Mentally Checking Out (or the lack thereof….)

Imagine this: You’re sitting in your Comm 300: Feature Writing class the Friday before spring break begins. The weather has finally begun to warm up, melting all of the snow that piled up only days before. The sunshine that you felt walking to class is the only thing you’re focused on, because you know that in approximately 45 minutes, you’ll be back out there and headed to the dog park with your pooch. It’s the perfect time during the semester for a long-awaited break. You keep checking the clock, which makes you even more anxious to leave, but it’s alright, because you begin to notice your professor checking the clock too. Which means only one thing. He’s as ready for the upcoming week as you are. 

The perfect start to a stress-free, low-commitment spring break, right?


Even though your professor might seem excited for a break from teaching for a week, he has less responsibility for his class than you do – because you are assigned homework. A chapter to read, an article to find and dissect, and an excerpt of your third story to sketch. This isn’t the only homework you have for the next week, either. As a junior, almost all six classes you are taking assign some sort of course works to keep you “engaged” during your break, on top of your outside internships and real job that you still must attend in person. 

With all of this, you begin to think to yourself: This week is going to feel like more work than a normal week.

While students enjoy the break from classes, it can be difficult for some to feel that they really can “mentally-check out” during breaks. This would require for them to completely blow-off their homework and focus on the present day of what they are doing, whether it be going to the beach in Florida or just napping on their futon, it’s doing something other than schoolwork. And yet, a break from it all is what their mental health truly needs.

“Breaks give me a chance to change my environment and gives me a stress relief. Without breaks, my mind doesn’t really get the opportunity to let down from the stress which is really draining,” junior Carlie Wilson said.

Students have especially found an increase in the need for breaks since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and they began being tested both mentally and physically. This need has not since changed and the pandemic seems to still be a present barrier to students’ mental health.                                    

“Since COVID-19, I have found it hard to mentally check out because I have begun associating going home with projects and homework,” sophomore Rachel Steinkamp said.

This last spring break, Steinkamp found herself catching up on class work and assignments as a result of her being quarantined right before and was concerned about falling behind in her courses. 

“I am constantly thinking about the work I have to do and if I can get ahead in my classes and if it will make it an easier workload for when I get back to campus. I find it had to have fun when I have work waiting for me on the back burner,” Steinkamp said.

This work-ethic clearly varies for college students, but Morningside College’s atmosphere fosters it with their emphasis on academic success. Faculty and staff members also make it important for students to acknowledge their mental health and practice self-care.

“A few years ago I had a conversation with a group of students who were upset at how much homework they were assigned to do over spring break and that they really needed a break. Ever since then, I’ve refused to assign anything over spring break to let my students actually take a break,” Elder said.

Students can be hopeful, though, as it takes time and practice after graduation for them to learn to allow themselves a break from constantly doing work. Whether this is a direct correlation to having homework or the constant need to study is unknown but, nonetheless, the adult culture of it is different. 

“I have gotten pretty good at leaving my work at work. There are days when there are lots of work things on my mind but there’s nothing, I can do about it at home. If I ever take time off, I have a whole team behind me who I know will take care of any problems that arise,” ‘19 Morningside graduate Abigail Fitzgerald said. 

Looking back at college, Fitzgerald found her most important strategies for taking a break to include writing in her planner. And though she was work-oriented, she found value in the college experiences that did not include academics.

“Academics are important but not as important as the relationships you build with your peers, professors, and community. Make time for your time and especially make time for yourself,” Fitzgerald said.