Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2020

How to avoid feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19

STEM Major Survival Guide

By JESSICA KASAMOTO | April 8, 2020

My fellow Quaren-teens,

Hopefully by now you are all becoming situated in your new normals and finding new ways of surviving and thriving in whichever corner of the globe this madness has flung you into. If you’re at all like me, your mind has probably gone absolutely bonkers at some point over the past four weeks. I’ll be the first to admit that I really don’t like big change, and, like a lot of people out there, there’s nothing that gives me more anxiety than uncertainty. 

While my emotions over the past month can best be described as a sinusoidal function with much added stochasticity (all over the place and highly unpredictable), I have reached some sensical epiphanies over the past month. Since my social interaction has been essentially limited to my eight-year-old sister, my loving-but-busy parents and the occasional Zoom meeting or Facetime, these realizations have not found a proper outlet, which makes the overactive neurons in my brain and loud mouth extremely unhappy. So, whether you like it or not, here they are. Enjoy.

The best way to approach this whole uncertainty business is by chunking

The world is big, scary, chaotic and unpredictable. Although we have experienced enough to know that life is inclined to throw us the occasional curveball, that idea can often be overridden by the structure university life gives us and the ever-so-Hopkins-esque schedules and timetables we make for ourselves. I think most would agree (especially now) that having a decent idea of what will be going on around us every single day of the week would be pretty comforting. 

So, when regulations and projections seem to be constantly changing around us, it’s easy to feel anxious. In my opinion, the best way to combat this anxiety is to simply look at everything in cute, little chunks. Think Professor Chaz Firestone and Intro Psych: we tend to “chunk” information in order to remember larger, more meaningful things — it’s kind of like that! Chunking our days makes things easier to process and less intimidating. Today, I will finish that problem set, play with my sister, go for a run, then Facetime with my friends before bed. That is simple, that is certain and that is something I can control, so that is what I will be focusing on. Those are today’s chunks, and we will deal with tomorrow’s chunk, well, tomorrow. 

Focus on the challenges of each individual day, since that is way more manageable for our brains. This is obviously WAY easier said than done (I can’t say that I’ve even come close to mastering this), but it’s at least a mindset that we can strive for as we embark on this journey. 

If you are going to look at the news and worry, do so with rationality

So you decide against your better judgement to consistently look and worry about the news. That’s just the way your brain is! While it’s less than ideal, there are some things that you can do while obsessively reading the news to curb some anxieties. 

Really take time to think through what you are reading, and don’t take everything you see reported at face-value. Again, think of Firestone, Intro Psych — don’t fall for cognitive bias! Look at sample sizes, think of possible conflicting or confounding variables, and consider potential sampling errors; make your Probability and Statistics professor proud! While sudden rises in the number of cases could mean a lot of people are sick, it could also mean that that region decided to double down on testing. This makes sense — you can’t test positive unless you have been tested. Remember to take into account populations when looking at cases in certain regions; 5,000 cases in one state means something extremely different than 5,000 cases in another. Epidemiological models are most certainly not crystal balls (which is either reassuring or disheartening, depending on what model you’re looking at).

It’s easy to look at one statistic and feel like the world is actually ending this time. What we need to do is stop, take a deep breath and take things with a grain of salt, especially when everything is so uncertain to begin with. 

There are literally a zillion morals to this coronavirus story

There’s all the stuff that has been posted all over instagram and twitter and such – you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone, don’t take day-to-day life for granted, humanity can really come together during times of hardships, the list goes on... While I 100 percent agree with all of those things, to me, one of the most interesting aspects of this fiasco is the sheer paradoxical nature of all this.

Sure, maybe I’m not a statistician or epidemiologist or infectious disease expert (if you haven’t already realized, I’m just your very average joe university student), but to me at least, it seems like one of the reasons why COVID-19 has been so deadly is simply, well, because it’s not. If you really think about it, would we really need to beg the governor of Alabama to place a stay-at-home order if the virus overrunning the country had a 20 percent mortality rate? Would we be hearing about these infamous “Corona-Parties” if this was Ebola? 

If everyone who got COVID-19 experienced clear, specific symptoms and faced almost certain death, wouldn’t it be so much easier to track down, isolate, and closely monitor and quarantine those who have it? Would that not have almost certainly led to far fewer deaths in the long run? COVID-19 didn’t have to seem like a murderer to kill us. We underestimated the underdog virus, and we’re paying the price for it now — in terms of public health, the economy and our social lives. 

(Because that was kind of dark and we always have to end things on a happy note) Nothing lasts forever!

It’s easy to let the crazy, irrational side of your brain get the better of you and convince you that this is going to last forever, but we’re smart people! We quite literally go to the COVID-19 statistics and tracking school. We know that even though it may take a hot sec, it will end. Not the world, but the hard times. We’ve all lost something due to this, so please take the time to mourn. But,when you’re tired of mourning, bounce back. Do the chunking thing! Things won’t be scary forever. We’re in for a wild ride, but you got this; I have the utmost faith in you.

Take care of yourselves; be like my sister and sing the ABC song very loudly when washing your hands if that gives you joy. Keep sheltering in for now, but while doing so, know that the storm will pass because that is what storms do.

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