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.


  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.
  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.
  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].
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.





Study: Concussion and Head injury’s Impact on Grades and Emotions

Anyone is susceptible to  head injuries (from a fall, sports injury, trauma, etc.)  leading to a concussion. 

Concussions can cause a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that can last for several weeks (1). This can impact classwork, job performance, relationships, etc.

 What is a concussion? (1).

In short, concussion is a brain injury with the following features (1):

●It may be caused by a direct blow to the head, face, neck, or elsewhere on the body with an ‘impulsive’ force transmitted to the head; with or without loss of consciousness.

● Neurologic symptoms can start quickly and resolve spontaneously.

In some cases, symptoms and signs may evolve over minutes to hours.

● In many cases, symptoms may impact brain or nerve functioning but brain scans and other tests may be normal.

 What are some physical and emotional symptoms of a concussion?

  • Within minutes to hours of an injury: headache, dizziness, lack of awareness of surroundings, and nausea and vomiting (2).
  • Over hours and days, victims might have changes in mood, thinking or sleep (4).
  • They might also become more sensitive to light and noise, and sleep disturbances (4).

What are some observable signs that someone may have had a concussion following an injury?(2)

Signs observed in someone who might be experiencing a concussion after an injury might be (2):

Confusion (acting, appearing, or making confusing remarks or slow to respond or follow instructions

● In-attention or easily distracted or difficulty with follow through

● Emotional difficulties: (appearing distraught, crying for no apparent reason)

● Having difficulties with memory

● Loss of consciousness

● Becoming less coordinated (stumbling, inability to walk tandem/straight line)

 How can concussion impact academics?

A recent study by Wasserman and colleagues looked at the impact of concussions and grades/academics (3).

What was the study? (3)
204 Teenagers and college students (average age 16 years, ranging from 15 to 18 years of age) visiting one of three emergency departments within 24 hours after suffering a sports-related concussion or musculoskeletal extremity (bodily) injury.

 What did they study? (3)
Students interviewed 1 week and 1 month after the injury, participants completed a 29-item academic dysfunction questionnaire (higher score reflecting more dysfunction) (3).

176 completed the first interview and 153 the second interview (3).

 What were the results? (3)

  • Compared with students with extremity injuries, those with concussions took longer to return to school (mean days, 5.4 vs. 2.8) and scored 16 points higher on the dysfunction scale at 1 week post-injury (3).
  • 1 week after injury, high school and college students with concussions reported more academic dysfunction compared to those with extremity injuries (3).

 What do the results mean?

  • If you or someone you know has experienced a head injury, they may also have experienced a concussion. This can have an impact on emotional health, ability to perform at work, school, other aspects of life etc.
  • For some people this impact can last for a few weeks.
  • After a concussion, it may be important for you to be proactive about ongoing medical and mental health treatment.
1. McCrory P, et. al.  Consensus statement on concussion in sport: the 4th International Conference on Concussion in Sport held in Zurich, November 2012.  Br J Sports Med. 2013 Apr;47(5):250-8.
2. Kelly JP, Rosenberg JH.  Diagnosis and management of concussion in sports. Neurology. 1997;48(3):575.
3. Wasserman EB et al. Academic dysfunction after a concussion among US high school and college students. Am J Public Health 2016 Jul; 106:1247.
4. Cantu RC.  Posttraumatic Retrograde and Anterograde Amnesia: Pathophysiology and Implications in Grading and Safe Return to Play.  J Athl Train. 2001;36(3):244.