Written by Catherine Mallia
You’re probably mentally exhausted from a busy session and couldn’t think of anything worse than keeping your brain switched on while on break. While downtime is certainly important, you could also use this time to mentally prepare and return to study with a clear head and focused mind. So here are some ideas to fine-tune your brain and fire up those neurons for the session ahead.
To prepare for stress
- Mental fitness training
These strategies build resilience, address negative mind-sets that block learning, improve self-confidence and sharpen problem-solving and memory skills, which are just as vital to your health as physical fitness. LeBron James has a great series on the Calm app that talks through his mindset preparing for high pressure games and strategies he uses to overcome the negative chatter. Ant Middleton from SAS Australia has an engaging book on ‘Mental Fitness’ that talks of his time in the SAS and the challenges he faced there and how mental fitness training helped with this. Whatever it is, use the time to focus on your mind.
This has countless benefits; learning to be in the moment; training your mind to allow thoughts to flow over you rather than gripping on to them; reducing stress and tension in the body, among others. Again, the Calm app has been invaluable for me in this training, but there are countless resources available for this today.
- Meal plan and bulk cook to stock up your freezer
Imagine racing home from work, with hours of lectures to catch up on and assessments weighing on your mind, worrying about what to have for dinner and the time it will take to cook it. How good would it be to have a freezer stocked with healthy, protein rich, brain food you can just heat up in 10 minutes?
- Declutter and organise your workspace
Start the semester with some new stationary and a clear and decluttered work area, at least for a little while before the papers pile up again.
For quick thinking and problem solving
- Maths apps, puzzles, crosswords, sudoku
Build quick thinking skills. The more you do the faster and more confident you become. Wouldn’t it be nice to start the semester not worrying about lagging maths skills?
- Learn a new skill
What have you always wanted to do? Start a new language, surfing, rollerblading, learn an instrument, skateboarding? Start now, why not?
- Computer games
Yes, they do have benefits. Problem-solving, attention, reasoning, spatial awareness, decision-making, and even team-work skills can be enhanced with computer games. Of course, neglecting sleep, real-world socialising or physical health are dangers of being absorbed by your screens but balancing a few hours here and there with real-life can help keep your mind sharp, and is also fun let’s face it.
For tuning out and winding down
- TV time
This speaks for itself really. Academic burnout is a real thing and not allowing some recovery time can see you head into the next semester already frazzled.
Blast it! Read up on your favourite musicians, sing loudly, go see some live bands, dance if you really have to. Just enjoy it.
You won’t have to feel as guilty saying no during busy times if you catch up with friends and family on break. You could even plan outings that increase your mental agility. Things like Paint and Sip nights where you learn painting skills while enjoying a beverage or two with friends can be great fun.
- Build good sleep habits
Start a wind down routine and make it a habit. Meditation, warm drinks, read a book. Headspace has a great series on Netflix that guides you through sleep habits and includes relaxation that can help you drift off peacefully, but there are so many more out there.
- Spend time in nature
Nature bathing improves mood, reduces stress, and may even help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Hike through a forest and spend the day spotting wildlife and staring at ancient trees imagining the things they’ve seen. Camp outside and stare at the stars, remembering how small humans are compared to the vastness of our universe.
For imagination, learning and memory
- Watch docos on your subject matter
There is so much more to your field of interest than what you cover in classes and busy semesters rarely give us the time to immerse ourselves enough to see the broader picture. Get a head start by watching something that catches your interest and gives you a new perspective on your study area. Studying wildlife biology? Watch something like Wild Babies on Netflix, it’s both adorable and informative. Studying psychology? Watch something like The Mind, Explained. You get the idea.
- Read fiction recreationally
Obvious benefits to this include increasing vocabulary, writing skills and boosting imagination, but it may also help us develop social skills, compassion and empathy through relating with characters and engaging yourself in their unique perspectives and way of life.
- Read non-fiction recreationally
You could read your textbooks if they interest you, but any non-fiction book can help you practice concentration, analytical skills, memory, forming opinions, and learning in general. All great boosts for your mind while on break.
This list isn’t exhaustive, exercise and eating well are also important for keeping your mind sharp and you may also have your own strategies. Trying to include all of these would burn you out before the session begins so I wouldn’t recommend that. The idea is to plan some activities like these into your break to sharpen your mind for the session ahead so that you don’t just scramble your way through, but thrive and enjoy the learning to come.