With many COVID restrictions lifted as people head back to offices, travel more frequently, and return to public transit, there’s a welcome sense of a return to normal in the world – along with a measure of anxiety. Is it safe to attend in-person meetings, pack into subways, or go to big gatherings? Do we remember how to interact face to face? How do we continue to keep ourselves safe in this latest phase of the pandemic?
There’s even a name for this hesitation to re-enter into society: “cave syndrome.” In 2021, nearly half of Americans reported feeling uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction as the pandemic enters a new phase, according to the American Psychological Society.
Many are also working to recover their mental health after a difficult few years. A study that came out in The Lancet in November 2021 found that mental health dramatically declined in 2020 worldwide, with an estimated 53 million additional cases of major depressive disorders and 76 million additional cases of anxiety disorders seen globally.
Health Matters spoke to Dr. Avital Falk, program director of the Intensive Treatment Program for OCD and Anxiety at the NewYork-Presbyterian Youth Anxiety Center, to offer guidance about how to deal with anxiety about returning to normal, and explain why we might be feeling some trepidation.
“It makes sense to be feeling anxious,” says Dr. Falk, who is also director of the Pediatric OCD, Anxiety, and Tic Disorders Program at Weill Cornell Medicine. “For a long time, many of these activities were dangerous. Our bodies and brains have been trained to react in a certain way when we face social situations, whether it’s riding the subway, being invited to a larger gathering, or even just seeing others indoors. There is a lot of uncertainty as we try to navigate this new phase of the pandemic and adapt to what feels like constant change.”