December 6, 2020

BERNSTEIN | Winter Break is Almost Here; Savor it

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We’re two weeks away from the end of the first of two dominantly online semesters, but the metaphorical (and literal) hill left to climb feels as high as it was in September. With finals yet to come and a near universal post-Thanksgiving lack of motivation, winter break feels miles away. But our 48 days off from mid-December to February 8th represent so much more than freedom. The extended break is real, it’s coming and it’s a necessary time of respite in the wake of months of total anxiety.

Burnout is always real, and online school and the pressures of the outside world (like you know, the pandemic) have only made it worse. Not only are students subject to anxiety and exhaustatedness, but physical symptoms of “zoom fatigue,” like headaches or blurry vision, affect us as well. Cornellians, already suffering from the usual stress of class and isolation of upstate New York, have felt the brunt of it. The past semester has been weird and hard, and although there’s so much to celebrate about being on campus and making it out alive, it’s difficult to forget its toll.

Thanksgiving was a nice break, but coming right out of semifinals, leaving campus and transitioning to fully online school hasn’t been easy either. And even if you’ve been at home the whole time, we’ve all got finals coming up around the bend. They’re staring us straight in the face like the final boss battle of our videogame semester. 

We know that our two semesters this school year are unique, with the varying modality of our courses and the varying geography of our whereabouts, and with strange class time comes strange time off. We had 10 weeks of uninterrupted class with only one day off before Thanksgiving break, and next semester will be shorter than usual and missing a spring break. Instead, we’ll have four wellness days scattered throughout the Spring. Snow days will also be gone, probably for good, symbolizing all the relaxation taken away by the pandemic.

But soon, we enter the weirdest break of all, and maybe it’s our saving grace: a month and a half of pure, unadulterated, commitmentless time off from school. Of course, our freedom isn’t really free; Covid restrictions, jobs and family commitments may still dictate our lives, among other things. But soon, school’s out. 

There’s no prelim or research paper hanging above your head, and unlike summer there’s no pressure to be working some fancy internship or to travel the world. We’ll be untethered from the usual thoughts of the semester and have the respite we’ve so badly craved.

It’s time to take time off and relax. Focus on yourself and do whatever you want to do in whatever way you can. Allow yourself to sleep in and do nothing if you have the urge — I think, as Cornellians, we don’t often recognize that we shouldn’t always be beating ourselves up over little things that could be perceived as laziness or failure. Over the next month or so after finals, recognize that you’re not being lazy when you treat yourself.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to relax when we’re starved of human contact. The break encompasses the holiday season, and regardless of your religious observances or your celebrations, you’ll almost certainly have an urge to be close to family, friends and loved ones. How can you not when the past nine months have felt so isolated? And this feeling will almost certainly be exacerbated over the near two month stretch; with the cold of winter, even meeting people outside and socially distanced is difficult.

To keep connections while staying safe, we must first recognize that isolation doesn’t have to be independent — we’re all in this together. It’s been said before, but it has to be taken to heart for one to truly relax when relaxation feels so difficult. Take the initiative to make and keep relationships over break. It will not only help ease your stress, but it could also help others.

The most important thing we do once we get past finals (which we will get past), is to take advantage of our lack of commitment and appreciate it. The world has told us over the past year not to take the things we have for granted, and time is one of them. We have a special opportunity in our break and it’d be foolish to waste it worrying about things we don’t care for or doing things that we don’t like.

It should be made explicitly clear that relaxing isn’t unproductive. Taking time for oneself is healthy. You’re producing your own health, energy and joy. Author Hank Green wrote, “You will always struggle with not feeling productive until you accept that your own joy can be something you produce. It is not the only thing you will make, nor should it be, but it is something valuable and beautiful.”

After a long and draining semester, and with another one just around the bend, we musn’t let productivity elsewhere supersede our well-being. This is a long break. Don’t stress about it too much.

Daniel Bernstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dgb222@cornell.edu. Feel the Bern runs every other Monday this semester.