Columns

Malik ’18: An actual break

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, January 28, 2016

I feel guilty admitting this now, but last semester, when I learned that my parents were planning a trip during the first two weeks of winter break to visit relatives, I had mixed feelings. Yes, I really wanted to see my aunts, uncles and cousins, especially because I feel close to them but don’t get to see them often. Yet a part of me felt I should have been spending the break doing all of the important tasks I didn’t have time for during the semester, such as searching for potential jobs and internships. I usually feel the urge to keep doing work and being productive; taking it easy for too long feels strange. I’m sure several of my peers at Brown have similar feelings.

But now that break is over, I’m thankful for that trip. I needed it. I have come to realize that, for those of us who are able to take time off from work and studies, it’s important to reserve the period from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day for reconnecting with our loved ones and finding opportunities to relax.

All of our relationships need attention; if we do not actively maintain them, they will wither and decay. There are people from whom we’ve grown apart because we did not put in the necessary effort to stay connected. Familial relationships are no different. I even worry they are at greater risk of fading away than other relationships because we sometimes overlook the people closest to us.

For many of us, the first weeks of winter break offer the ideal opportunity to spend time with loved ones because they include two holidays — Christmas and New Year’s — that are associated with family activities. Thanksgiving recess also offers many students time for family get-togethers, but that break is quite short. By contrast, the other two major breaks in the academic calendar, spring break and summer vacation, carry different associations.

The best time to devote our attention to our loved ones is the winter holiday season. And even though the University is planning to hold a Winter Session, the session is planned for three weeks in January, according to a Herald article. This means that the period from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day will be left free; it appears that administrators understand the importance of that time.

Spending time with loved ones during the holidays can also elicit positive psychological effects. People spending time with their families tend to feel more nostalgic and thus perceive their lives as meaningful — a perception that can in turn lead them to feel “psychologically healthy, energetic, optimistic and have a lower risk for mental health problems,” according to a study conducted by Clay Routledge, associate professor of psychology at North Dakota State University.

In addition to focusing on our loved ones, the beginning of winter vacation can allow us to focus on ourselves. Though the temptation to jump into the pile of work left over from the previous semester can be strong, we cannot push ourselves so hard that we undermine our health. Here’s an illustrative personal example: After my last class before Thanksgiving Recess last semester, I wanted to check off items on my to-do list but couldn’t because I hadn’t been taking care of myself and ended up lying in bed, contending with a nasty headache. Taking it easy is necessary — I learned that lesson the unpleasant way. Furthermore, according to UW CareLink, a program at the University of Washington, rest “rejuvenates your body and mind, regulates your mood and is linked to learning and memory function.” Their tip sheet doesn’t advise lying in bed all day, and I would not suggest that either. But even if we must work over break, we should at least avoid doing so much that we get overwhelmed.

I once thought vacations during the academic year were meant for playing catch-up on assignments. Now, I’ve realized that they are for actual, restorative breaks. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with my family. Winter break is five weeks long and offers a chance to work, but we can all use the first couple weeks to be with the people we care about and to look after ourselves.

Ameer Malik ’18 can be reached at ameer_malik@brown.edu.