Finding cure for Cabin Fever

Posted: Sunday, February 01, 2004

Here we go again. That's right folks, it's February, the longest 28 days of the year. Or 29 days, if we're unfortunate enough to be experiencing a leap year which, as luck would have it, we are.

And as most of you are probably already aware, along with February comes the dreaded Cabin Fever, which according to the Centers of Disease Control is the leading cause of bad movie rentals statewide. If it weren't for February, Steven Segal would have been out of a job a long time ago.

Cabin Fever has many symptoms, but for the newcomer to Alaska, I thought it would be helpful to provide a handy guide to help navigate through this dreaded epidemic.

First, a quick diagnosis is in order. None of the following symptoms in and of itself necessarily means you've come down with this disease, but if you've got more than one, it's highly likely you've been affected.

Have you recently found yourself watching back-to-back "Full House" reruns simply because you didn't have the energy to change the channel?

Do conversations with your pets last longer than with family members?

Have you eaten pizza for dessert?

You might have Cabin Fever.

See, Cabin Fever is characterized by three general symptoms: laziness, irritability and gluttony. Most of us begin to exhibit at least one or two of these symptoms during the final months of winter, with late stage Cabin Fever resulting in all three being seen simultaneously.

For example, just the other day I found myself lying on the couch beside a box of Cheese-Its watching the TV Guide channel for more than two hours straight. A lot of the shows that came on during that time looked pretty good, too, but the remote was all the way at the other end of the couch, and I wasn't about to sit up. When my dog came in to the room, I asked her to change the channel, then yelled at her for choosing the governor's "State of the State" address. I might be sick, but I'm not that sick.

Although it's somewhat debilitating, Cabin Fever can be treated. However, I have to warn you that the treatment can sometimes be more harmful than the disease itself. Don't believe me? Three words: cross-country skiing.

In past columns by more than one of my colleagues here at the paper, you've read of the trials and tribulations of the beginning skier. For some reason, it seems the first thing newcomers to Alaska do is go out and buy a pair of cross-country skis. I'm convinced that the only reason for this is that they've been afflicted with a particularly nasty case of Cabin Fever, and they simply don't know any better.

For those of us who do know better, however, cross-country skiing can be the worst thing you can do for yourself during this difficult time. Just the other day, a couple of buddies of mine were heading out on a trip down to the Kenai River flats. With the wind chill, the temperature was approximately 10 below absolute zero, but for some reason they kept trying to convince me it would be a great idea to go out there with them.

"Dude, once that first layer of ice builds up around your face, you don't even notice the cold," said one.

"Plus, when you fall down, the coyotes come around to warm you up," said the other.

I'm pretty sure he wasn't joking, either.

I declined their invitation. Any sport that carries with it the possibility of freezing to death amid a pack of wild dogs just isn't for me.

So what can you do to ward off this dreaded condition? Well, in all honesty, not a whole lot. But there are a few things that can help you cope.

Try to get at least some exercise. Even if this only means walking from the La-Z-Boy to the freezer for another quart of rocky road, it's better than nothing.

Pull yourself out of bed and get out of the house for a change. Although a simple trip to work once in a while might not seem like a big deal, it'll mean a lot to your employer.

Find a good, extremely time consuming hobby to keep you occupied. Stamp collecting is good. So is button making. There's nothing more satisfying than walking around with a homemade "Kiss me, I'm Irish" button pinned to your shirt.

Which brings me to my final tip. Valentine's Day is just around the corner. One of the best cures for Cabin Fever is to find someone who can share your disease. Although Cabin Fever can be contagious under some circumstances, for some reason it does not appear to be spread by person-to-person contact. In fact, isolation can be the worst thing for the disease. Help yourself, and someone else, by fighting Cabin Fever together. It's a battle you can win, if you just work hard enough at it.

By the way, I'm single ... and getting sicker with each passing day.

Matt Tunseth is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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