Beverly Hills Courier columnist and Dr. Eva Ritvo is a psychiatrist with more than 25 years’ experience, an accomplished author and global initiative leader. She received her undergraduate and medical degrees from UCLA, and psychiatry residency training at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Remember FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)? That is so 2019. The pandemic cured most of us of that. In its place, many are suffering from a new syndrome coined FOGO (Fear of Going Out). As the vaccine roll out continues, restrictions lessen, and cases continue to decline, we face new challenges.
We love routines. They save valuable energy as our brain transverse the same pathway with ease. Think about a snow-covered mountain. Once you take the sled down a certain path, it is easier to go the same way. One year of confined is a long time! We created new patterns in the first 30 days, and we have now engrained them. Many people are reluctant to send their kids back to school, don’t want to return to the office and are still avoiding social situations. Many people are feeling even more anxious now as restrictions are lifting and expectations are rising. Those with pre-existing anxiety disorders may have an even more difficult time resuming routine activities.
Since the virus is still amongst us, we need to maintain caution, so some degree of FOGO is wise. But when we limit our activities too much, we create a whole new host of issues. Agoraphobia is a medical condition that has been around for years. It is described as the overwhelming fear of being in a place or situation where you feel that escape would be difficult, or where you are worried about having a panic attack. Those suffering from agoraphobia often avoid public transportation, enclosed spaces or standing in line or being in a crowd. The pandemic gave us all a taste of the agoraphobic lifestyle. It is difficult to know where exactly to draw the line right now between healthy anxiety and anxiety that becomes the disease.
If you are suffering from FOGO here are a few steps you can take:
Talk to your doctor. Ask detailed questions about what activities they recommend you resume and which you should continue to avoid. Each person should make a plan to optimize their physical and mental health while continuing to protect themselves from COVID-19. If anxiety is becoming the main problem, psychotherapy or medication maybe helpful.
Talk with your closest friends and see how they are choosing to resume activities. You are not alone in experiencing FOGO.
Take deep breathes with long exhales. This breathing pattern activates our parasympathetic nervous system, and we feel calmer. We have all been under chronic stress and our sympathetic nervous system has been in overdrive. We need to be calm to make the best decisions so our frontal lobe can be in charge rather than our primitive, fear-based brain.
Start slowly and build confidence gradually. Resume activities where you feel the safest. The risk of transmission is remarkably low or possibly non-existent if both parties are vaccinated. Take one day at a time and try to find ways to enjoy your new ventures out. Soon our brains will adapt to the new routines and the days of COVID will recede from our thoughts.
Respect your feelings. The closer we are to trauma, the more challenging it maybe to recover. If you suffered from COVID or a close family member or friend did, be prepared to re-emerge more slowly. Don’t feel pressured by what others are doing. Go at your own pace. Only you can decide what is the right way to move forward in these times. Don’t use drugs or alcohol to mask social anxiety. This is a common pothole and should be avoided. Embrace all your feelings even those that are uncomfortable.
Remember that “this too shall pass.” FOGO will give rise to another yet to be name syndrome. Time is a wonderful healer, and it seems we are moving in a very positive direction. As Alexander Pope so wisely said, “hope springs eternal. Better times are ahead.