By Michelle Xu
Up until March of this year, “uncertainty” to me was just a term used in my economics classes to describe the unpredictability of markets. Little did I know that within just a few weeks, uncertainty would be a defining aspect of my everyday life.
I was at Salt & Straw on Friday night of Week 9 when I received an email from Provost Persis Drell saying that the remainder of winter quarter would be online. Saturday morning, I woke up to texts from my friends debating if they should go home or not. The following Tuesday, I was on my own flight home, mentally unprepared for the emotional turmoil that would unfold in the coming weeks.
My anxiety during my time at home has been a rollercoaster ride as the unthinkable slowly became reality — spring quarter starting online, finals becoming optional, grading becoming Satisfactory/No Credit, the entire spring quarter being online, summer quarter getting canceled. As someone who overthinks and stresses constantly, I spent the days in my room envisioning potential outcomes as I waited with dread for those anxiety-inducing update emails from the school. And now we are faced with yet another uncertainty: fall quarter 2020.
I’m no psychologist, nor am I a psych major, but I have found a few ways to keep my mind at ease during this trying time.
If I were to draw a mind map of all the thoughts I have when I’m overthinking, I would end up with a jumbled mess resembling a hairball. I remember one night in April when my overthinking got so overwhelming that I sat down and wrote out five (yes, five) whole pages worth of thoughts.
I wrote down every concern that I had, and underneath each concern, I tried to rationalize it. Is this a practical concern? Is this in my control? If not, don’t worry about it. If so, okay — what can I do about it?
Seeing my jumbled mess of thoughts physically on paper helped me see how far-fetched some of my concerns were. It helped me ground myself. It was also therapeutic in a sense — I was venting all of my thoughts through my journal, helping me clear my mind and regain a sense of focus.
Accepting what you can’t control
When I first returned back home, the uncertainty as to whether we would be back on campus for spring quarter was brought up in every conversation that I had with friends.
I had friends in the Bay who went back and packed up their belongings because coming back on campus for spring quarter “seemed highly unlikely.” I had another friend who reassured me, saying he was pretty sure things would get better and we would “be back for the latter half of the quarter.”
These conversations caused me a great deal of anxiety. Will we be back or not? But the truth is, this was beyond all of our control. I could have my opinions swayed by my friends’ thoughts, but none of our opinions had any power over the situation. All we could do was wait for the school to make a formal announcement, and there was no point stressing out about anything until the school said something. Easier said than done, I know.
The uncertainty about fall quarter is stressful. But there is certainty that the school will let us know in June what’s going to happen in the fall, and we can trust that this is a decision that they have put a lot of thought into. If you have concerns, you can submit your thoughts on the form that Drell sent. Unfortunately, other than that, there is not much more we can do but wait. They say that ignorance is bliss, so maybe until June, it may be a good thing for us to have a little bit of ignorance on this uncertainty. There are better things for you to focus on right now.
Finding what you can control
I fear uncertainty because I don’t like the feeling of not having control. But while I don’t have control over the events surrounding the pandemic, I have control over other things, like how I spend my time during quarantine.
I’ve used this time not only to do school work, but also to do things that I normally would complain I don’t have time to do at school. I read some new books and got hooked on documentaries on China’s economy during the Cultural Revolution. I’ve tried baking, and when that went terribly, so I switched to cooking. I’ve been doing workouts every day (surprisingly) with my friend on Zoom. I’ve started doing interview prep for the upcoming recruiting season. And, very recently, I learned to cut my own hair thanks to this tutorial by Brad Mondo (would recommend watching if you want to cut your hair and not completely butcher it).
I’ve joked around saying that I’m going to have a quarantine glow-up. But all jokes aside, quarantine has given me a really good opportunity to self-reflect and do some personal growth.
This pandemic may seem to drag on for a long time, but in the end, all we can do is take things day by day. Thinking long-term, especially during this time, can be very overwhelming. And when things get overwhelming, I like to focus on my daily tasks and figure out how I can make each day great. I like planning events with my friends, whether it’s a simple Zoom call or a Secret Hitler game, to give me something to look forward to during my week.
It can definitely be tempting to stress about the future, but just focus on the present — we’ll deal with the future once it gets here.
When all else fails, give yourself the space and time you need. What we’re going through right now is not normal, and it’s especially important to be kind to yourself. Remember that this pandemic will pass — and we’ll come out of all of this stronger.
Contact Michelle Xu at mcxu2000 ‘at’ stanford.edu.