Thrive on Campus//

Here’s What I Learned About Burnout from Taking an Unconventional Spring Break

Armed with a book about happiness, I set off to hit the reset button and use my time off from school to de-stress.

Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock
Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock

Welcome to our special 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.

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.

Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

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

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Thrive on Campus//

How Going to a College With Access to Nature Helped My Anxiety

by Nico Ravitch
Photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash
Thrive on Campus//

Headphones On, Or Headphones Off: That Is the Question

by Alex LaFleur
jayk7/Getty Images
Thrive on Campus//

Why We Should Start 2019 With Self-Compassion

by Stella Stephanopoulos

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
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

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.