As the world edges back toward some semblance of normal life, many report challenges like Pietrasz’s playing out in their own lives. The time at home – lockdown, dread, fear, isolation – has changed them and made existing worries worse or created new ones entirely.
“It’s been a mix of reactions,” says Amy Cirbus, Director of Clinical Content at Talkspace, an online mental health group with nearly 50,000 current clients. “Some people are very relieved about going back to normal. Others are struggling. Many people are experiencing spikes in anxiety as they feel they aren’t ready for re-entry.”
While some felt restricted by the confinement of home, others found safety, comfort and even enjoyment there, internalizing the isolation into what some psychiatrists consider a dysfunctional baseline of behavior.
Like many others, Pietrasz said his anxiety is largely unrelated to catching COVID and more about social interactions. Psychologists say fears about leaving home have little to do with reasonable concerns about spreading the virus and sometimes can’t be pinpointed or aren’t based in reality.
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.”