You may have heard the term “Cave Syndrome” lately.  Psychologists may not have given this problem its name, but we have been anticipating its eventual arrival as soon lockdown measures were first put in place.  After spending so much time in isolation during the pandemic, many people are feeling anxious – and even scared – to come out of hibernation despite being vaccinated. It makes sense, after being cooped up for a year following public health orders that it doesn’t feel safe to come out of hiding just yet. It can be hard to predict who will have a hard time with the end of restrictions because anyone can feel leary about traveling again, not using masks and gathering in large groups.  But for those who already suffer from anxiety and/or OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), this could be yet another overwhelming situation.

As the world opens up again, there are a few ways you can prepare yourself to cautiously – and comfortably – reintegrate into society:

1. Always follow public health guidelines. When psychologists help people move through their fears, we never ask them to do anything reckless in order to get to the other side. But what we will do is encourage them  to do the things they know aren’t actually dangerous but can’t stop worrying about anyway.  So, in this case, you may  feel more comfortable doing things strictly within public health guidelines, keeping an open mind as those guidelines continue to change.

2. Remind yourself of the reasons you want to leave the cave. Your anxious brain will say, “But I don’t want to leave the cave.” You have to firmly remind yourself of the things you’d like to be doing – going to the gym, applying for a new job, going on a date, seeing the people you love – and that the precautions you’re taking (being vaccinated, wearing a mask) are enough to allow you to safely do these things. Remember, leaving your cave will ultimately make you a healthier person, despite what your fears may be telling you.

3. Think baby steps. Psychologists will make a ‘fear ladder’ with you and help you gradually do things that you find more difficult, but all at a pace that feels safe and achievable. If you’re feeling stuck, see if you can get an appointment with a professional who is skillful at this. Most people either don’t push themselves enough or do too much all at once – a psychologist can help you find the balance so you  won’t feel so overwhelmed. 

4. Start with something fun. If you’re going to push yourself, it may as well be doing something with a big payoff. Finally getting a nice haircut, eating a delicious restaurant meal, or seeing a friend you have missed feels much more fun than going to the post office or picking up toothpaste. If you’re going to face your fears – make it scary AND fun. 

5. Watch your breathing. Most people start to hyperventilate when they get nervous. When there is too much oxygen in your bloodstream it can make you feel extra anxious and as your heart starts to pound, you may feel lightheaded and shaky. None of this is dangerous, but it certainly feels awful. If you’re aware that this might happen, be prepared to slow your breathing down and it can help you feel a little more settled in the situation you’re in.

Ultimately, it’s important to be mindful of how you’re feeling as you move through this HUGE transition. Remember, you’re not alone! 

About Dr. Christine Korol

Dr. Christine Korol is a registered psychologist and Director of the Vancouver Anxiety Centre. She is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychology at UBC. For over 20 years, Dr. Korol has been helping people learn to thrive in difficult situations, reducing their stress and anxiety and increasing their enjoyment of their relationships and careers. Visit