They Call it Cabin Fever, But it Leaves You Feeling More Crazy Than Sick
Sean Higgins

How the last week has impacted college students:

  • 1 hour less of sleep per night (18% decline among 200 students)
  • 9 minute increase in social device time with friends, even though physical interactions dropped dramatically

This week a majority of college campuses went virtual, asking students to head back home and isolate. While online learning isn’t new, the physical isolation has had an impact on everyone. We are seeing an 18% decline in sleep averages, a 2.5 hour increase in time on device, and despite losing most physical interactions and social time with friends, only a 9 minute jump in social device time (Facetime, phone calls, texting etc).

Still think cabin fever is a myth? How people behave when confined to their homes is different than how they behave when they have the ability to gather. These metrics matter. A study from 2017 found that the difference between an A and a B in school was sleep consistency, something our students are really struggling with today (average sleep time has dropped to less than 6 hours per night). 

And while time on device has gone up, students aren’t spending that time connecting with friends. They’re spending it watching TikTok, YouTube or browsing Instagram. 

So how can you beat cabin fever?

Schedule time to connect with your friends daily: The transition from seeing someone every day to not at all can be tough. Find a time each day where you can catch up, even for just 5-10 minutes. This should be a video call as it gives you a chance to see the other person. Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts or Marco Polo can help here.

If you live in a region where you can, go for a walk outside: Sometimes the easiest way to beat cabin fever is to get out of the cabin. Go for a walk around the neighborhood or if you live near nature, take a stroll down a familiar trail. Being more mindful of your surroundings will help relax you and fight off anxiety

Give yourself time to Instagram/TikTok: The time we intend to waste is not the same as wasted time. Trying to take your TikTok time from 90 minutes to zero isn’t feasible. So instead, set time aside where you can explore guilt-free.

Bring out an old skill: Did you learn Trumpet as a kid? What about gymnastics? See if you’ve still got it! Take a picture/video to share with friends to show them how you’re beating the cabin fever.

Write, Draw, Paint, and Get creative: Now is a great time to take up journaling, painting, or poetry. Practice a bit each day and in a week you’ll have a painting you can share with Mom for Mother’s day! 

Games with family: Whether it’s finally attempting that 1000 piece puzzle or challenging your siblings to Bananagrams, now is the perfect time to find some time for the people that matter most.

Take time to learn new things: Read a book that you’ve been putting off, try your free month of Audible, pick up a language app so that you’ll be ready for that trip to Spain later in the year.

Try guided meditation: With Headspace and Calm, you’ll learn techniques for body scanning and mindful breathing. Find a moment to relax and let everything else melt away.

Sleep: A consistent sleep schedule can be tough when you don’t have to go to class. One tip is to wind down at the end of the day. Avoid excess bright light (set your phone brightness all the way down and use the Blue Light filter), or do a screenless activity before bed (puzzle, book etc). Finding a way to catch a few extra z’s will pay dividends in what you’re able to do tomorrow.

Stay moving: It might be the perfect time to get in a morning run or find your Dad’s old free weights. Just because the gym is closed doesn’t mean your workouts have to be. Find some time to build a workout routine into your day and your body will thank you for it. 

If we let it, cabin fever can set us back. Or, it can be an excuse to learn a new skill, stay better connected with friends, and get in shape. Maybe your first few days of virtual college haven’t been the most productive. That’s okay. Every day the clock resets, our wins, our loses, they don’t matter. What matters is what we make of today.

If you’re a student struggling with ways to make the most of your time, we’d love to help. Check out how one student uses BetterYou to “save her from scrolling through TikTok for hours.” 

The BetterYou app uses behavior science to improve digital health and make it stick.

Want to learn how?