Feb. 11, 2002 -- If you've been feeling irritable, unmotivated, and lethargic lately, you may be able to blame it on cabin fever -- and the bone-chilling days and long, dreary nights of winter that have driven you indoors.
By Serusha Govender
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We all cried when we were babies. But now that we're adults, many of us often try to hold back our tears in the belief that crying -- particularly at work or in public -- is seen as a sign of weakness, or as something to be ashamed of. But is it? Or is the act of shedding tears actually healthy?
The Verdict: Shedding tears can be good for your health -- especially in the right setting
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Like Rodney Dangerfield, cabin fever (or the winter blues or winter malaise) is a condition that doesn't get much respect, or much formal attention, from some healthcare professionals.
But winter depression and its symptoms -- inactivity, crankiness, sleep loss, and simply feeling down in the dumps -- is real to millions of people and could be more intense in 2002 because of anxieties over world events that range from terrorist attacks to a shaky economy.
"In the general population, there are expected seasonal changes in physiological functioning," says Michael Young, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. "In some people, these changes are fairly small and hardly noticeable. But they can be more severe, often in individuals more vulnerable to stress. You'd expect them to have a harder time dealing with the stresses of the economy and world events."
The events in New York City and Washington last September were not only about destroying buildings and killing people, says David Bresler, PhD, a UCLA psychologist with a private practice in Century City, Calif. "It was a psychic attack. Terrorism is designed to terrify people. And it's been very effective. The whole nation has been traumatized by those televised images."
Driven Indoors by Fear
Current events and the grieving they cause have led many Americans to retreat to the perceived safety of their homes.
Paul Rosenblatt, PhD, a professor in the family social science department at the University of Minnesota, has studied cabin fever. Although many people do feel better being around family and friends, he says, "other individuals are so grumpy that they believe they're better off staying away from others, and they almost put out flares around themselves that say, 'Keep away! This is a danger zone!'"
"Grief is an emotional wound," Bresler explains, "and many people have retreated to their nest to heal. Despite all the campaigns to get people to travel again, their gut instincts are telling them that it's safer to stay home." But this approach can lead to isolation and social withdrawal and make their winter depression even worse.