Thrive on Campus//

5 Ways to Ensure a Proactive Winter Break

Winter break is the perfect opportunity to de-stress after finals and prepare for the upcoming term. Here's how to make the most of it.

Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Getty Images

Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

After the last final is taken, the last paper is turned in, and the last grades are posted, winter break finally comes to liberate weary students from the stresses of the previous term. However, it can often feel more stressful than we would like. Returning home to a family eager to hear about our college experience can quickly turn into what feels like an interrogation about how the last term went. There are holiday events to go to, friends to catch up with, and as the days off become numbered, the list of to-dos only seems to grow longer. Then before we know it, classes are back in full swing and it can be easy to feel just as worn out as after finals, if not more. 

Though it may seem that winter break offers us a break from our obligations and stress, that may only be partially true. What lies at home may just be as many obligations, but of a different kind. For me, it has been incredibly important to be conscious of how I spend the limited time I have during each break. In this way, I can both fulfill any obligations I have and return to campus refreshed and ready for the upcoming term. Here are five things that I find helpful:

1: Remind yourself that you should spend the majority of this time resting and rejuvenating

Unsurprisingly, I tend to have a more time to myself during breaks than when classes are in session. While I may have commitments to attend to, it’s incredibly important to prioritize self-care. When I do this, I find myself much more well-prepared to take things head-on when I return for the next term and don’t have as much free time. 

2: Set a realistic goal to accomplish over the break

Over winter break, some students may have a commitment that requires a considerable amount of time, such as a job. However, when I do not have a recurring activity, I tend to pick something to accomplish by the end of break. Typically, I choose to improve a hobby or interest that I cannot typically enjoy because of time constraints when classes are in session. Completing a realistic goal may also provide a sense of accomplishment — a great motivator going into the next term. 

3: Identify things and people that you cherish while at home

Whether it’s mom’s cooking, time spent with a sibling, or shenanigans with hometown friends, there’s always something that most students long for when they’re on campus. For me, it’s my mom’s traditional Vietnamese meals and time spent with a group of friends from high school. While it would be incredible if I could bring her cooking and hang out with those friends on demand where ever I went, the reality is that these are special moments only possible when I’m at home. 

4: Create a daily routine

For me, it can be nearly impossible to accomplish the first three points if there is no structure through my day. It is not necessary to create an hour by hour schedule (it is break after all!). However, I find that without a general idea of what my day will look like, I will mindlessly spend time on my phone or binge-watching shows. While that can be fun for a bit, I become increasingly dissatisfied with how I spend my time. It can be helpful to have general time-markers, such as when I wake up, when I go workout, and when I spend time with family and friends. 

5: Dedicate some time planning for a smooth transition into the next term

Lastly, I find it helpful to sit down and reflect on what my upcoming term will look like. Aside from my course load, I also look at my extracurricular activities, social commitments, and how I will balance it all. Making decisions on how to manage everything beforehand relieves a considerable amount of stress at the beginning of the term. While it doesn’t require much time, doing this a week or two before classes start can go a long way. 

Winter break is a great time to unwind but going about it without a general idea of what is best for your rejuvenation can lead to a tired start to the next term. That being said, there’s no need to feel pressured to figure all of this out on the first day of break! I find myself completely decompressing without any plans for a few days before setting up the rest of my break. At the end of the day, what’s most important is to reflect on how you want to start the next term and how you will get there.  

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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