or decades now, the words “spring break” have been almost synonymous with escape, relaxation, and renewal. And while these words are exactly what any spring break should be about, especially after a rough round of midterms, relaxation and renewal may not come as easily to those of us whose destinations aren’t white beaches and turquoise waters. Whether your spring break plans involve a Walden-esque wilderness voyage, a return home, or even staying here at Penn, here are some suggestions on how to be more mindful over this year’s spring break.
For those craving escapism, nothing will do better than some reading, whether it be short stories, poetry, or a 1,000-page novel. Bibliotherapy, or the idea that reading can help alleviate mental ailments like stress, is growing in popularity among those seeking mindfulness. Especially with the often intense academic climate here, sometimes letting yourself become engrossed in a different world can help you gain perspective beyond the Penn bubble. Some of my favorite books to become absorbed in over breaks are:
- The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie
- On the Road, Jack Kerouac
- Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
- Fences, August Wilson
- Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
- Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
- A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
- Nine Horses, Billy Collins
If you’re returning home or staying here at Penn for break, it can be helpful to explore new venues or activities in places you find familiar. While mindfulness is all about focusing on overlooked activities in our routines, sometimes interrupting these can be just as beneficial. Whether it’s going to a concert, checking out a new restaurant, or even something as simple as finding a new thrift store, spending a day or two exploring can help refresh your mind. For those staying in Philadelphia in particular, there are plenty of locally owned clothing shops in both the West Philly and South Street areas that are worth perusing, as well as some free exhibits on artistic activism at both the Barnes and the Institute of Contemporary Art.
As important as it is to break routines, increasing mindfulness is also about learning to focus more on activities as simple as brushing your teeth, brewing a cup of coffee, and perhaps most importantly, with phone usage. Focusing on these activities can help establish a mental baseline for each day, making days of higher anxiety a little more manageable. And again, with the high level of ambition at Penn, sometimes just turning off and focusing on something as simple as the steam floating out of a Chemex.
Perhaps the best and most efficient way to to become more mindful over break is the mantra of the movement – put down your phone. While it can be difficult to quit cold turkey, staying away from it for a half hour after waking up and before going to sleep is a good starting point that allows your mind to naturally prepare itself to start and end the day. Another way to make staying away from the screen easier is by temporarily deleting some social media apps. You might lose your Snapchat streak, but you’ll be more focused on on what’s really in front of you.
- When life feels mundane, picking up a new and approachable hobby like playing an instrument, doing puzzles, or cooking can remind you to give your mind a chance to relax each day. And a lot of these hobbies can actually have an even more positive effect on your mental health by utilizing more areas of your brain on a daily basis. Especially when more logic-based studies like science and math have you tired out, turning to more right-brain-oriented activities can refresh the senses, and vice versa.
7. Along with finding a mental baseline in focusing on a daily activity, it can also be beneficial to start and end each day with meditation (also giving you something to do instead of being on your phone). Meditation is different for everyone, but common guidelines for beginning practices are available in many forms online. One of my favorites comes from The New York Times, which provides both advice for beginners as well as some recorded guided meditation sessions for novices to follow along with. This and more can be found at https://www.nytimes.com/well/guides/how-to-meditate.
8. Another extremely effective and incredibly easy way to be more present and mindful is to spend more time outside, even if it’s for a 20-minute walk each day. Even in colder weather, there’s nothing that can cure stress and anxiety more than fresh air and an active break from the desk chair.
Regardless of what your destination is this spring break, it’s important to take the time to detox and re-focus before the long road to finals. Starting mindful habits now can help aid mental habits during more stressful times down the road, and make for a more centered and healthy life in general.