Facing the highs and lows of school breaks

School breaks are a time for students to unwind from the pressure of school and spend time with family. As much as people long for a break, it remains a temporary getaway from stress in life.
Even though no homework was assigned to me over fall break, I could still feel all the pressures of studying. When I got back, I knew I would have many exams and projects to be done before winter break. I felt a strong urge to get ahead in the classes that I knew would have assignments due at the end of the year, and got ahead in them during the break. While this would help me tremendously during the school year, it still felt like I wasted “valuable” break time.

Although school was on my mind during fall break, I did face some boredom. However, I tried to turn that negative energy into something positive. According to Psychology Today, “attention uses one’s limited cognitive resources for productive activities. So, taking a break can be a valuable opportunity to help our overloaded brains relax and alleviate stress.” During the break, I did take some time to get out of town for a few days to see some old friends. Even though I still felt some guilt over not doing something “productive”, it still felt nice to do something different.

People who feel a constant pressure to visibly perform and prioritize measured tasks rather than using judgment about what would be most optimal to complete, ignore their errors and keep pushing forward at the expense of everything else. Since the 1970s, the United States has been embracing neoliberalism, a philosophy that refers to an economic system in which the “free” market is applied to every aspect of our lives.

Neoliberalism is essentially a system that encourages good grades or jobs while punishing a lack of competition and failure. I believe neoliberalism is a cause of this harmful culture of productivity. To me, it almost seems as though this type of culture of toxic productivity has been rooted for years, and for the most part, been heavily normalized in society. This type of normativity has definitely affected me because of all the stress I felt over the break.

School breaks are full of contradictions. They are made to rest our brains and yet we still feel pressured to be productive with school work. After taking a break from something stressful, our brains become more capable of imagining new possibilities. Learning and memories are enhanced after rest, and may not happen if we “power through” life. As we head into winter break, I hope to rest my mind for the new year and final exam season.