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What is ‘cave syndrome’ and why do you have it?

You might have ‘cave syndrome’ because of the pandemic. Here’s a look at what it means

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Tango dancer and musician Nicolas Ponce poses for a portrait in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, June 4, 2021.

Tango dancer and musician Nicolas Ponce poses for a portrait as he plays the bandoneon inside a plant shop he started after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown closed dance venues in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, June 4, 2021.

Natacha Pisarenko, Associated Press

You may have spent a lot of time inside and indoors without friends or family. Maybe you haven’t socialized in a while, and you might not want to. It’s totally possible. Well, experts have put a name on this medical condition — “cave syndrome.”

What is cave syndrome?

Psychiatrist Dr. Arthur Bregman came up with the term, which is not an official medical term, according to CNN. He developed the idea after noticing a number of patients who were worried to come out of their homes after the COVID-19 restrictions lifted.

  • “I’ve seen patients who are locked in their room at home” when he’s talking with them on a telemedicine call, he told CNN. “And they’re wearing a mask.”

How to stop cave syndrome

Bregman told CNN that those who have cave syndrome need to be mindful about what’s bugging them from going outside. Once they figure that out, they can change their attitude.

  • One way, he said, is to think about all the good times you had before the pandemic. It might encourage you to find those opportunities again.

Getting out of the cave, he said, is most important.

  • “The longer people are in their cave, the harder it is to get out,” he said.

Cave syndrome is normal

A March 2021 report from the American Psychological Association found that about half of all Americans felt a little “uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction” as the vaccine rollout of the pandemic continued.

  • “After a lonely year, in-person socializing feels both exciting and alien, like returning to your home town after a long while away,” according to The New Yorker. “Will everything still be there? Will you have any friends left? Will you have anything to say? Conversation, even on a bar stool, feels creaky and unpracticed. The joints need oiling.”

Priya Parker, who wrote the book “The Art of Gathering,” told The New Yorker that reentry anxiety is expected to happen after such a long time inside.

  • “We have to ask the questions that reentry asks. They start with practical questions like, Do I wear my mask? Do I say yes to this invitation? Do I take my children even if they’re not vaccinated?” 
  • She added it’s important to ask “psychological and existential questions,” too, like, “Who are my people? How do I want to spend my time?”

No matter what, it will take time to readjust, Jacqueline Gollan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, told Scientific American.

  • “The pandemic-related changes created a lot of fear and anxiety because of the risk of illness and death, along with the repercussions in many areas of life,” she said. “Even though a person may be vaccinated, they still may find it difficult to let go of that fear because they’re overestimating the risk and probability.”