The COVID-19 pandemic gave everyone a new reality. People had to adjust to working from home and avoiding large groups of people. Social functions were canceled, and masking became a reality for everyone.
While most people welcomed a return to pre-pandemic normalcy, many have had trouble adjusting. They may even continue to avoid a return to the life they enjoyed before the pandemic. This reluctance is a phenomenon that has come to be known as cave syndrome.
What is Cave Syndrome?
Cave syndrome is a phenomenon in which one has difficulty re-engaging with everyday life after the pandemic limitations have been lifted. Cave syndrome is not considered a medical condition, but it ranges in severity from mild to extreme. Those with mild symptoms may simply feel anxiety when participating in everyday activities outside their home. Others may have a reaction that is so severe that they find themselves unable to leave their home or participate in any form of social interaction.
Who Can Be Affected By Cave Syndrome?
According to Scientific American, There are two specific types of people who can be affected by cave syndrome.
The first group affected by cave syndrome are those who enjoyed the benefits of the ‘new normal’ resulting from the pandemic. Those who have transitioned to working from home have developed comfort and success. These people may prefer being at home and not enjoy participating in social situations or large gatherings. They have come to enjoy this simpler lifestyle and have no desire to return to ‘real life.’
The second group affected by cave syndrome are those still in fear of getting sick. These individuals may have had COVID-19 at some point during the pandemic. They may also have watched a family member suffer from COVID-19 or may have lost someone close to them to the virus. Most members of this group have received their vaccinations and boosters, yet they still may hold an almost unreasonable fear of getting infected by the virus.
How Does One Recover From Cave Syndrome?
The first step towards recovering from cave syndrome is accepting that you are having trouble adjusting to your pre-pandemic behaviors. Once people have accepted that they are having trouble adjusting, they can begin to take baby steps towards achieving what was once their routine.
Don’t Rush It
If people can, they should take their time getting used to being out in public again. They should consider what level of social integration they are ready for. It is probably not the best idea to attend a large social gathering until they have identified their limits. Some people may still be fearful of infection even if they are fully vaccinated.
People can start adjusting by setting goals for themselves. The best way to do this is to choose something a person used to do before the pandemic hit. It could be as simple as power walking around the block or library. Some people may feel more comfortable wearing their masks.
People should not expect to feel entirely at ease on their first trip outside. Start making this trip regularly until it once again becomes part of their routine and they are comfortable doing it. Individuals can adjust the details of this task to their comfort level.
Maybe go without a mask after a few trips, and continue to do so until you are comfortable. You will be far more successful if you slowly ease into your regular routines, so don’t worry if it takes a while to achieve your former comfort level.
People can add others at a most comfortable pace as they achieve one of their goals. Do not consider this a race to get back to normal, and do not feel bad if you see others around you adjusting more quickly to their pre-pandemic life. Some people may not want to change some of the things they became accustomed to during the pandemic.
Many people have adjusted well to working from home. If a person’s employer is still amenable to them continuing to do so, they should continue to do so if they are comfortable and productive.
When you do find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the concept of getting back out in public, you may find some of the following practices helpful:
- Deep breathing can help you feel more relaxed. Breathing in through your nose and slowly breathing out through your mouth can be calming.
- Listen to your favorite music as you prepare to leave the house. Choose music that will relax your body and mind.
- Mindfulness can help you figure out precisely what is bothering you. Once you identify the source, you are better equipped to confront it.
If you find that your anxiety is too extreme, you can consult a mental health professional to help you combat the anxiety and depression you may experience.
You Are Not Alone
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a situation that changed everything we knew. It is estimated that 49% of the population is experiencing some anxiety about reintegrating into a more normal routine. To best prepare yourself for decisions as to what areas of social integration you are ready for, you should remain aware of any CDC warnings about any new variants of COVID-19.
In this case, knowledge is power, and your decisions on the amount of integration back into everyday life can be made accordingly. Since most of the population has now been vaccinated, symptoms of today’s variants are not as lethal as the earlier forms.
The most important thing to remember is that no two people are the same. Things that may help you return to a usual way of life may not work for others. Although cave syndrome is only considered to be a phenomenon as opposed to a medical condition, it can still be debilitating for some. Be patient with yourself and those around you, as everyone is in a position of having to readjust to their own reality.