It’s the last day of finals and you have taken your last test, lab practical, or submitted your last paper. Your body has probably been sustaining itself on pure adrenaline for at least a week, if not longer, and all you can think of doing for the next two weeks is slipping into a short coma and bingeing the Netflix shows you have been saving all semester (Great British Baking Show, anyone?). This is a temptation every student and professor (yep, we get exhausted and love Netflix, too) faces at the end of a stressful finals week and semester. However, for many of us, this is not our first rodeo and we know the pitfalls of taking two whole weeks off: disruption of our regular routine (no matter how much our couch calls to us to spend all day cocooned in blankets), reduced effectiveness and motivation, and a slow pace that we are then forced to jump-start back into life at the beginning of the next semester. Now, before you start yelling defensively at your computer screen (among other things), I am not telling you that you can’t have a break! Instead, I am going to give you some tips and tricks to maximize your break to experience high levels of both relaxation and productivity, so the beginning of next semester is a much smoother transition.
- Take a day to do NOTHING! Yup, I said it. Take your first or second day of break and do absolutely nothing. Sleep, read the book that has been sitting on your bedside table mocking you all semester, have brunch, or binge on Netflix. For all intents and purposes, take a day to hibernate. Your body has been pushed to its maximum for the past few days and desperately needs to recover, so let it. Also, science tells us relaxation in some form is imperative to realigning with your body’s equilibrium (Rabasa & Dickson, 2016; Varvogli & Darviri, 2011). See, I told you I wasn’t saying that you can’t have a break.
- Stick to a “normal” sleeping pattern. This is a big one! Many of us are tempted to stay up late during breaks watching Netflix or spending time with friends and sleeping later in the morning. While two or three days of this won’t hurt, if you spend all break in a different sleeping pattern, it will be much harder to return to your regular school sleeping schedule. Instead of sleeping until 10 or 11 in the morning, get up at 8am, be productive or take a walk, and then take a nap during the afternoon. This allows your circadian rhythm to stay in sync while still letting you attain much needed extra rest (Wickens, Hutchins, Laux, Sebok, 2015; Wong, Hasler, Kamarck, Muldoon, & Manuck, 2015).
- Get outside. Science says nature is good for our health and helps us recuperate and attain a low stress level faster (Park, Tsunetsugu, Kasetani, Kagawa, Miyazaki, 2010). Yes, it is cold! But you can bundle up and the extra Vitamin D you get from just 20 minutes spent outdoors has drastic effects on your mood and energy levels (Bratman, Hamilton, Hahn, Daily, and Gross, 2015).
- Do something for yourself. (This does not mean stay in bed all day either!) Do something to help your future self, so you can thank your past self later on! This can be something as simple as taking half an hour to sort out your class schedule, putting assignments into your planner, and getting yourself organized for the first day of next semester so you aren’t scrambling the night before classes resume. Or, you could take a day or two of break to job shadow or get clinical experience that will benefit you in your academic program.
- If you are close to the point of clinicals or graduation, spend a few hours researching your options for placement/future employment and come up with plans to maximize your opportunities. Schedule a meeting with an administrator at a clinic you are interested in pursuing employment or have a conversation with a faculty member to more deeply understand the employment opportunities for you in your field. It never hurts to be over-prepared.
- Or, if you are in your Thesis/Capstone/Dissertation phase of your program, spend some time over the break to revitalize and re-motivate yourself about your project. Taking time to read research articles you didn’t have time for during the semester, spending some time looking at cutting edge research in your field without the stress of a looming deadline, or just making a detailed schedule of writing goals for this next semester, and remembering to reward yourself for small milestones along the way to ensure you stay motivated and productive next semester.
- Do something for others. Volunteering has many psychological and physical health benefits (Schreier, Schonert-Reichl, & Chen, 2013), not to mention the warm-fuzzies you get when you see gratitude in someone’s face for the help you provided. Also, volunteering is a great way to get yourself out of bed and off the couch to keep up your productivity levels during the break. Around the holidays there are a lot of places looking for extra hands for distributing meals or sorting toys and food drive donations. You just might find an organization that you want to continue volunteering with long after the holidays as well!
While two weeks on the couch sounds like the best vacation for some of us, if you take the time to implement a few of these tips during this semester break, you should have a much easier time re-adjusting when classes resume in January.
Happy Holidays and enjoy your time off!
Assistant Director of Institutional Research
Bratman, G., Hamilton, J., Hahn, K., Daily, G., Gross, J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 112(28), 8567-8572. https://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567.short
Park, B., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health Preventative Medicine, 15(1), 18-26. DOI:10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9
Rabasa, C., Dickson, S. (2016). Impact of stress on metabolism and energy balance. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 9, 71-77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.01.011
Scheer, F., Hilton, M., Mantzoros, C., Shea, S. (2009). Adverse metabolic and cardiovascular consequences of circadian misalignment. Proceedings of the Nation Academy of Sciences of the USA, 106(11), 4459-4458. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0808180106
Schreier HMC, Schonert-Reichl KA, Chen E. (2013). Effect of Volunteering on Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease in Adolescents: A Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(4):327–332. DOI:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.1100
Varvogli, L., Darviri, C. (2011). Stress management techniques: Evidence-based procedures that reduce stress and promote health. Health Science Journal, 5(2), 74-89. http://www.hsj.gr/medicine/stress-management-techniques-evidencebased-procedures-that-reduce-stress-and-promote-health.php?aid=3429
Wickens, C., Hutchins, S., Laux, L., Sebok, A. (2015). The impact of sleep disruption on complex cognitive tasks: A meta-analysis. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 57(6), 930-946. DOI:
Wong, P., Hasler, B., Kamarck, T., Muldoon, M., Manuck, S. (2015). Social jetlag, chronotype, and cardiometabolic risk. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 100(12), 4612-4620. DOI:10.1210/jc.2015-2923
The Wellness Wire is a series designed to provide evidence-based strategies to improve the wellness of our readers.