Campus Life

How to adjust to winter break

Lessons learned from six winter breaks

This will be my sixth winter break at MIT, and I think it is high time I write down some useful tips for how to manage the adjustment from “hell week and finals week at MIT” to the so-stressless-it-is-actually-stressful time period: winter break.

If you’re a workaholic like me, it can be hard to make this adjustment. You go from five classes, a campus job or two, research, and 20-hour weeks at The Tech to a glorious but disturbing nothing. Suddenly, you wake up the morning after your last final, and you feel this sinking sense of unease, a small voice whispering in the back of your head, “You should be doing something productive right now...” Think Voldemort whispering to Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and you’ll be pretty close to the mark.

What is one to do in this situation? In past years, I lay in bed, having woken up without an alarm because I allowed myself to sleep until I couldn’t anymore, and I wondered how my adrenal glands would fare through the break. I’m not a pre-med and 7.01x was many years ago, so I like to imagine my adrenals as these little beans on top of my kidneys that have, for the past few months, been constantly in overdrive, spewing out adrenaline to supplement the steady flow of coffee and energy drinks.

Like I said, I’ve been through this several times at this point, so here are some promised tips.

If you think that maintaining a steady stream of adrenaline will help you through the break, I suggest the following activities: go snowboarding, sledding, or skiing. The steeper the hill, the more adrenaline your glands will spew (reminder: I’m not a pre-med, and I’m not a Course 8 either), and you’ll have the added bonus of participating in a traditional wintertime activity. Grab your friends and family and make it a thing.

Feeling like staying inside, you little introvert? Me, too. Why don’t you turn to Netflix for some scary movies? Make a marathon of it. Just you, a cup of hot cocoa and some good old fashioned jump scares to ease you into the holiday spirit and to maintain your cortisol levels. It doesn’t take much to scare me, so I’ve accomplished this by watching Supernatural Season 1, but you might consider Silent Hill or one of the Saw movies, too. As break continues into IAP, slowly decrease the scariness of the movies to wean yourself off such high stress levels. Enter spring semester feeling refreshed. You owe it to yourself.

If you need to do something “resume building productive,” you could work on or start some kind of side project. Hell, update your resume and your LinkedIn profile. You probably accomplished something this past semester, might as well update your credentials while you have the free time. I bet you could finish an OCW course or seven (6.006, 6.046, 6.045, 8.04, and 18.06 are my recommendations) if you binge-watched lectures like you binge-watched Orange is the New Black and Criminal Minds last year. I believe in you.

If you think that doing something “productive” but “unrelated to school” would be better, you can do what I do and try your best to put a dent in your ever-growing reading list. This break, I plan to knock out A Short History of the World by J.M. Roberts, Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, several science fiction books that have yet to be determined, and a few chapters of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

In all seriousness, make sure you do something relaxing, or at least something you do for the fun of it, this break — even if it is hard for you to do, like it is for me.