10 Remedies for Cabin Fever

1. Shovel early, shovel often. Early winter. So exciting! Before the powder turns to ice, before your brain settles into stale-air mush, head out to gawk at fresh small-mammal tracks and silent still-white limbs, and make your paths. Remember to lift with your legs and pace yourself. This is only the beginning.

2. Go for a run. Jog gingerly in the icy tire tracks of pickups or the unplowed skiff on the road shoulder while flakes pile on your ball-cap brim and nineteen trumpeter swans glide across the nearby lake. Wave at the neighbors and schoolkids as you pass. You’re all in this together.

3. Schedule no-whining days. Make a pact with friends. Once a week, you’ll spend the day outdoors walking, skiing, swan-watching, hauling firewood — anything, anything at all — together and without complaint. On sunny days, sit hatless on foam pads and share the last of the garden pesto dip. On freezing days, wrap your mittened hands around a passed thermos lid of tea. (Apple brandy optional.) You’ll forget you ever wanted to complain.

4. Organize. Midwinter, when weariness encroaches, stay busy! Organize your files, your silverware drawer, the endless, strewn Ziploc baggies of first-aid supplies from summer hikes. Organize a dinner party or a book club or a weekly travel slide show. Who knew your neighbors visited Cambodia in the 1960s, the Galapagos in the 1980s, Panama by canoe, Antarctica with a sled?

5. Make art. Paint. Knit. Carve. Quilt. Sculpt. Scour the web for submission opportunities and send your creations around the world. Note that the range of what qualifies as art grows in direct proportion to the lousiness of the weather and your distance from town. A Halloween mask from wine corks. Fingerpainting. Writing your memoir.

6. Get political. Write your congressperson. Sign petitions, or start them. Fight for clean energy, clean air, and clean water. Fight against violence and torture and injustice. Read and write and think and rage. But not at your partner.

7. “It could be worse.” Late winter, when snow piles toward the eaves (the neighbors board their windows, but not you!), read about Shackleton, read Jack London, or the latest from Elizabeth Kolbert. Flip through photos of icebergs melting, creeks cresting, fires burning, tornadoes spinning. Consider real hardship while soaking in a steaming hot bathtub.

8. “This is better?” Visit relatives in LA or Houston and remember there’s something nice about driving an ice-free interstate, watching heat ripples rise from asphalt, swapping familiar stories with siblings. (It did not happen that way! Did too! Did not!) Remember, too, that there’s also something nice about having four seasons back home — snow sifting through the pines, swans on a silent lake.

9. “This is better!” Fly to Cancun or road-trip to Moab. The sky is blue, the ocean warm, the red rocks startling, the tropical fish surreal. Feel the sun on your skin — serotonin! endorphins! — and sleep tentless in the sand and remember you’re connected to the earth in some nearly inexpressible way. But be forewarned: once you get home, it’ll be months before you’ll be barefoot again.

10. Give in. It’s spring, supposedly. Your lettuce seeds have rotted in the ground, your crocuses crushed by slush. That’s it. Kick off your muddy boots, and stare at the wall. Even the swans have left town. But wait, is that the sun still streaming in the window at dinnertime? Step onto the porch in your socks and bask in the warm glow.

Ana Maria Spagna lives and writes in Stehekin, Washington, a remote community in the North Cascades. She’s the author of five books of nonfiction including the memoir/history, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus, winner of the River Teeth literary nonfiction prize, and two essay collections, Potluck and Now Go Home. Her work appears regularly in journals and magazines such as Orion, Portland, and High Country News. She has twice been a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. In 2015, she will release two new books: 100 Skills You’ll Need for the End of the World (as We Know It) and Reclaimers.  After working many years on backcountry trail crews, she now teaches nonfiction and serves as Assistant MFA Program Director for Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.


  1. Hey Ana, it would be nice to have a brief introduction and sort of a summary as well so the list doesn’t look too isolated and lone. I mean a bare landscape with a lone tree on it certainly might be delightful too, but it may thrive and prosper much better within a nice environment…
    Still nice collection indeed! 🙂

  2. Ana, great article. i really connected with it well because my school has an environmental basis. and hiking is very familiar, at the beginning of every year we have a backpacking trip with new students to get to know them. these are trips are very important because it allows veteran students to interact with new one, and maybe allowing them insight on finding themselves.

  3. Great remedies, Ana Maria. Substitute rain and mud for snow and ice, and this list serves those of us in cabins west of the Cascades, too.

  4. 11. If you’re willing to commit to the entire winter, maintain a bird feeder. Marvel at the resilience of these tiny creatures made of hollow-bones and feathers. There is always life to be nurtured, always hope in endurance.

  5. Ana, thanks for giving attention to some pro-active steps people can take to develop a more positive perspective! I am fond of winter, so I spend much time in winter trying to convince others to see what is available to appreciate. And I think that stepping away from the frequent whining – while focusing on making *good* winter memories that people can turn back to – is a great strategy.

  6. This is a great list Ana and I second the bird feeder comment. The return of the bluebirds to the Berkshires, and to our feeder this past week has lightened our spirits. I would add to the make art item to visit the Sketchbook Project in Brooklyn. They post weekly free calls for entries and have a great library worth visiting if you are in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

  7. I think the best remedy for cabin fever is to familiarize yourself more closely with the natural landscape. Over time realizing dawns on you that each day has fleeting moments that will be gone in a flash as the seasons wax and wane! 🙂

  8. If I did not have a winter loving dog I would not face the cold and snow and wind nearly as often. It is intimidating from indoors but invigorating once outside. And makes the hot tea all the better.

  9. Lolie, my black long haired Chihuahua type, is
    always all set to go!
    On very bitter days it’s a short walk as her paws start dancing with the cold. Meanwhile, I’ll move past a thicket crammed with sparrows hunkered down-and like us, neither joyous nor miserable.
    What’s to regret?

  10. I adore the silence as it snows. The full moon making shadows of trees on the expanse of snow out my window. They look like huge gnarly creatures. The Barred Owl on its customary branch. My sons keeping the stove going. Hosting a Tropical Fiesta for my friends.
    But cold is hostile to me! I’ve tried everyone’s advise. I allow myself a little whining and do the best I can to enjoy Winter from inside!

  11. Tap a sugar maple. Guzzle some of the sap, fresh & cold, as you stand outdoors in the sun & snow. Toast a friend with cold sap served in fine crystal. As the sap boils away on the wood stove, sample every stage. First run syrup smells and tastes faintly of vanilla.

  12. Strategy #1: Go snowshoeing. A lovely, quiet, gentle-yet-intense workout, with all the senses engaged.

    Strategy #2: Order garden catalogues. Read them. Imagine what could be. At this time of year your garden is perfect: No weeds, no insects, perfect germination, everything comes to fruition. The best gardening season of the year!

  13. Reading this from Moab. It is nice but winter lingers here too!

  14. Thanks for the list. It served as a wonderful ‘sanity check’ for this Mainer…and provided a few new ideas to pursue as well. I especially enjoyed the “Make Art” entry. I have always found having a winter project to occupy my hands and mind for a little while to be very worthwhile. I only wish that I’d have a room/space to take this on with that allowed me to enjoy what I was doing while also -warmly and safely – witnessing the raging storms and cold winds outside. Instead, I must squirrel myself away to a windowless basement. Tis’ better than having no space, or worse, no inspiration to pursue these activities in the first place.

  15. Long distance drive or jumping on a jet to find the sun? Not only is it cheating, but is there anything worse we can do for the planet than jet travel? Be the change we seek…Riding a bus or using Craigslist rideshare to get there would limit the footprint and be way more interesting.
    Living a land based life also gets one out of the cabin being active, such as getting firewood, breaking trail with those snowshoes, hunting…….

Commenting on this item is closed.