Finding the “Break” in Spring Break

For your average grad student (and many undergrads), Spring Break is a misnomer in every sense of the word–assuming you live in, to the north, or the west of North Carolina. It is most assuredly NOT spring right now (it’s 40 degrees outside). And most of us grad students have yet to find the break because the to-do list doesn’t stop during this week. In fact, we stand a chance of at least crossing some things off the list this week, thanks to not having to show up to the many places we ordinarily do.

I spent the first half of the break in the office, along with a friend, both of us working on our respective dissertations. I am pleased to announce that by Wednesday afternoon, my friend submitted her final draft to her committee for her defense. By Tuesday afternoon, I sent an outline to my advisor. By Wednesday afternoon, after working on prep for my oral prelim in now less than two weeks, I was fried. (When you have to ask “The predictor variable is the independent variable, right?”…you need a break.)

We both left the office mid-afternoon on Wednesday. I came home and decided to try to clear my head by breaking in my new meditation cushions. I learned it’s a helluva lot easier to meditate when your brain is smoldering–it doesn’t want to think about anything anyway. Fifteen minutes later, I was in a better state. You see, not only was my brain fried from the past…25 weeks?…of work, but my anxiety was jacked by my upcoming oral. I reached a point where I felt like I knew NOTHING. At all. Whatsoever. Not good when you will have to account for any and every thing you’ve learned in 3.5 years in 2 hours’ time. The meditation helped bring down my anxiety level. So did the realization that I HAD to take a break this week. I HAD to step away from the schoolwork. Or I was going to implode.

Spring break is great for getting work done. No question. But when you’ve been working under the gun for as long as most of us have, you gotta stop for a minute. By Thursday, I stopped. I did zero work. And meditated. And brought the anxiety back down. This morning, I got a massage (so now my neck moves in all directions again). This afternoon, I started looking over prelim stuff again. And I was fresher and more ready to integrate and prepare for the firing squad.

A funny thing, that spring break. By the time it gets here we so desperately need it. Yet so often, we keep pushing through. And that’s only good if you can truly be productive. But for me and my people from school, we aren’t productive at this point. We’re just tired. And we really really should take the advice we so often dole out and rest. Even if it’s just for a day.