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Overcoming the “I Did Nothing During Winter Break” Anxiety

After a long and tiring fall semester, many college students couldn’t contain their excitement for the long-awaited six weeks of winter break. A month and a half designed to fully recharge your mind, body, and soul from a draining academic semester. Maybe it’s the high achieving student in me with a crippling fear of failure and falling behind, but before I went home for break, I created a comprehensive to-do list. This list consisted of several major tasks that revolved around all areas of my life. And to say I checked any of those off during break would be a lie. I accomplished the tasks that required my immediate attention or had deadlines, but the tasks that weren’t critical were left untouched.

My feelings about this list before break and after break were vastly different. Initially, I thought that I would have an incredibly productive break, thinking it’d be a waste of time to do nothing for those six weeks. In reality, I worked nearly every day for a month straight at a local farm in my hometown, didn’t see much of my friends, and slept as much as I could. Two days before returning to school for the spring semester, I realized that most of the major tasks I intended to accomplish were sitting in my notebook without a satisfying slash going through them.

Thinking it would be a waste of time to spend break doing nothing didn’t represent reality, and that frame of mind entirely defeats the purpose of a winter break. So of course, I had raging anxiety and stress over the fact that my to-do list was left untouched come January 24. In my mind, this meant I was a failure, lazy, unproductive, and lacking passion. Looking back, it’s because I was exhausted and was using break exactly as I should. 

Other students may have done the exact same thing as me; going into break with an expectation of productivity, but leaving break feeling unaccomplished. Just because I barely touched my to-do list doesn’t mean I failed, nor does it mean I accomplished nothing. As I reflect, I nourished my body, took time to mentally repair, spend some time alone, and catch up with family I hadn’t seen in a while. The anxious side of my brain keeps telling me that these aren’t accomplishments. According to the anxious side of my brain, if the activity isn’t productive to my career, academics, or leadership responsibilities, the activity is unproductive. But in order to be productive in those areas of my life, I need to accomplish things like spending time alone, sleeping in, and eating well. Without these simple basic needs, I can’t successfully accomplish anything else. Ultimately, I do think my winter break was productive and I have grown comfortable to say that. So maybe I didn’t check a lot off my to-do list, but I did prioritize my mental well-being, I read more, and slept in finally.

No matter what you did over break, there was certainly some level of productivity. Even if you laid in bed 90% of the time, your body needed that. Your body needed the rest, that’s what break is all about! Repeatedly telling yourself that you were unproductive over break achieves nothing, consider the small wins, and trust that what you did was what your body was calling you to do.

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Caroline Tierney

U Mass Amherst '24

Caroline is a sophomore majoring in Finance and Psychology. She loves the outdoors, hiking, fishing, boating, skiing, and exploring new places.
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