What is island fever?

March 23, 2021 | Environment
Island fever: the feeling of being stuck on an island | Photo: Riccardo Bresciani/Creative Commons

Have you ever felt that you are stuck and boxed in on an island and want to move away to the mainland? Here's what you should know about island fever.

Some people don't particularly enjoy living or staying on an island, surrounded by water, for more than a few days or weeks.

They start feeling anxious, irritated, desperate, and claustrophobic.

Depending on the circumstances, they begin to suffer from more or less severe island fever.

What is the meaning, and how do you define island fever, also known as rock fever?

It's a psychological distress, dysfunction, or disorder that causes significant stress, abnormal thoughts, and feelings in people that are temporarily or permanently staying or living on islands.

It is a claustrophobic feeling that can also be triggered by being close to the coastline.

It's a sense of disconnection from the world and the lack of activities, family members, close friends, intellectual stimulation, amenities, and cultural and social diversity.

But proximity to the shoreline is not the only cause of island fever. The size of the island also plays a relevant role in the disorder.

Actually, as a general rule of thumb, the size of the island is inversely proportional to how quickly island fever will hit you.

Island life: not necessarily always a perfect, idyllic experience for everyone | Photo: Oliver Sjöström/Creative Commons

It Affects Islanders and Mainlanders Alike

The concept is associated with the Hawaiian islands - the Pacific Ocean archipelago is one the most remote and isolated landmasses on Earth.

The trigger can be acknowledging that they're standing on a limited territory surrounded by ocean and water for more or less time.

But is island fever something that happens to non-islanders, or is it something that islanders experience as well?

Island fever is a symptom that is quite common among people who didn't grow up on an island, isle, archipelago, or atoll, and similar to cabin fever.

It's an uncomfortable feeling that someone who lived his or her life, for example, in California, might feel when visiting Hawaii for the first time.

However, there's a relevant number of native islanders who report having felt disconnected and isolated from the rest of the world in their homeland.

People who suffer from island fever at an acute level will often cite the feeling of being trapped or confined to limited space and could be linked to human capital flight, also known as brain drain.

It is also common within expatriate communities who are not used to walk around and say hello to the same people once or twice a day.

People who were forced to move to island territories and military personnel frequently talk about island fever.

Rock fever: a psychological distress that causes significant stress, abnormal thoughts, and feelings in people that are temporarily or permanently staying or living on islands | Photo: Kelli Golis/Creative Commons

The Symptoms

It's a feeling of imprisonment similar to living through lockdown during a pandemic - people start to yearn for things they don't have available on an island.

A person who suffers from island fever never really feels at home, and he or she usually struggles to deal with homesickness.

But it also involves being bored and complaining of not having enough to do, something that someone from a crowded world capital would feel when suddenly living in a very small town.

In most cases, people who report island fever do not enjoy and appreciate outdoor leisure activities or engaging in water sports.

They struggle to adjust to island life and the options and resources available on an island.

A slower pace of life might also not be compatible with mainlanders who spent decades in traffic jams, daily commutes to work, and traffic lights.

In tropical islands, higher temperatures can also lead to increased lethargy, sleepiness, or even laziness.

Island fever - also known as Maui fever - has several stages.

Mild symptoms are manageable, but in the most extreme cases, people may be forced to move away and return to the continent.

Sadness kicks in before impatience, irritation, restlessness, anger, rage, and eventually, depression and even suicidal thoughts start to take over.

Interestingly, island fever symptoms are similar to people who lived their whole lives near the coastlines and were suddenly forced to move to landlocked countries or regions.

There's not much scientific research on the psychological phenomenon and factors associated with island fever.

Island fever: a warm tropical paradise might not be enough for a mainlander | Photo: Jess Vide/Creative Commons

Getting Over It

Island fever is real - it is something that you feel.

You can't think you'll be immune to it just because you're in a warm tropical paradise where people live a happy life.

An outsider's experience differs from a local's way of life, and not everyone has the mindset to fit in on an island.

Tourists don't usually get island fever because they don't stay longer than a week or two. The anxiety they might feel is compensated by the exploration/discovery factor and novelty effect.

Island fever is also something that grows slowly over time and is rarely perceived.

The best way to slow and control island fever is to embrace what you've got and enjoy the unique things island life has to offer.

Go for a walk on your favorite beach, enjoy the sunset with a late evening cocktail, try snorkeling, discover the natural scenarios, and get involved in local events.

If possible, once in a while, get off the rock and pay a visit to your favorite mainland city.

Living on a rock is not for everyone, but islands are no prisons.

  • Have you ever felt that you are stuck and boxed in on an island and want to move away to the mainland? Here's what you should know about island fever.