OPINION: Mini breaks trade mental wellness for physical health

Flyer News opinion writer discusses the effect of mini-breaks on students’ mental health, photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Lucinda Judd
Contributing Writer

Mini breaks replace traditional breaks at UD, leaving students feeling burnt out and stressed.

In an effort to cut down on students leaving campus, UD and several other universities have removed typical breaks for the second semester since the pandemic began. Fewer students leaving campus helps protect the physical health of members of the Flyer community by limiting contact outside of the campus bubble. 

To effectively reduce the number of positive COVID-19 cases on campus, the three mini-breaks are placed on weekdays with the expectation of Good Friday’s break. Students do not have time to visit home or travel within one day breaks which limits contacts. Are the breaks even worth it? Is putting the physical health above mental health of students beneficial in the end?

The first issue is the amount of “mini-breaks” the university has chosen to allow. To put it in perspective, the fall 2019 term and the spring 2020 term each had nine days off. During this pandemic, we are only receiving a third of the days off as we would in a normal semester.

According to research conducted by Dr. Jan Packer, a principal research fellow at the University of Queensland, even short breaks have positive effects on our mental health and wellbeing. However, in her study a “short vacation of four days or two days” is the smallest time frame still considered a break. This study has not counted the weekends as a break. 

The one day off provided by the university does not meet the qualifications to be considered a break. Despite these days being  “Wellness Days” and a university-wide day off, students receive the same amount of work. In many cases, professors will frontload the work the day before the break, so students spend their day off completing more work than on an average day. 

“Only passive activities (e.g., relaxing and doing nothing) [are] found to be positively related to health and well-being after the vacation,” said Packer in her article. 

Her research also found that people can more easily detach from work when they leave home, or the town they work in.

If we apply this to UD, students sitting hunched over and doing work for an entire day designed for “wellness” in the same place that we normally work does not positively impact our mental health. There is no opportunity for us to leave campus, to leave the place of work, which does not allow us a chance to detach.

The point of  a “mini-break” is to supplement the typical breaks in a school year and to allow students to relax and have at least one day without the stress of classes.

However, the days are filled with the same, if not more, work which does not allow students the time to enjoy “passive activities” or self-care.

The lack of essentially any break is going to cause students to burnout much faster than in a normal semester. A constant workload with no escape will raise stress levels at an alarming rate and adding on the additional stress of living in a pandemic is a recipe for disaster. 

Coming from the perspective of a first-year student, nothing has prepared me for the constant work without a break. The “mini-breaks” at best provide an opportunity to sleep in and deal with an increased workload when I wake up.

At worst, the mini-breaks are just a symbol, an honorary day off, so that the administration can say that it cares about students’ mental health more than it does.

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