I’m about to say the words that every teenager, in their stubborn sense of independence, never thought they’d say: my mom was right. Over the years in high school as I watched Netflix for hours on my computer or squinted at my screen writing essays in the dark, my mom would always pop her head in the door and tell me to take a break. This wasn’t just to give my eyes a break from the brightly lit screen, but also for my general sanity and productivity. As she mentioned how “studies have shown that breaks while studying lead to better attention spans,” I would nod my head and promptly resume working on or watching whatever it was that was on my computer. Now as we enter our 6th week of virtual classes, I can totally see what my mom was talking about and am finally picking up on her advice.
When we normally would have been watching our professor at a whiteboard, we are now staring at a screen for hours upon hours for both lecture and then the obligatory homework that follows. And as a computer science major, about 95% of my work is already confined to being done on a device of some sort. So if you’re like me and have been getting headaches from constant screen use, losing focus as the day goes on, or are just generally appalled by the average hours of screen time that your computer reports each week, then join me on my quest to try all the different kinds of breaks possible to keep myself energized and motivated towards my work.
Exercise: it’s a pretty straightforward and classic idea with lots of benefits – improved concentration, mood boosts, health improvements, and brain development. I’ve been encouraging myself to get out for a quick run on the beach or walk down the street and I really do notice a difference. Any movement is good movement.
Take Care of a Chore/Non-School To-Do Item: chores don’t really come to mind when I usually think of giving myself a break, but this kind of a pause from work has actually been helpful in keeping my momentum going throughout the day. Just taking the time to wash the dishes in the sink, do a load of laundry, change my bed sheets, swiffer the floor, or do any little task that’s been hanging over your head can give you some peace of mind and renewed clarity. Keeping things tidy and taken care of as you progress through the week avoids having these things pile up to take care of over the weekend when you just want to relax. Plus, it can make me feel like I’ve been productive, even if I haven’t done much else that day…
Non-School, Non-Straining Activity: during my breaks, I really try to make sure I am truly giving myself a separation from my schoolwork and computer. Otherwise, I’m not getting all the benefits I could get out of stepping away for a bit. Doing a somewhat mindless activity can be helpful in this, like scrolling through Instagram (watch this one though because before you know it, it’s an hour later and you’re still scrolling), reading a non-college related book (Reading? For fun? What?), chat with roommate or parent (or pet!), invest in an adult coloring book, watch a short episode of your favorite show, the options are endless
Getting Outside: some days I just don’t feel up to a full fitness routine or simply don’t have the time. Leaving your room, apartment, house, etc. and getting some fresh air can give you a change in location and revive your senses a bit. Maybe take a drive to your favorite lookout spot in your town, sit on a balcony, or go run an errand (with proper mask-wearing and safety precautions of course).
Taking a Nap: this is the holy grail of breaks for me. Especially the day after a late night, I can feel myself kind of dragging through the day and being tempted to turn off my zoom camera and doze off real quick an hour and a
half into lecture. But I resist the urge until after class when I quickly set a timer for 45 min or so and collapse on my bed. Sometimes this can be incredibly helpful and I wake up with my eyes feeling rested and my inclination to nod off gone. This isn’t always the best choice though, especially when you know you’d wake up groggy or are already well into the evening that you might as well stick it out until your usual sleeping time.
Stretching: this is another classic break but is even more important now that we all are sitting in the same chair in the same position for hours of time. And I don’t know about anyone else, but my back has been hurting much too often for a 19 year old. A quick 15 minute period of simple stretches or yoga poses usually does the trick though! Add in a few breathing exercises if you’re feeling fancy and you’re good to go.
Meditation: now this one’s a bit hard for me and, I imagine, for my fellow engineering students as well. We’re used to having our brains switched on at all times that trying to force our minds to think of ~nothing~, even for as little as 5 – 10 minutes can be more difficult than it seems. I found a few good apps (Calm and Fabulous) that have some great mediation routines that are easy to follow along for beginners. I find them most useful either right before a test, before I go to bed, or even when I wake up to start the day on a good note
Snacks: one of the benefits of virtual classes is the ability to grab a snack even in short periods of break between classes. Sometimes it would be hard to find a consistent time to grab a bite to eat at a dining hall on campus during the constant bustle of the day. Now, with the kitchen in such close proximity to my “virtual classroom” space, I can get away from my computer for a second to slice up some fresh fruit or toast a mini bagel to keep my grumbling stomach from being heard over the zoom mic. I try to limit my visits to the kitchen though, since I will load up on snacks and then get out-of-sync with a normal meal schedule and just feel kind of sluggish for the time after.
Banging My Head Against the Wall: I’m totally kidding, please don’t do this! Try one of the previous suggestions instead! We’re going to get through this new Zoom world together
All in all, I’m just trying to pay more attention to taking care of myself by giving myself some space to breath during what can feel like one hectic week after another. I really hope you all are doing the same for yourselves!