Coming out of the cave: As life creeps back, some feel dread

Psychologists call it re-entry fear, and they’re finding it more common as headlines herald the imminent return to post-pandemic life.

“I have embraced and gotten used to this new lifestyle of avoidance that I can’t fathom going back to how it was. I have every intention of continuing to isolate myself,” says Thomas Pietrasz, who lives alone and works from his home in the Chicago suburbs as a content creator. His alcohol and marijuana use also increased during the pandemic…

In some cases, psychologists say the manifestation is subtle, like someone who begins making repeated excuses to avoid meeting up with friends, even within a safe, socially distanced setting or if they’ve been vaccinated. But some cases are more extreme, says Dr. Arthur Bregman, a psychiatrist who noticed this phenomenon in his Miami practice and dubbed it “cave syndrome.”

“The people who have the most anxiety disorders in my practice, they are the worst-affected. They can’t even get out,” says Bregman, who has been studying the 1918 influenza pandemic’s psychological impact on the world.