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As COVID Declines, a New Issue: 'Cave Syndrome'

Anxiety makes sense, professionals say, as long as it doesn't interfere with life
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2021 4:10 PM CDT

(Newser) – It will take more than a COVID-19 vaccination to make everyone eager to return to the workplace, restaurants, and in-person contact with others in general. An American Psychological Association study found that 49% of adults expect to feel uncomfortable about resuming in-person interactions. And 48% of those who have received a COVID vaccine said the same thing, Scientific American reports. Over the past year, there's been "a lot of fear and anxiety because of the risk of illness and death, along with the repercussions in many areas of life," says Jacqueline Gollan, a professor at Northwestern University. "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." Florida psychiatrist Arthur Bregman coined the term "cave syndrome" to describe this phenomenon, writes Christopher Elliott in the Washington Post.

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Alan Teo, who teaches at Oregon Health and Science University, links it to three factors: habit, risk perception, and social connections. Any habit is hard to break, he said. People often overestimate the risk involved. And the attention has been on "the risk of infection and death rather than the risk of dying from being lonely and disconnected," he says. Treatment can include medication or gradual exposure to the fearful conditions. There often are good reasons to prefer staying home, says Bregman. "The danger is in getting overly attached to the point where it interferes with life even in the face of a return to normalcy." When Nicholas Goldberg wrote about all this in a Los Angeles Times column, readers said they recognized themselves. "Simply knowing others have this reaction too makes it less overwhelming emotionally," one said. (Read more self-isolation stories.)

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