The 3-Word Phrase Everyone with Cave Syndrome Needs to Hear Right Now

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Do you feel anxious about returning to business as usual as the pandemic cools down? Even though you’re vaccinated and taking all the precautions to stay safe and healthy? You might be experiencing cave syndrome, a phenomenon that’s making some people hesitant to return to their pre-pandemic lives.

As a quick refresher, while it isn’t an official psychological diagnosis, cave syndrome is generally characterized by feeling anxious about returning to society after the COVID-19 pandemic, even if you’re fully vaccinated. Its causes vary from person to person, with some folks hesitant to return to their normal lives out of an ongoing fear of the disease and others having grown accustomed to—and even fond of—the solitude of the last 15 months.

And it totally makes sense. The past 15 months have been traumatic. In fact, in May 2020, researchers at the University of British Columbia published a study predicting that an estimated 10 percent of people in the midst of the pandemic will develop COVID stress syndrome after coping with severe psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or mood or anxiety disorders.

But luckily, cave syndrome doesn’t have to hold you back forever. In fact, there are three words to keep in mind if you’re anxious about returning to pre-pandemic life, according to psychiatrist Dr. Arthur Bregman, who coined the term ‘cave syndrome.’ In an interview with CNN, he calls it his MAV system, which stands for “mindfulness, attitude and vision.” Here’s how it works:

1. Be mindful about what’s bothering you

Rather than feeling generally stressed about the prospect of leaving your so-called “cave,” Dr. Bregman encourages folks to be as specific as possible about what is making them feel this way. Are you scared of catching COVID? Are you a socially anxious person who has grown accustomed to living a solitary life? Being specific about what’s bothering you is a great way to start to face the issue head on.

2. Try to have a positive attitude about what’s making you nervous

What does this mean, exactly? According to Dr. Bregman, it’s crucial to convince yourself that good things can happen when you leave your house. Instead of focusing on your fears, think about all of the great potential outcomes.

3. Visualize everything you can do once you get out of your own way

Even if you’re an introvert who would be perfectly content to stay in your own bubble, there must be things you miss from your pre-pandemic life. Is it your favorite Saturday morning yoga class? (In-person, not on Zoom, of course.) Is it popping out of the office for a midday coffee with your favorite coworker? Remind yourself of all of the things you loved doing before March 2020 and imagine doing them again. Feels pretty great, doesn’t it?

So take some deep breaths, do a quick scroll through your Instagram photos to reminisce about all the fun things you did before COVID and try to start gradually leaving your bubble. Oh, and cut yourself some slack. If you’re not comfortable going from zero to 60 in one weekend, that’s 100 percent fine. You’re doing the best you can.

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sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...