Self-care days are not enough for our mental health

Jessica Simms and Nicole McIsaac

There are only two more weeks left in this semester, but these next two weeks will feel like two months after not having a spring break.

This semester has been unlike any other. Students, faculty and staff have been back on campus since the end of January with no time off. Yes, there have been “self-care days,” but are they really doing anything to benefit our well-being? No, not at all.

For many schools, spring breaks were canceled to limit student travel during the pandemic. Like Quinnipiac University, Yale University also canceled spring break and implemented days off throughout the semester to make up for it, according to Vox. However, other institutions such as Michigan University, reduced their spring break to only two days. From an administrative standpoint, this makes sense to help curb the spread of COVID-19, but from a student’s perspective, this has created serious semester burnout.

Illustration by Connor Lawless

Maybe you haven’t experienced this and are asking yourself just what exactly burnout is or what it looks like for a student. And while it may look different for everyone, it is quite easy and understandable to recognize individuals experiencing these emotions.

It has been over a year since schools transitioned to online learning. For many students, faculty and staff, a major challenge has been maintaining their mental health due to Zoom fatigue and more necessary screen time use.

According to a University of Michigan survey, 83% of students said their mental health negatively impacts their academic performance. Half of the surveyed students also said they struggle with depression, anxiety, loneliness or all of the above.

With most activities taking a virtual stance, it is necessary to note that mental health services are harder to access, especially since the majority of therapy appointments are lacking an in-person connection.

On a similar note, that same academic burnout can lead to other crippling symptoms and side effects that sometimes go overlooked. According to an online article from the University of People, burnout symptoms include extreme exhaustion despite the hours of sleep one gets, increased body pain or tension, loss in creativity or even an increase in the risk to become ill from high levels of stress and exhaustion.

Spring break usually helps with eliminating the amount of stress students and faculty members feel during the semester, allowing them to take a week off to let off some steam and step away from the busy semester. While a random day off during the week is nice, nothing compares to the week-long break. As college students, it is hard to not use our self-care days to just catch up on work, and that seems to be encouraged as two of our self-care days were scheduled to be during midterm and finals week.

I (Jessica Simms) am a graduating senior. For most seniors, the end of their spring semester is exciting, and a time where they come together to enjoy the many lasts of their undergraduate experience. But this year, these last few weeks feel unbearable. I am exhausted and feel as if the work keeps piling up even after I finish a major assignment. Being able to and wanting to spend a few hours with a friend is hard when I feel this way.

Whenever I step away to enjoy a few moments without staring at a textbook or computer screen, I feel like I should be in my room completing assignments. My final undergraduate semester should not have gone this way. I should’ve been able to have some days off to relax so I could feel energized these last few weeks. Self-care days are not enough.

The worries and fears, however, do not fall short when it comes to other students who are not tackling the final days of their senior year.

Personally speaking, I (Nicole McIsaac) am extremely involved in both my rigorous academic courses as well as various student organizations on campus — leaving me little to no time to relax and recharge my wants and needs. There have been countless times in the final stretch of this demanding semester that I have felt as if I had no more steam in my engine.

Where did that leave me? Sitting in front of my laptop visibly upset and crying while assignments piled up and the countless responsibilities on my to-do list grew exponentially. And while I am very much excited for the opportunities presented to me this upcoming summer, diving into my first professional internship while tackling a full-time job isn’t exactly the ideal situation after putting myself through the semester I went through this spring. Like many other students, I am going to keep pushing myself, but it is crucial to take the time to recognize that these self-care days are deficient to the needs of college students right now.

With the final days in plain view, we understand the frustrations and burnt out feelings you might be experiencing right now. Whether you are preparing to enter the workforce or just the summer season, it is important that you try to take five minutes for yourself when needed — especially since we aren’t given the proper time to care for ourselves this semester.

Quinnipiac administration, we hope you are listening. Let this semester’s structure and the demanding needs of students who participated in it be a lesson to prioritize students’ mental health instead of leaving it on the back-burner.