Ask Sophie: When should I take a break?

Graphic by Danielle Bell | Mercury Staff


There are two types of students in this world: those who spend their winter break sleeping and exploring the depths of Netflix and those who spend it catching up on work. While the bulk of UTD students probably fall in the latter category, devoting too much of your time off to work can be just as debilitating as letting your brain turn to mush.

I can already picture it: Overachieving Comets fill their vacation schedules with MCAT, LSAT or GRE prep or applying to jobs or internships, and the UTD subreddit is flooded with rant posts about how yet another winter break was dominated by work. While yes, it can be helpful to knock out some academic tasks over the break, you don’t have to let these objectives consume you and erode your mental health. Instead, recognize that more of your winter break (at least half of it) should be dedicated to actually taking a break from school and recuperating from all the challenges of this semester.

With virtual classes and less structured working hours, if you don’t advocate for your own well-being, no one else will. You could very well spend your entire winter break studying or working incessantly, but in this productivity-focused, money-and power-hungry society, people who benefit from your work will continue to ask you for it. And the moment you are recognized by a professor or a supervisor for a job well done, you may feel more inclined toward productivity at the expense of your mental health.

So, practice saying no to school and other obligations, and set limits for work when you are granted time off. If you have trouble doing this, start with some easy, low-risk situations. Say no when your friends or family want to go out but you’d rather stay home. Say no when a coworker asks you to cover their shift last minute. You could even go into a room by yourself and say no out loud five times. It may sound pointless, but being able to say no when needed is necessary to fully enjoy your breaks.

If your self-worth is contingent upon your academic performance, saying no may feel like a missed opportunity to advance your knowledge. But instead of agonizing over the chances you did not take while out of school, view your time off as necessary for future success. Perhaps you need to catch up on sleep, binge-watch an entire Netflix series or chat away with friends and family to feel rested enough for next semester. You’re not entirely writing off academics – you’re just prioritizing the activities that will help you recharge for later tasks.

You don’t have to jump from hard-core studying to full relaxation mode on the first day of the break, though. It can be difficult for your brain to switch gears suddenly, so ease into your vacation by starting with activities that feel constructive but are still restful. Pick up a new hobby or skill, experiment with new recipes in the kitchen or finally get to that book you’ve been wanting to read. Different activities appear productive to different people, but really any action that provides you the space to recharge is a good use of time.

So – go for a walk, cook a healthy meal from scratch, play with your pet, take a hot bath or discover new music. Put whatever activities you love but have regularly pushed off your schedule back onto your calendar for this winter break. Carve out a specific time for your favorite things just like you would for studying. Physically write it or type it on your calendar, commit to it and then observe what happens. You may find that your renewed focus makes you better equipped than ever for your classes next semester.