Punk Science: coping with COVID

Welcome to the third semester of Punk Science my fellow nerdlings!
I’ve avoided this topic for as long as I could, but I have finally been worn down to the point where I feel it’s time to talk about COVID-19.
However, we all know about this pandemic from an up-close and personal level, and so I would like to touch on something a little less discussed and more aligned with the interests of this column.
Aside from the physical perils of COVID-19, there is a sneaky piece of this puzzle that could prove to have long term effects on our individual selves as well as on society. That lurking consequence is of course everyone’s favorite psychological ailment: stress.
There are several branches of stress that we’ll cover today, specifically those relating to the pandemic and our mental health as college students, though this will apply on some levels to everyone.
The first path we can journey down is how this is impacting college students as a specific group. Things may have felt particularly out of control and hopeless these last few semesters, and you can thank COVID-19 related stress for that more than the existential terror that most exams cause.
To begin the long fall down the rabbit hole, the largest reason we are facing this amount of stress comes from two factors. The first is the most obvious, and it is the real threat to our existence. That’s enough to keep people up at night for years to come.
But what about the lack of social contact? No matter how introverted you thought you were, this period of social isolation has been difficult for all of us. This is because humans are primarily social creatures, and we thrive off the small things like seeing a person’s face in real time and being able to do things like high five or give each other hugs.
This effect has been studied in a clinical setting, and psychologists at MIT did a study that showed a human brain having the same responses to social contact as hunger. Basically, what your brain is trying to tell you is that, after even small periods of isolation, your best friend looks about as good as a burger and fries do after a long day of work. Let that settle in for a moment.
The next important thing in the chain of pandemic stress is to look at who is affected most. This may or may not surprise you, but there are three groups of people who are particularly hard hit during this time of isolation. College students, elderly folks, and those of Asian descent.
For elderly people, this is more common, as they already have a tendency to feel socially isolated without the added burden of a pandemic, but what about the other two categories?
Well, Asian people are experiencing higher levels of racism and social consequences based on the perceived notion that the virus is somehow China’s fault. It’s an ugly stigma that has held sway with certain swaths of the population, and anyone that is of Asian descent is paying the price for it, regardless of its actual veracity.
Lastly, college students under the age of 25 already inhabit a very stressful place. With all of the changes going on in a college student’s life, there is already a significant chance that a college age human being will develop a mental illness.
If you’re ever going to have some sort of mental breakdown, you’re likely going to have it in college. With all of the pandemic stresses added on top, there has been an alarming rise in mental health issues amongst young folks between the ages of 17 and 25.
With all of this in mind, it’s not much of a shock for most people that the pandemic has been rough. While we’re not out of the woods yet, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself as best you can, and make sure you’re having some sort of remote social contact to fill in the gaps until we can come back together again. After all, we are social creatures, and a little platonic loving can go a long way in terms of keeping us happy and healthy.
For now, that’s all the science we’ll be looking at this week. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment of Punk Science, where we’ll be looking at yet another fascinating area of science and technology. Until next time, farewell from Punk Science, where we’re making science cool again!