Post-pandemic exhaustion: why are we socially drained after lockdown?
Universal though the pandemic was, it was undoubtedly more challenging for some than for others.
People who lost jobs or worked excess hours under brutal conditions experienced extreme burnout and worked themselves into the ground. People living in unsafe homes, unhoused people, and people with pre-existing health conditions faced challenges I couldn’t even imagine. Extroverts also suffered from being unable to get a boost of energy from social interactions.
Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and author of The Psychology of Pandemics, explained that it’s normal not to feel ready to return to our social lives immediately.
Firstly, we are not returning to the same ‘normal’ that we knew before the pandemic. Our lives have been fundamentally changed by the individual and collective trauma we’ve experienced. Some are struggling with chronic grief, anger, or post-traumatic stress from terrible experiences with the virus.
Psychologists and researchers have been investigating the post-pandemic fatigue phenomenon, exploring new terms like adjustment disorder, COVID stress syndrome, and coronaphobia (extreme fear of catching the virus).
But perhaps the best term to explain why we are so socially exhausted post-lockdown is cave syndrome, which describes feeling uneasy or apprehensive about reintegrating into public life after prolonged isolation.
Cave syndrome isn’t a medically diagnosable condition, but it does make a lot of sense. For almost two years, we were told not to leave our homes, get too close to one another, go anywhere unmasked, and avoid crowds. It was literally a matter of life and death.
And, as much as we want to believe otherwise, the pandemic is not completely ‘over.’ The virus is still circulating in our community, and it is now a personal decision when, how, and where to socialise.
This new level of personal responsibility for our health and those we love is enough to make some of us retreat to our caves in a heap of fear and exhaustion.