After being diagnosed with COVID in November 2020, Andrea King Collier doubted the antibodies she developed in response to the disease would protect her from a second infection and was determined to be in the first place or near the front line of a vaccine. The Flint, Michigan resident registered with every vaccine distributor she could find and kept looking for a way to get early admission. By February 21, Collier had received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the vaccinated people the green light to resume pre-pandemic activities such as indoor picking without a mask on March 8, she didn’t experience the feeling of freedom she had envisioned. If anything, she became more afraid of infections. She still has to eat at a restaurant or see someone beyond her pandemic bubble. Collier used to be an avid traveler and cannot imagine getting on a plane again anytime soon.
After a year in isolation, many people who have developed a deep understanding of what it means to be socially isolated are afraid of going back to their former life despite being fully vaccinated. There is even a name for their experience: the clinical-sounding “cave syndrome”.
Stepping into the light after a year in the light proves to be a difficult transition for some people. Jacqueline Gollan, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Northwestern University, says that adjusting to the new normal, whatever it is, will take time. “The changes caused by the pandemic caused a lot of fear and anxiety because of the risk of illness and death and the effects in many areas of life,” she says. “Even though a person may be vaccinated, they may find it difficult to let go of that fear because they overestimate the risk and likelihood.”
A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that 49 percent of adults surveyed felt uncomfortable returning to face-to-face interactions after the pandemic ended. It found that 48 percent of those who received a COVID vaccine felt the same way.
These long-term psychological effects were not unanticipated. In May 2020, researchers from the University of British Columbia published a study in the journal anxiety This predicted that an estimated 10 percent of people amid the pandemic will develop COVID stress syndrome after coping with serious mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or mood or anxiety disorders.
Alan Teo, associate professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, attributes Cave syndrome to three factors: habit, risk perception, and social connections. “We had to learn the habit of wearing masks, distancing ourselves physically or socially, and not inviting people,” he says. “It’s very hard to break a habit once you’ve formed it. There is this separation between the actual level of risk and what people perceive to be their risk. He adds that the focus is on “the risk of infection and death rather than the risk of dying from loneliness and separation”.
People are hesitant to resume their pre-COVID lives for various reasons. Some still have extreme fear of the disease while others don’t want to forego the positive benefits they have gained from enforced isolation and loneliness.
University of California Los Angeles student Genesis Gutierrez discovered that he actually preferred his pandemic lifestyle, specifically the money he saved by going to virtual college. “Post-pandemic living means that I would have to move back to LA and pay for a ridiculously expensive apartment to take classes that I could take in my house,” he says. “I was able to work from home, do things outside of academia, and learn more about myself.”
Advances in technology, Teo says, have increased the risk to human development hikikomori, An extreme version of social withdrawal that lasts six months or more and superficially resembles the effects of agoraphobia, the fear of open or crowded places. “The $ 10,000 question is whether the prevalence of this type of extreme illness due to COVID may increase,” says Teo, “especially in young people or adolescents who are at greater risk because of this extreme social condition often at this stage Withdrawal takes place. ” has been identified. “
So what can you do if someone is afraid to go out? Do people with Cave syndrome need professional treatment or just a little more adjustment time? Gollan from the Northwest says it all depends on the severity. When a person experiences symptoms of fatigue, depression, or anxiety, they recommend actions that convey a purpose in life: meditation, faith work, prayer, games, or listening to music.
Treating extreme anxiety requires effective psychotherapy with a psychologist who can offer cognitive therapy or other treatments that gradually expose a person to a stressful situation in order to resolve their fears. Sometimes medication can also be used.
Teo says there is a kind of skewed thinking that things might get better later. “Based on what we understand about immunity and the variants When we get on board, the opposite is true, ”he adds.
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