Opinion | How to stay sane over winter break

By Dalia Maeroff, Senior Staff Columnist

I don’t know about anyone else, but I get restless over breaks, especially winter break. Usually, I distract myself and the break flies by. I would travel and go ice-skating, go to the symphony, sit in my favorite coffee shop with a hot drink watching the snow outside and go to the holiday market Downtown to buy a necklace from my favorite jeweler like I do every year.

But this year will be different than most winter breaks. In isolation, mental health is fragile, and it is important to make sure that you stay mentally healthy. The weather still sucks, my friends will go back home, and even though I could barely wait for the last semester to end, I anticipate the start of the next semester with enthusiasm and practically beg for it to start sooner. But there are many things to do to eat up time, to make yourself happier and to make yourself feel more alive in this year’s socially distant winter break.

Catch up on movies and shows

This one is obvious. Sitting down on the couch with snacks to watch TV or movies is by far one of the most relaxing activities out there. Bonus points if you add a face mask and tea into the mix. This should be done as soon as possible after your last final. My favorites are psychological thrillers because there’s nothing like just getting done with a semester filled with psychology classes and jumping right into movies that you can psychoanalyze until you fall asleep on the couch. Normal people might opt for something a bit more relaxing or good old favorites, like Marvel or Disney movies.

Read a book or two! Or five!

Actually holding a book and reading it just for enjoyment is not something we really get to do much anymore. With a chronic lack of free time, fried brains and constant staring at small words on a screen, the last thing I want to do at the end of a long day of classes is stare at more small words in a book. So take this time to check out the New York Times Best Sellers list, reread your favorite classics or finally read that book your friend has been bugging you about for months. Don’t tell me that reading a book in a warm house while drinking tea and watching the snow fall outside isn’t a scene straight out of a movie that everyone in their right mind wants to do.

Get into the kitchen

This is your time, folks. Make all the recipes you’ve been saving on Pinterest all semester because it is winter, it is cold and it is time for comfort food. Ramen — not instant ramen, make it from scratch — General Tso’s chicken, falafel and baked mac and cheese are among my favorite winter comfort foods. For dessert, brownies and warm chocolate chips cookies are always winners.

Talk to your friends

Don’t forget about your friends! These people are your ride or die and your main support network. Get “together” for Netflix party or Zoom tea time. Isolation over winter break will be hard, so it’s important to prioritize time to be social. Check in on each other often and winter break won’t feel so lonely.

Make something

I don’t know about you, but I pretty much abandon art during the semester, even though it’s one of my favorite things to do. Everything from jewelry-making to pottery to painting to just doodling in a sketchbook all take the stage for me over winter break. I break out the loud music and weird podcasts and just get to it. Creating things makes me feel productive, but in a way that is beneficial to the self and doesn’t lead to overworking and stress. It’s the perfect cure for that mid-winter break slump.

Do something to keep your mind active

Reading a book also falls into this category, but learning how to play or practice an instrument or learning how to speak or practicing a language will keep your brain active. Keeping your brain active is just as important as staying physically active, as it can help to increase vitality and help retain brain connections and cells. When I come back from break and walk into Spanish class for the first time in a couple of months, it takes me a while to get back into the swing of things. Practicing for just five minutes a day over winter break can help to keep you sharp and help avoid that beginning-of-semester drop in cognitive function.

Don’t ignore the holidays

Many of us may not be able to practice our holiday traditions like we normally do this year, and many of us will not be with our families or extended families. But that shouldn’t stop the holiday cheer. Go all out with decorations, lights and pretty candles. Make handmade holiday cards for all your friends and family and send them through the mail. Get recipes from family members to make your usual holiday traditional meals and desserts and cook and bake with them over Zoom. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I will for sure be baking rugelach and decorating sugar cookies in my Hanukkah sweater and socks.

Go outside!

I know, it’s cold. But do you remember being a kid and bundling in every layer of clothing you owned plus a jacket and snow pants and those weird gloves that had fold-over mittens to go out and play in the snow? We are college kids — emphasis on kids. So go be a kid for a day. When it snows, go out, make a snowman, lay down in the snow, make a snow angel, go sledding, then come home and drink hot chocolate and be happy about it.

Stock up on school supplies for the next semester

An important, but also the best kind of shopping — at least it is for me. I don’t know what it is, but looking at sticky notes and pens and highlighters that are pretty colors just makes me excited and ready for the next semester. I’m so picky with my pens and my office supplies, so buying them early before my favorite stationary sites sell out of them is a rush for me.

Plus, the idea of buying a calendar for 2021 just gives me hope for next year.

Dalia Maeroff writes primarily about issues of psychology, education, culture and environmentalism. Write to her at [email protected].