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Op-Ed: Marathon, not a sprint…

Posted by on Sunday, March 29, 2020 in Student Spotlight .

by Ayesha Muhammad (G2)

These days, there are a lot of feelings going around: anger, disbelief, fear, frustration, cabin fever, and even grief.
Anger at the lack of supplies and tests…
Disbelief at people who are still ignoring social distancing guidelines, or think this is all a hoax
Fear for our loved ones, and our futures, because no matter what happens, the world post-COVID19 will not be the same…
Frustration about not being able to help; after all, we are attuned to anticipating needs, and meeting them…
Cabin fever as experiments remain incomplete, committee meetings loom close, with dozens of puzzles completed, and most importantly:
Grief – our classmates did not get their match day, people won’t walk on graduation, X had an international trip planned, Y was going to be married in May, Z was looking forward to festivities after working so HARD for Step 2. People A loves have been infected, and B’s partner is a healthcare worker with PPE shortages, so they choose not to spend time close to B to reduce infection risk.

In this pandemic, the situation is changing BY THE MINUTE. Unfortunately, it is hard to appreciate that the feelings in our brains are changing even faster. It might feel selfish to think about our own feelings in this process, but molecular neurotransmitters in our brains can have domino effects on our situations: yesterday, my partner and his dad had a serious argument that started over a dog door. In reality, the argument was a call for help: we are both scared because there is a lot happening in the world right now. I saw classmates getting into gentle scuffles over the best way to volunteer. In reality, that scuffle was another call for help: I am scared that most things are out of my control, so let me try to bring some semblance of structure to my life by helping out. 

In this case, I encourage us all to entertain a few thoughts. These thoughts might not be beacons of hope, but they are ways to rejuvenate in a pandemic that will surely be a marathon, and not a sprint. No matter what your running preferences, this is one marathon you can’t back out of. 

Take a moment to appreciate our privilege. We are part of an institution that is not withdrawing our funding because things are at a standstill. We are able to entertain ourselves with Netflix or puzzles or reading. Some of us have the financial resources to order in from our favorite restaurants. We still get to sleep in a warm bed at night. We have the scientific know-how to interpret the information that is available. Imagine if we didn’t understand what was happening; we wouldn’t know how to help! 

Take a moment to breathe. What ridiculousness! I am suggesting another one of those resilience things that you know (better than I do, probably). But when was the last time you put away your phone, stepped away from your TV or computer screens, pushed the SARS-COV-2 on the back burner, and just took a breath? If that breath is coupled with a hug to your pet, or a scream into your pillow, that’s an added bonus. It might help slow down the continual storm of emotions you are feeling. 

Take a moment to smile. Smiling at someone gets you more brownie points. It can be over (insert your favorite mode of communication in times of social distancing here), or in person, at a safe distance of 6 feet, or in a mirror. But smile – it boosts your serotonin. This, along with the suggestion to breathe above, is best exercised in times of extreme frustration, ideally. 

Be kind to one another, and to yourself. Check in with your classmates, with your neighbors, and with your loved ones. This time of distancing can be used to bring people closer. But also be kind to those who are not social distancing, who think this is a conspiracy theory, who don’t appreciate that this might not be “an overreaction.” Because to be honest, being angry all the time is really EXHAUSTING. If you are feeling all of the emotions listed above, also take your time to marinate in those emotions, to focus on them mindfully, as part of the “be kind to yourself” thing. 

As cheesy as it would be to close this rant with the now famous “High School Musical” song lyric – “we are all in this together” – I think that this cheese is important in keeping our spirits up. Just as carb loading might not be great on normal days but is important for marathons, cheese loading can help us make it through this emotional marathon. As people enrolled in 7-8 year-long degree programs, and a career of lifelong learning, we are aware of the need to pace ourselves for marathons. And as you pace yourself, and stay clean and 6 feet apart from your fellow marathoners, remember to stay connected, not only with others, but also with yourself…


Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Vanderbilt University.