all your workload. However, working straight through a 4 – 8 hour workday without any breaks will not help to boost your mood and will only serve to decrease your productivity level.

4. Schedule Weekly Outings

You don’t want to break the bank and go out to lunch each day. However, it will give you something to look forward to if you schedule a fun outing or lunch date once or twice a week to get out of the house. You don’t necessarily have to go out to eat. You can invite a friend over for lunch. This will be a welcome distraction from your solitary work environment and give you the personal interaction that can brighten your day. If you cannot do this during the week, make sure that your weekends are spent getting outside and enjoying time with friends and family.

5. Bring the Outdoors Inside

One Green Planet advises that when you have indoor plants in your home, you will breathe cleaner air and benefit from a natural mood enhancer. Check out this listing from Better Homes & Gardens of the 24 Easiest House Plants you Can Grow. Having a green thumb is not necessary to care for every plant. When you have indoor plants to care for, this provides you with another useful daily activity that gives you purpose. If you'd like to bring some interesting plants indoors, check out this article from Happy DIY Home, 15 Rare Houseplants You Will Love.

6. Eat More “Mood Food”

Do you eat enough “mood food” in your daily diet? The neurotransmitter, Serotonin, is a necessary brain chemical that facilitates the operation of many bodily functions such as healthy sleep patterns and boosting your mood. If your serotonin levels are too low, that can increase anxiety, depression, and aggressive behavior. You can eat foods that are rich in serotonin to effectively improve your mood and increase energy levels. Such foods include: walnuts, oatmeal, tea, salmon, and lentils.

7. Focus on Career Goals

Reduce cabin fever by staying busy with work and not focusing too much on the isolation factor in working from home. Stay focused on your career goals and take the necessary steps to accomplish those objectives. Write out a list of immediate, short term, and long term goals so you have something in writing to hold yourself accountable to.

You can effectively overcome cabin fever and remain productive in your daily work routine if you take these seven steps.

Do you work from home? Have you ever experienced cabin fever? What steps have you taken to alleviate cabin fever from your work life experience?

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