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Suffering from Covid-19 ‘cave syndrome’? Don’t panic! There’s a simple solution

Charlie Stone
Charlie Stone

Charlie Stone is an author and journalist who has worked for the BBC, several national newspapers in the UK and international media.

Charlie Stone is an author and journalist who has worked for the BBC, several national newspapers in the UK and international media.

Suffering from Covid-19 ‘cave syndrome’? Don’t panic! There’s a simple solution
Lockdowns, deaths, new variants, masks and incessant handwashing: is it any wonder many of us are suffering from a Covid aftershock of anxiety called ‘cave syndrome’? Well, there’s a simple cure: get out more.

Awesome. There’s a name for how millions of people are feeling right now. And, for once, it’s a moniker that actually describes perfectly what it’s all about: cave syndrome. 

Are you hanging onto your masks even if you don’t have to? Are you sitting outside in the beer garden even if it’s raining? Do you break out in a cold sweat when you hear the words ‘new variant’? If someone coughs or sneezes anywhere nearby, do you hold your breath and run for home as fast as you possibly can? For that matter, wouldn’t you pretty much just prefer to stay home anyway – forever? 

Yup. You’ve got it then: cave syndrome. 

Isn’t that just so much better than the name of the damn thing that causes this syndrome? Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it? 

Maybe the boffins could also have come up with a better name for the disease the virus causes. Instead of Covid-19, why not call it ‘Bat Skum’, ‘The Wuhan Wallop’, ‘Stay-indoors Disease (SiD)’ or maybe ‘Oh, For F***’s Sake (OFFS)’. 

This brand-new ‘cave syndrome’ term was coined by Florida psychiatrist Arthur Bregman, who has seen ever more patients stressed out to the max about the mere fact of getting back to ‘normal’ as the pandemic begins to fade. 

Though this weird new problem was a bit like agoraphobia (feeling trapped, basically) and seasonal affective disorder (it’s winter – what a bummer), there wasn’t a name for this new manifestation of anxiety.

I soon realized that almost half my patients were struggling with ‘leaving the cave’ and that it was a syndrome,” Bregman told MEL Magazine. “The lightbulb came on, and I decided to call this behavior ‘cave syndrome.’”

Going to work, especially, is causing loads of people to consider seeking a sick note, says Bregman. That’s hardly a surprise – it’s like the first day back at school looming in the imminent future after a long summer holiday.

So, Covid-19 may well have come from bats, but it now seems many of us also like to live in caves. Instead of listening to water drip and ghostly echoes in total darkness, our caves come with a flickering light box and food deliveries – though, soon enough, Netflix has run out of anything new, as has HBO and Disney+. Some of us even had to switch on BBC One or BBC Two for the first time in years.

Guys and gals, there’s nothing left to watch – you’ve seen everything! And how many pizzas can you eat? We’re evolving into a species of chain-smoking, beer-swilling, porn-consuming slobs. Even the pet dog’s getting porky.

Also on rt.com Porn. Booze. Fags. Crap food. Domestic violence. Never mind the death rate, Covid-19 has brought out the worst in humanity

A side-effect of Covid-19 has not – not yet, anyway – emerged that has given folk the urge to hang upside down, bat-like, by their feet, but give it time. There could be several more pandemic after-shocks before it’s finally over.

We’ve all spent 18 months or so hiding from the invisible Covid monster, so it’s little wonder plenty of us are stumbling back into the light feeling a bit apprehensive. Lockdowns, no summer holiday, smothering our faces with masks and incessantly washing our hands, tests for work and tests for travel and… tests, tests, tests!

Still, though, look on the bright side. You know that awful family lunch you want to avoid, or those after-work drinks with people from work you just don’t like? Now you’ve got the perfect excuse: “I can’t make it – sorry. I’ve got cave syndrome.”

There’s only one cure for cave syndrome, however: you have to get your ever-widening arse up off the sofa, put on your shoes, get yourself outside and, preferably, find some human company. 

Being outside in nature has been associated with reduced rumination and activation in the subgenual prefrontal cortex,” Dorlee Michaeli, a psychotherapist, told MEL Magazine. That boffin babble actually hurts my brain, but apparently she means the bit that deals with rewards and emotions. 

Sufficient exposure to natural light helps people cope with anxiety,” she added, “by warding off seasonal affective disorder, improving sleep, as well as reducing rumination and decreasing cortisol.

The problem with this caveman-syndrome thing is that it springs from valid concerns about actually catching the dreaded disease. But life has to go on! Even if you wear a nice black cloak on that sofa, you’re not, by nature, a bat. And what about the flu? What about a bit of space debris squashing you as you make your way to the pub? Life is a risk – that’s kinda part of the deal.

The longer a patient stays sheltered away,” said Dr Bregman, “the harder it is to encourage them to venture out, so don’t wait ...”

Off you go – outdoors! It’ll be alright, honest! 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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