Maximizing Spring Break for mental health

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

  • Many college students look forward to the month of March and spring break, as a way to take time off from school and relax, to recharge for the second half of the spring semester, etc.
  • There are healthy and unhealthy options to keep in mind when considering a rejuvenating spring break.
  • This is important because unhealthy choices during spring break could create more problems for the rest of the semester.

What are unhealthy spring break patterns to avoid?

  • Excessive alcohol, including short term, binge drinking, has been shown to impact brain functioning (1 ), and grades (2), depression (3 ), increased risk of sexual assault (4 ). this can also increase your anxiety for the weeks and months to follow.

Low risk drinking recommendations can be found here (17 )

  • Cannabis use can worsen depression and suicidal ideation (5 ), brain functioning (6,7 ), sleep (8) and anxiety (8 ).
  • Sleep deprivation can impact academic performance (9, 10 ).
  • Consider minimizing caffeine intake since excessive caffeine intake can impact stress (11), and sleep (12, 13).

What are healthy spring break options to consider?

  • Catch up on sleep.
  • Rest your brain. If you’ve been studying intensely, reading, writing, analyzing, etc. it may be useful to rest those areas of the brain by doing different types of activities.
  • Minimize screen time, if possible. If you’ve spent a lot of time doing schoolwork on your computer, it may be useful to rest that part of your brain by doing different types of activities that don’t involve screens.
  • Eat well to fuel yourself properly and for optimal mental health. Examples include plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, etc. (14). This might also enhance recovery.
  • If you’ve spent a lot of time indoors, spending time outside, safely and to a point may be helpful for mental health ( 15, and 16).
  • Reduce isolation by spending time with others, if possible.
  • Other options include hiking/camping/other activities in nature, playing recreational sports, traveling to museums, art exhibits, beaches, shows, etc.
  • You might improve your mental health by doing something good in the community where you travel through programs like BUCK-I-SERV, and other service trips, etc. (18)

Tips on how to stay safe during spring break:

  • Since the number one cause of death in young adults is accidents, it may be wise to minimize/avoid high risk-hazardous activities (19).
  • Very useful link for Travel safety tips for spring break (20).

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. Zeigler DW, Wang CC, Yoast RA, Dickinson BD, McCaffree MA, Robinowitz CB, et al. The neurocognitive effects of alcohol on adolescents and college students. Prev Med. 2005;40:23–32.
  1. https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2014/09/12/does-alcohol-use-impact-your-grades/
  2. Boden JM1, Fergusson DM. Alcohol and depression. Addiction. 2011 May;106(5):906-14. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03351.x. Epub 2011 Mar 7.
  1. https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2015/10/21/study-alcohol-impacts-sexual-assault/
  2. Gobbi G, Atkin T, Zytynski T, et al. Association of Cannabis Use in Adolescence and Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidality in Young Adulthood: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online February 13, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4500
  3. Doss MK et al. Δ9-Tetrahydrocannibinol at retrieval drives false recollection of neutral and emotional memories. Biol Psychiatry 2018 May 9; [e-pub]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.04.020.
  4. Schuster RM, Gilman J, Schoenfeld D, et al. One month of cannabis abstinence in adolescents and young adults is associated with improved memory. J Clin Psychiatry. 2018;79(6):17m11977 .
  5. Hser YI, Mooney LJ, Huang D, et al. Reductions in cannabis use are associated with improvements in anxiety, depression, and sleep quality, but not quality of life. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2017;81:53-58.
  6. http://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2017/12/31/poor-sleep-and-poor-grades-might-go-together/
  7. Phillips AJK, Clerx WM, O’Brien CS, et al. Irregular sleep/wake patterns are associated with poorer academic performance and delayed circadian and sleep/wake timing. Scientific Reports.                2017;7:3216. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-03171-4.
  1. http://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2017/04/19/study-caffeine-stress-and-brain-function/
  2. T. Roehrs, T. Roth. Caffeine: sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep Med Rev, 12 (2) (2008), pp. 153–162.
  3. 13. H.P. Landolt, E. Werth, A.A. Borbely, D.J. Dijk. Caffeine intake (200 mg) in the morning affects human sleep and EEG power spectra at night. Brain Research, 675 (1–2) (1995), pp. 67–74.
  4. http://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2018/06/28/food-choices-to-improve-depression/
  5. Avery DH, Kouri ME, Monaghan K, Bolte MA, Hellekson C, Eder D. Is dawn simulation effective in ameliorating the difficulty awakening in seasonal affective disorder associated with  hypersomnia? J Affect Disord. 2002 May;69(1-3):231-6.
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm
  7. http://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2018/02/26/alcohol-and-grades/
  8. http://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2017/11/22/mental-health-benefits-of-volunteering/
  9. https://www.cdc.gov/family/springbreak/index.htm
  10. https://www.limcollege.edu/safety/are-you-prepared/spring-break