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Free time in college can feel fleeting. In a recentStudent Health 101 survey, almost 90 percent of respondents said they at least occasionally feel like they don’t have enough time for themselves, and more than 20 percent said they feel like this on a daily basis.
So how can you prevent your schedule from steamrolling you into exhaustion? It’s all about taking breaks.
Take a Break, Sharpen Your Mind
When you have a full to-do list–writing papers, studying for exams, going to work, participating in campus activities–squeezing in leisure time can feel like a luxury, but it’s actually necessary.
If you’ve ever tried to power through a long study period or creative task with no breaks, you probably know what it’s like to hit a wall, that point where you’re no longer productive. This happens because your brain is structured to need both periods of work and rest.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I think best in the shower,” or “I’m going to take a walk and clear my head?” These aren’t just quaint sayings. Taking a break gives your brain time to process all the information you’ve thrown at it.
“Taking time for [myself] is important to avoid burnout,” says Amy R., a graduate student at Seattle University in Washington, who also works full time. “I also find that sometimes taking a break from a project helps me get to the idea I’ve been searching for.”
In his world-renowned book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ®, Stephen R. Covey’s seventh suggestion is, “Sharpen the Saw.” Here he tells the story of a man who gets exhausted trying to cut down a tree with a dull saw but continues anyway. If he’d stop and take time to sharpen his saw, the break would help his progress. The same is true for you: Taking a break to recharge is a way to sharpen your thinking, reflexes, and emotional resilience.
It’s also necessary for your physical health. Vicki B., a sophomore at The Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, Texas, says, “Studying is hard work. I think resting after studying is just as important as after exercising.”
What should your break be like? The answer depends on what sorts of activities you find soothing or that boost your energy.
For Jake H., a senior at Western Washington University in Bellingham, hiking offers much-needed thinking time and a chance for a different perspective, while Carolyn K., a junior at Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts, loves to get lost in books that aren’t required reading. “Over my summer break last year, I dedicated a lot of time to finally cracking open those books that had been collecting dust on the shelf, and it was great,” she says.
Take a moment to think about when you feel most relaxed, or even excited. “You time” is just that: for you. It doesn’t have to seem appealing to anyone else.
For Amy, tap dancing brings her joy, but tidying up helps too. “Having a clean apartment makes it much easier to focus on homework, and I also find I sleep better and feel more energized,” she explains.
A little mindless TV can be fine, but vegging out in front of electronic devices won’t give your brain relief from the eye strain and multitasking associated with technology.
Tijana S., a junior at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, says, “I feel more tired if I work for a long time at my computer or watch TV for a while. It most likely stems from my eyes being strained and wearing out my brain.”
At least once a day, even if just for half an hour, set aside your computer, tablet, phone, and earphones. Find a quiet place, or connect with some friends in person. It’s essential to shift your energy toward real human connection on a regular basis, and also have time to reach a peaceful state.
Finding “Me Time”
So now the key is to figure out when to take a break. Some students set a regular schedule, putting time for themselves in their calendars–just as they would a lecture, doctor’s appointment, or other responsibility. Otherwise, the time may be frittered away or seem like something expendable. Sherry H., a junior at Ashford University online, explains, “A time management schedule that includes regrouping is a well-planned schedule.”
Jake makes sure to schedule some time each day for himself, which he adjusts every quarter depending on his commitments. “I’m a morning person, so I like waking up really early and having that time before I have to be out and about,” he says.
Your Big Break
Taking little breaks during the school year is important, but longer periods of time off (like summer and winter breaks) are great times to try something new. If you find some things challenging during the school year, such as eating regular, nutritious meals or keeping up with your class reading, you can also use a break from school to refocus and reset your habits.
Chitra D., a senior at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, says, “Breaks are the perfect opportunity to establish healthier habits. Having time away from school is a time to figure out your priorities outside of academics.”
For example, Amy started training for a half-marathon during her winter break and kept it up in subsequent semesters, while Jake has spent summers working on farms in Spain and Ireland.
Take some time to evaluate if you’re meeting your own goals. If not, you can set priorities and create an action plan. Just make sure the plan includes time to recharge. However you choose to spend “me time” or your summer break, take the “break” part seriously and enjoy the benefits of having balance in your life.
- Take time every day to refresh and recharge.
- Focus on activities that allow your brain to take a break or switch gears.
- Unplug from all electronics on a regular basis.
- Identify where and how you can find quiet.
- Make appointments with yourself for “me time” so that it doesn’t get overlooked.
- Use longer break periods from school to try new things and reset your habits.
- In addition to time alone, connect with friends and family in person.
Making “Me Time”
In our world of technology, overstimulation can feel like the norm. Here are some ways to find calm:
- Keep a gratitude log.
- Do some yoga or meditation.
- Practice tai chi.
- Turn off the Internet for a certain amount of time each week.
- Spend time in nature.
- Leave your cell phone home for a day, or at least a few hours.
- Take a relaxing bath or shower.
- Find a quiet spot and practice deep breathing.
- Draw or write for pleasure.
- Play or create music.
- Eat lunch alone. Bring along your favorite book or a journal.
- Visit a playground and swing.
- Have a meaningful phone or face-to-face conversation.
Get help or find out more
Colby College, Counseling Services, MP3 Relaxation Exercises
Loehr, J. and Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Free Press, New York.