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Spring break for college students often means crowded beaches, nightclubs that stay open late into the night, and an endless supply of fruity cocktails — in short, a week-long party. Because of this, ironically, the mid-semester vacation that is intended to refresh students can actually do the opposite.
I’m not judging those who opt for a more typical spring vacation. This year, though, I was already feeling stressed out before spring break even rolled around. Like many college students, I was succumbing to the negative effects of stress. Unlike many college students, I chose to use my spring break for self reflection and care — and it gave me a whole new perspective on the value of living mindfully.
Why I turned down a week in the tropics
It isn’t surprising when we hear that burnout has struck a powerful executive or an overburdened employee. It’s a little more unusual, though, to hear a student admit the same.
It’s not that college students don’t experience the negative effects of overwork — in fact, nearly 32 percent report that stress is detrimental to their performance. But in a competitive college environment, I’ve noticed a tendency to sweep the severity of our struggles under the rug. It’s easy to succumb to the pervasive mindset that if you aren’t feeling overwhelmed, you’re not working hard enough.
Moreover, we’re taught that dealing with a heavy workload in school is an educational stepping stone to more stress later in life. I’ve had countless adults say to me, “Wait until you have a full-time job. It only gets worse.” Not only is this discouraging to hear as a student, but it’s also dismissive of many of the struggles that students face. For students and workers, burnout shouldn’t be “the norm.”
As a second semester senior, I’ve experienced more than my fair share of work-induced stress, exhaustion, and, yes, burnout. By spring break I definitely needed to take some time off, and while I could have spent my week guzzling fruity drinks in the tropics, I knew that my personal health would benefit more from a week of self-care.
So I booked a plane ticket to France and, armed with a book about happiness, I set off to hit the reset button on burnout.
How a week of peace, happiness, and French pastries changed my perspective
If you’re like me (and many, many other people), self-care tends to fall low on the priority list when work piles up. So, on this spring break, I made a commitment to integrate time for myself into every day of my trip — starting with the flight.
Even though I was sitting in coach, I transformed my tiny seat into a first-class-worthy spa, complete with hydrating facial spray and sheet masks. While I did attract some strange looks, it was empowering to do something — even something as trivial as a face mask — that brought me joy.
During my week in France, I actively pursued things that made me happy. Whereas in a typical week at school I would be constrained by responsibilities (work, classes, and extracurriculars), being free from all that allowed me to experiment with different kinds of self-care rituals to find what might work in my daily routine, and what might not. I read every day, got plenty of sleep, sought out new experiences, and made time to catch up with family and friends via FaceTime.
An amazing thing started to happen: I started to actually feel myself de-stressing when I tuned in to my mental and physical health. Rather than thinking constantly about schoolwork deadlines, my brain let me experience the present moment more fully, allowing me to engage more with others and make the most of my time. Not only that, but full nights of sleep and stress-free mornings made my body and mind feel great.
I wish I could say that the feel-good energy carried seamlessly into my “real life” once I got home, but coming back from my trip the following week still wasn’t easy. Taking a truly calming spring break vacation didn’t automatically erase all my stress, but it did teach me about the importance of taking an occasional step back from the busyness of life.
Rushing from one task to the next without tuning in to your personal needs is not only detrimental to your health — it leads straight to burnout. Consciously taking care of myself for one week showed me just how little I do it in my normal day-to-day life.
While we can’t always be on vacation, we can incorporate a vacation-like attention to self-care into each day. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming, either; for example, savoring a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, or taking 20 minutes to apply a face mask before bed. By carving out time for ourselves like I did on my Spring Break, we can create moments of mindfulness, appreciation, and peace — and in so doing, combat burnout.
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