Self-Care Needed In Spring Break’s Absence, CAPS Doctor Says

Without a formal spring break next semester, Penn State students will attend classes for 15 straight weeks starting in January.

And although the university plans on sprinkling in a few non-instructional days, students and faculty alike are concerned by the mental health implications of spring break’s cancellation.

Dr. Ben Locke, director of Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services, shared how breaks are now an expectation for students and employees. He said departing from the norm will inevitably be difficult for some.

“What is consistently true is that once a practice is in place, people become used to that practice, look forward to it, and have reactions to change,” Locke said. “Looking forward to a traditional break is a coping skill that contributes to resilience.”

Locke added breaks provide an “important opportunity” to de-stress and later return to work or school feeling refreshed. He said breaks can take many forms but be effective nonetheless.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, we’ve all with physical, emotional, or financial stressors as a result of the coronavirus. Locke elaborated on these stressors and defined them more specifically as all-encompassing entities.

“COVID has created several overarching challenges – fear, worry, and confusion about how to manage health, safety, and social connection,” Locke said. “As well as uncertainty about the future, a constant stream of changes, unexpected challenges, and losses; and the challenges of balancing self-care, desire for social connection, and maintaining critical momentum in life and work.”

Although many students view spring break as an opportunity to relax, some use the uninterrupted time to work or care for family members.

“It seems important to recognize that the stereotypical ‘spring break’ is not a universal experience or universally positive, despite the image we may assume,” Locke said. “What is most important right now is for students/faculty/staff to be proactive, intentional, and consistent about building wellbeing into each day and each week.”

Students are particularly concerned about burnout after a grueling, break-less semester. Locke understands those concerns and shared he is an advocate for proactive efforts to maintain students’ mental health.

“Burnout is usually thought of as a state of ‘exhaustion’ that accumulates over time in response to prolonged exposure to stress or stresses,” Locke said. “The best way to avoid burnout is what I described — intentional, proactive, and consistent care of yourself over time. In a sense, it’s like being physically healthy.”

With so many unexpected changes to students’ personal and academic life, Locke said compassion and empathy are critical during this time. He believes it’s important to remember everybody is “going through it” one way or another.

“I encourage everyone to extend grace, kindness, and curiosity to those around them and toward yourself. We are all living through an incredibly challenging time together. It is critical that we support each other and take care of ourselves,” Locke said. “We will emerge from this chapter in history, perhaps stronger and more resilient than before, but while we are here — let’s all be good to each other and ourselves.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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