Photo: 20th Century Fox


Coping with the cabin fever that descends post-Christmas

The central heating is on and you’re stuck in a house full of your family. Isabelle O’Carroll outlines the coping mechanisms

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By Isabelle O'Carroll on

Christmas and cabin fever go hand in hand, like mince pies and brandy butter, or indigestion and disappointment. Spending time with family is great, but these are the people who know you well enough to be able to push your buttons, whether it's jibes at your OCD tendencies or that dish you make each year that no one wants to eat. Prolonged exposure to family and parental central heating that makes you wake from a nap on the couch like a desiccated coconut can fray nerves and turn the even gentlest of souls into ragged, shouty monsters. As the needles fall on to the carpet and the wrapping paper is finally tidied away, let us send soothing post-Christmas vibes with a few cabin-fever-busting suggestions.

Booze away the pain

Cabin fever is what alcohol was invented for. You want enough to lend a fuzzy detachment to all familial conversations, but not so much that you lurch forward, asking why your uncle exactly why he voted for Brexit. Tread carefully – Christmas offers up a smorgasbord of booze delights, from early prosecco to the post-dinner port. A couple of glasses of wine is just the ticket for a boozy, contented glow that takes the edge off proceedings, making you offer nothing more inflammatory than an enigmatic smile as you get asked for the fifth time when you and your boyfriend are thinking of getting married.

Zen out the haters

As appealing as coasting your way through Christmas in a drunken haze sounds, in the long run it's more sensible to vary your tactics. Start your January resolutions early and download a meditation app for zen vibes. There are lots about: Headspace is a good place to start, Calm is similar and the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Mindfulness App also promises a little respite.

Soak your troubles away

If you can't get a moment's peace from relatives or demanding children, then have A Really Long Bath – it's the only socially acceptable way of spending two hours in a room with a lock. Prepare ahead and stick the immersion on, grab some unguents and perfumed salts that you opened that very morning and hide away. Bring with you a glass of wine, a mince pie and some brandy cream, or even a leftovers sandwich. All you need is a laptop to balance on the toilet seat and you're away. I'm a seasoned professional at slobbery and, frankly, if you haven't sat in the bath stuffing your face while catching up on Don't Tell The Bride, then you haven't lived. The more, ahem, culturally minded might want to download a few episodes of Desert Island Discs and drift off to Kirsty Young's soothing yet authoritative tones.

Get fresh

Lying prostrate on the couch, slack-jawed in a onesie, it might feel unholy to leave the house, but fresh air is exactly what the doctor ordered. Once you've got over the shock, the cool, fresh, non-festive-spiced air will blow the cobwebs – and cabin fever – away. Ditch the family – for your sanity, this has to a solo mission. If you ask anyone along, you'll find yourself sat in the hall for three hours, fuming, and then all the people who were clamouring for you to wait will now be distractedly calling from the front room that it's “gone dark now, so there's no point”. Slope off, discreetly, without attracting any attention. Gather your things and soundlessly open the door, before slipping out like a thief in the night, to go on an invigorating yomp, romp and stomp across your nearest patch of green. Even if it ends up being a grass verge on a slip road, you'll feel all the more refreshed for it.

Gather your things and soundlessly open the door, before slipping out like a thief in the night, to go on an invigorating yomp, romp and stomp across your nearest patch of green

Do a Delia

Having a “job” to do ensures that people give you some space and there's something really soothing about setting to some kitchen task alone. So, while everyone is peacefully snoring and farting through the EastEnders omnibus, sequester yourself to the kitchen and make some potato cakes from leftover roasties for breakfast, gather up some veg peelings and the turkey carcass to make a warming stock or mix up a thrilling cocktail.

The theatrical yawn

I'm not proud, but Lord knows on family holidays I've used the “Well, shiver my timbers, I am absolutely worn out” line, before retiring to bed at 9pm to slyly binge on the latest Netflix series, or bitch to my friends on groupchat like a teenager. It's a bit shameful, but who cares? After a few days of intense company and food, you'll be begging to smash out a few eps of your show in blissful peace.

Buy yourself some peace

Shopping is another restorative salve – there's nothing better than nodding through a dry conversation or dodgy chat territory while checking the sales on your phone. “Mmhmm,” you say to your Brexit uncle, while you buy a reduced pair of Jil Sander ankle boots you've had your eye on for months. “Yep,” you say to your mum as she expresses the thought that “we should all do this more often”, while you book flights to Copenhagen.

Memory lane

It's not all avoidance tactics, though – one favourite cabin-fever cure of mine is to dust off the photo albums and reminisce over baby cheeks, dodgy haircuts and dads who look like they could be modern-day hipsters. Who couldn’t fail to have their hearts melted and cockles warmed with a selection of sepia-toned photos?

Having said all this, I actually think cabin fever can be fun. Not the bad kind, where you're all a bit hot, full and a combo of lethargic and irritable – that's terrible. The slightly unhinged kind, where you and your sister are crying with laughter like you're both 12, because you can't stop saying the word “joglegs” again and again. That kind of connected hysteria? Bring it on. Breathe in a lungful of the recirculated air, gather round with some boozy snacks and revel in the collective insanity that is Christmas.


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Photo: 20th Century Fox
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