Winter break is almost here. I don’t know about you, but I could use a vacation. Cheers to two weeks of retail therapy, artery clogging, and midday naps. It’s been a long year. You’ve earned it. But before you relax too hard, remember–a new semester looms on the horizon. After all that sugary goodness and mind-numbing holiday music, you’ll be returning to school with the intellectual readiness of a honey-glazed ham.
So before you get down to some well-deserved down-time, we thought you could use a few tips for staying sharp during your winter break.
If you’re already looking ahead to next semester, visit our study guide headquarters for some awesome study guides and position paper starters.
Otherwise, read on for 10 things you can do over winter break to stay sharp, focused, and intellectually limber…
Your brain is a muscle. Ok. It’s not actually a muscle, it’s an organ. But stick with me or the analogy doesn’t work. Like any muscle, the brain needs constant stretching. Read something that has nothing to do with school. Add some respected newspapers to your media feed, read print magazines that contain more words than ad space, or go the old-fashioned route and curl up with a good paperback (do people really “curl up?“). Whatever you read, it should occupy your attention span. In other words, your Twitter feed doesn’t count.
Science Daily reports that every time you experience something new, you open new neural pathways. Get those synapses firing by trying something you’ve never done before. It could be almost anything. Take a piano lesson. Dissect an old computer. Write that Bridgerton fan fiction novel that’s burning a hole in your brain. Engage your senses and your curiosity.
Game night with friends is an awesome way to keep your brain in problem-solving mode–and as a bonus, you’ll find out if any of your friends are sore losers with anger management issues. Whether you prefer head-to-head games like backgammon, spirited dinner party contests like Jenga, epic vacation-long Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, or Texas Hold ’Em tournaments with your closest buds, get some people together, get your game on, and get the gears turning in your head.
Doctors say you should do an activity that elevates your heart rate for at least 20 minutes every single day. Believe it or not, this tip still applies when you’re on vacation. The connection between physical activeness and mental acuity is well-established. According to Walden University, increased cardiovascular exercise actually creates new brain cells. By contrast, sedentary behavior slows everything down, including your ability to process information. So if, like me, you plan to spend consecutive days watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on repeat, try to offset it with the occasional morning jog, afternoon lift, or evening stretch.
Ok. Just between us, thank you notes are a total waste of paper and postage. These days, there are more efficient ways to express your appreciation. But you still have to write thank you notes. Your elder relatives expect it. Lucky for you, this is a chance to keep your writing tools sharp during vacation. Use the intimate, handwritten medium to tell your Great Aunt Pearl how much she means to you. Or just slap together some boilerplate pablum about being thankful and make sure your grammar, diction, and punctuation are perfect.
There are probably all kinds of projects that have been staring you in the face–a loose cabinet fixture, a clogged gutter, that gross sludgy deposit behind the washing machine. That’s not to mention the everyday chores that fall by the wayside as you blitz through your finals. Use vacation time to attack projects that have long demanded your attention. And while you’re at it, give your living space a major cleaning, possibly even a makeover. The act of strategically engaging your space could make it easier–possibly even exciting–to return to work and study.
You may be living in a sugar plum fantasy, but events in the real world continue outside of your sweet little vacation bubble. Remain aware of these experiences. I can’t tell you that today’s political discourse is bursting with wit and intellect. I respect you too much to patronize you. But one of the best ways to stay focused during vacation is to reconnect with the world outside your studies, from policy actions and international conflicts to major environmental events and important artistic achievements.
Travel, day trip, or just take long strolls in your own neighborhood. Few things stimulate the mind like a change of scenery. Even if you’re staying close to home, there are likely undiscovered adventures a short ride away–a cheery Christmas Village, a cool microbrewery, or a lively Main Street nearby. Bundle up in something fleecy, get out of the house, and dig that crisp winter air. Then, when you’re done being cold, come home and wrap your frozen digits around a warm mug.
Who could possibly want to think about school right now, right? Still your subconscious knows it’s there. It nags at you, reminding you not to get too comfortable with this life of ease. Part of that nagging sensation is the lack of clarity. You’ll have a new schedule. New professors. New syllabi. All of that uncertainty can be super-stressful, even if you are trying your best to suppress it. Take a moment during your vacation to peek at your upcoming courses. Get to know your schedule. Read up on your instructors at “Rate My Professors.” Set up calendar alerts including the location (or URL) of your classes during your first week back. One you have some clarity, you may find it much easier to focus on relaxing.
Speaking of relaxing, live your vacation to the fullest! We’re not just saying this to get on your good side. According to The Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety is among the most common mental health problems facing college students. Take steps to protect yourself by truly indulging in your vacation. Relax. Unplug. Maybe even schedule a few spa treatments if that’s your thing.
You’ll be back in the lecture halls, laboratories and Learning Management Systems before you know it. So for now, file your academic obligations away. Stuff your face. Watch the same exact movies you watch every single year. And most importantly, delight in the warmth of friends and family.