Mark isn’t a total asshole and he’s in good company, according to psychiatrist Arthur Bregman. Over the last year, Bregman started to see patients experiencing feelings of heightened anxiety around getting back to “normal.” And while those experiences can seem like a combination of agoraphobia and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), there was really no term to adequately describe the unique condition caused by the prolonged isolation and panic of the pandemic. “I soon realized that almost half my patients were struggling with leaving the cave and that it was a syndrome,” he tells me. “The lightbulb came on, and I decided to call this behavior ‘cave syndrome.’”
Cave syndrome isn’t an official medical diagnosis, but rather a casual moniker for a set of symptoms that many are experiencing as we slowly emerge from quarantine. These symptoms can include general anxiety about COVID and its variants, over-washing of hands, obsessing about germs, resistance to leaving the house, depression from the long-term isolation and “all the pressures of navigating through a new normal and how to re-enter society without getting sick,” Bregman says.
Vaccinated or not, many of Bregman’s patients have begged him for a doctor’s note to get them out of returning to the office—a trend that’s made him genuinely concerned for their careers. But instead of doing so—or immediately prescribing medication — Bregman believes the best treatment for this affliction is all in the name: Get out of the cave.