For the most part, most Americans have been isolated for more than a year due to the COVID pandemic and the restrictions that were created because of it.
Many took to learning and working from home to keep safe from the coronavirus that has taken millions of lives all over the world. But on May 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that those who have been fully vaccinated against the disease, which meant that they either received two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one shot of the Janssen vaccine, may now return to most aspects of normal life before the pandemic hit.
But are they? The answer, according to several reports, is an overwhelming no. The reason is something called "cave syndrome."
For over a year, many people have taken indoors to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID, especially after governments mandated shelter-in-place procedures. With the arrival of COVID vaccines, many countries across the world, especially developed ones, are easing back into what they call the "new normal."
But for some, it means increased anxiety caused by "cave syndrome," especially among the vaccinated.
According to The Blaze, the CDC's May guidelines did not provide relief and excitement for some, but increased anxiety about being around crowds, open air, and possibly, the virus itself. A new report from the Scientific American discusses the reasons behind it.
According to the report, "cave syndrome" is when "many people who have developed an intimate understanding of what it means to socially isolate are afraid to return to their former lives despite being fully vaccinated."
"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," Jacqueline Gollan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University explained. "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."
A study from the American Psychological Association backs this up, as the results show that while up to 49% of all survey participants "anticipated being uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions" at the end of the pandemic, up to 48% of those who have received a COVID vaccine said they felt the same unease and discomfort as well.
Take for example Andrea King Collier from Flint, Michigan, who despite getting COVID in November 2020 felt that the antibodies she developed in response to the virus would not be able to protect her from a new infection. She fought to be one of the first to get inoculated with a COVID vaccine once it was made available. She admitted that she did not "experience the sense of freedom she had imagined' and instead "became more fearful of infection."
According to the Wall Street Journal, Laura G. Bustamante, 49 and from Rockland County, New York feels the same way. She is extremely cautious about meeting friends and only agrees to do so if it is done outdoors. In Dublin, Ireland, 43 year old Eoin Hamilton admitted to feeling a "knot" in his stomach "the entire time" he and his family celebrated his birthday at a hotel earlier this month.
The reluctance to return to normal pre-pandemic life manifests in different ways for many different reasons. It can be "cave syndrome," or it can be because of unresolved personal issues, or just plain preference.
Intelligencer, for example, reports that for Boston high-school art teacher and painter Breanna Martins, the pandemic gave her the time and space to realize she "preferred a slower, less [intense] social life."
Regardless if one is vaccinated or unvaccinated, returning to normal life can yield feelings of discomfort and anxiety, which is best managed through a support system, or by seeking professional help.