How Exercise Reduces Cabin Fever (Plus Home Workouts to Get Started)

Working out might be even more important when you're stuck indoors.

The coronavirus has caused a big pause button to be pushed on our everyday lives.

Gyms are closing, workplaces and schools are closing, and the news coverage is focused on the virus 24/7. And a lot of people have been forced to stay at home to help limit the spread.

And all this is a disaster for your stress levels — which is why exercise is important in times like these.  

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.

coronavirus quarantine
Delbo Andrea/Shutterstock

What Is Stress? 

Stress is a state of mental, emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances — basically anything that alters your homeostasis. 

Two Different Types Of Stress

There is what some consider “good” stress, which is often called “eustress.”  This is moderate stress that makes you feel more excited than distressed. An example would be when you ride a roller coaster or get some great news.  

Then there’s the “bad” stress, more clinically referred to as acute or chronic stress. While stress is a vast topic and we don’t want to risk oversimplifying it — chronic stress can be exacerbated by poor diet and sleep habits, for just two examples — a lot of acute or chronic stress can come from changes to one’s routine or life that cause distress or anxiety. Acute stress triggers the body’s stress response, but the triggers aren’t usually exciting or healthy.  

Chronic stress can occur when you repeatedly face stressors that take a heavy toll on your sanity. Much like the current situation we find ourselves in now.

Negative Effects Of Stress

Chronic stress is a serious health problem that’s associated with many physical and mental health ailments, particularly inflammation, which can lead to hart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease to name just a few.(1) It’s estimated that between 75% and 90% of primary care physician visits are caused by stress-related illnesses.

[Related: How stress impacts your strength and muscle]

Plyometric Push-Up

How Exercise Helps With Stress

Exercise and other physical activities help produce endorphins in our brain that appear to act as natural painkillers, stress reducers, and they improve our ability to sleep.

The exact physiological mechanisms to explain this haven’t been proven. However, research indicates that exercise improves the way the body handles stress because of changes in the hormone responses, and the positive effects exercise has on the brain.(2)

Regular exercise increases the volume of certain brain regions, particularly the hippocampus, through better blood supply. That helps improve overall brain health.. 

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that’s involved in memory, emotion regulation, learning and plays a crucial role in mental health. There’s evidence to suggest many mental health conditions are associated with reduced growth and development of nervous tissue in the hippocampus. (3)

Which makes exercise an important for your mental as well as physical health.

[Related: 4 Research-Backed Ways Lifting Weights and Eating Right Improve Mental Health]

bodyweight lunge

Stay-At-Home Workouts

If you don’t have access to a gym or you’re stuck at home during this stressful time, it’s important to find ways to train to stay in shape, stay sane and not lose your hard-fought gains.

Here are some examples using your body and household items to keep on top of your health and cabin fever.

Circuit Training

Do this training 2-3 days per week with 48 hours rest in between training. All of the exercises are timed sets. The work/rest periods you can pick from are as follows — choose wisely.

  •       20 seconds work/40 seconds rest.
  •       30 seconds work/30 seconds rest.
  •       24 seconds work/16 seconds rest

This is a five-exercise circuit (one after the other). The exercises are:

  • 1A. Squat variation: Bodyweight squat, jump squats
  • 1B. Push variation: Incline push-up, push-up
  • 1C. Single leg exercise: Reverse lunge, forward lunge or side lunge (Alternating sides)
  • 1D. Pull variation: Bodyweight IYT or other TRX row, isometric towel row, or maybe you can get under a table or other stable surface for an inverted row.
  • 1E. Core: Alternating side plank, Mountain climbers or Front plank.

You will complete two- four circuits (depending on how much you have in the tank on training day) for a total training time of between 10-20 minutes.

Note that other exercises can be included in the above categories. It’s not an exhaustive list. 

plank free

Bodyweight Tri Sets

If you want something a little less intense, bodyweight tri sets work well.

Rest one minute after each circuit and do 3-5 circuits

  • 1A. Push-ups : 10 reps
  • 1B. Side planks: 15 seconds each side
  • 1C. Bodyweight squats: 20 reps

Rest one minute after each circuit and do 3-5 circuits.

High Intensity Body Weight Cardio  

1. Tabatas

 Walk for three minutes and then use the Tabata protocol (20 sec work/10 sec rest for six to eight rounds) with the following bodyweight exercises.

  1. Squats
  2. High knees
  3. Jumping jacks
  4. Jump squats
  5. Ice skaters
  6. Alternating lunge variations

2. Walk/sprint combo

Find yourself some open space and get your Usain Bolt on.

Walk for three minutes and then sprint for 15 seconds (100 % effort) followed by a 15 second walk. Repeat for five work/rest intervals and then cool down with a three-minute walk.

Wrapping up

Exercise is more than for vanity, especially during this trying time. Staying on top of your health and fight to hold on to your gains by using your body to crush stress.

Don’t worry, gym time will be coming again soon.

Featured image via Shutterstock/prostock-studio


  1. JAMA. 1992 Mar 4;267(9):1244-52. The concepts of stress and stress system disorders. Overview of physical and behavioral homeostasis. Chrousos GP1, Gold PW.
  2. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2011 Jul;39(3):140-9. Exercise, stress resistance, and central serotonergic systems. Greenwood BN1, Fleshner M.
  3. Neural Plast. 2007; 2007: 73754. 2007 May 14. Hippocampal Neurogenesis, Depressive Disorders, and Antidepressant Therapy. Eleni Paizanis, 1, 2 Michel Hamon, 1, 2 and Laurence Lanfumey 1, 2