We’ve all come across articles of how the pandemic has affected our mental wellbeing, and many of us have experienced it first-hand.
As more people get vaccinated worldwide and countries begin opening up businesses with less restrictions, a new phenomenon is starting to develop in some people. After experiencing a long duration of isolation and social distancing, many people are experiencing fear and anxiety about returning to the routine of their pre-pandemic lives – even if fully vaccinated.
Although not an official medical diagnosis the experience is real for many people and has been dubbed “Cave Syndrome”.
The transition back to a more ‘normal’ way of life has proved difficult. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 49 percent of adult respondents anticipated that they will be uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions. Forty-eight per cent of those who have been vaccinated reported feeling the same way.
The difficulty doesn’t come as a surprise. Researchers have been predicting something similar happening since earlier in 2020. For example, a study by researchers at the University of British Columbia predicted that around 10% of people who live though the pandemic might develop what they called “COVID stress syndrome”, which includes fear of infection, of touching surfaces or objects that might be contaminated, reassurance seeking, and COVID-related traumatic stress symptoms.
But what is driving the high percentage of Cave Syndrome? It differs. Some people still have an extreme fear of the disease, others might experience high level of stress due to battling COVID themselves or losing loved ones. Some people might have even found positive benefits within the forced isolation and solitude.
Any of this sound familiar? You’re not alone! There are a few recommended steps that you can take to help alleviate the fears associated with Cave Syndrome.
Check out these therapist-approved steps from a Yahoo Life article and others:
Be patient with yourself
Know that you’re not alone and that things will take time to feel normal again. Take baby steps and make sure to celebrate the milestones you achieve. It might take a while for you to reintegrate former routines and parts of your life, but that’s okay!
Redefine your ‘normal’
Your new normal is whatever you are comfortable with. While some restrictions are easing in various places, if you still feel you want to take precautionary measures for longer, like wearing a mask when not obliged to or maintain social distancing in various circumstances – be clear about your boundaries! Don’t feel like you’re overreacting or feel pressure to force yourself to let go of measures you feel more comfortable with. You know yourself best, and you should do what you feel is right for you. Some things might even become a lifelong habit, such as ensuring hand hygiene at all times!
When it comes to anxiety, especially when it comes to steps like returning to work in the office, the more knowledge you have, the more empowered you will feel. Know what steps your government is taking to help protect citizens, as well as your company’s policies and guidelines that aim to keep you safe. We all experience fear of the unknown from time to time, so the more you know about the measures put in place, the more ready you will begin to feel.
Remember how far you’ve come
If we’re being honest, we must admit that since the onset of the pandemic we have had to adapt to changing, challenging and anxiety-inducing circumstances, many times with not much notice! But if anything, this experience has proved the resilience in people. Look back to how far you’ve come and what you’ve had to make it through. Remind yourself that you’ve overcome many obstacles over the past year and half. You will eventually overcome the anxiety you are feeling now too!
Hold onto your new quarantine hobbies and comforting activities
Many of us have taken on new hobbies over the past period, whether to pass the time, ease anxiety or stay occupied. Whether its indoor gardening, knitting, listening to music, meditation or faith-based activities or something entirely different, hobbies and activities have become an essential part of helping us feel comforted and safe during unprecedented times. Whenever you feed discomfort, lean back into the hobbies and activities that help alleviate your anxiety and keep you occupied.
Remember the things you enjoyed about your pre-pandemic life
Through the anxiety and stress, try to remind yourself of the things that you used to enjoy about the pre-pandemic life. Whether it was seeing familiar faces on a more regular basis, taking part in safe activities you used to enjoy or digging into a meal at a new restaurant. Make a list of things you might look forward to!
Allow yourself to grieve
It has been an incredibly difficult period for many people, and it is important to recognise that. If you have suffered loss or been through an extremely stressful experience related to the pandemic, it’s important to allow yourself to grieve. Communication is key. Be honest with yourself and those you trust about how you’re feeling. Help is always out there, whether professional or personal. Allow yourself time to deal with your feelings, seek help when necessary and be kind to yourself and those around you.
Reach out for professional help if you need assistance
Levels of anxiety differ for people who experience Cave Syndrome. If you are on the more extreme side of the scale and you feel your anxiety is overwhelming and debilitating, or if it comes in the way of you living your best life, there’s no shame in reaching out for professional help. Mental wellbeing has been a focus during the pandemic, and more than ever, people are working on de-stigmatising our mental struggles. If your anxiety has become unmanageable, there are many professionals that will help you manage and navigate what you’re feeling.