With spring break already a thing of the past for most students, the last hectic push to the end of the school year has finally begun. It’s certainly no newsflash that the stress, lack of sleep, and mental exhaustion that comes with these last six weeks of school takes its toll. For students looking for a tactic to help maintain personal equilibrium and even prolong focus while studying, the answer lies in an intentionally-used study break. Research suggests that because your brain is “built to detect and respond to change”. Regularly inserting a mini-break in your study cycle can actually help you stay engaged longer. According to some psychologists, after 45 minutes of focusing on a task, your brain begins to receive diminishing returns. Luckily, a 10-15 minute break can adequately reset that inner timer. A lot of it has to do with how you spend that time, however. Here are three factors to keep in mind to get the maximum benefit from your study breaks:
#1: Be aware of input/output
We all have a natural sense of when we need a break, but it requires extra awareness to chose activities that will truly refresh and reset our focus. To achieve that rest, be sure to reverse whatever type of mental work you were doing while studying. If you were inputting information by reading or studying notes, try activities that require output from you, like solving a Sudoku puzzle or playing an instrument. On the other hand, if you were engaged in output activities like writing or problem solving, try inputting non-school related information: read for pleasure or catch-up with a friend. Managing your input/output in these simple ways will set you on the right foot with your study breaks, making sure they truly give your brain the rest it needs.
#2: Be aware of medium & Engage your senses
Hand-in-hand with taking note of input/output when choosing a break activity is awareness of what medium you were using to study. Were you reading from textbooks, computers, tablets, etc.? Checking game scores on your smartphone when you’ve already been working at a computer for an hour might be an easy distraction, but it’s also a failure to recognize what you really need. If the key to resetting your brain’s inner timer is to give it new stimuli to “detect and respond to”, then use your mini-break as an opportunity to put something else in your hands or in front of your eyes. Escape the desk and florescent lights and engage your senses in a new environment. Soak up the early spring sunshine, shoot free throws, or even cook a simple meal. Regularly engaging in activities that put you in a different mental space is crucial for longevity in marathon study sessions.
#3: Choose activities that refresh
The last six weeks of school are notorious for shrinking our worlds down to the size of a desk. If your goal during these last six weeks of school is to maintain a sense of personal equilibrium along with a certain GPA, then study breaks can be your best, most regular opportunity to refresh yourself and reconnect with others. Capitalize on your breaks and use them to reestablish a sense of normalcy and balance to your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual life. Taking 15 minutes to de-clutter your living space, complete a mini-workout, read Scripture, or to reconnect with a friend about happenings in their life can do wonders to dissipate feelings of being depleted and overwhelmed.
Our natural response to approaching deadlines may be to buckle-down and work harder, but if we honestly want to reduce our post-exam week recovery time, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to regularly push the pause button on life. Taking even a short break to rest and refresh is a guaranteed way to not only refuel you for the work at hand, but to also reacquaint yourself with the bigger picture of life. Good luck!