Ask a Former Stress Addict: To Potato or Not to Potato, That is the Question

Dear Fiona,

I’m really looking forward to winter break because I need the break from schoolwork, but all that time off makes me super unproductive. I like having nothing to do, but I don’t like how lazy I get when I have nothing to do. How do I get the downtime that I need without becoming a couch potato?

– Sad Slouch


Dear Sad Slouch,

I have exactly the same problem. Winter break is a great time to catch up on sleep, but at the same time, when you find yourself going to bed at 4 a.m. and waking up at 2 p.m., you’ve got to realize there’s a problem. On top of that, in the time that you are awake, you don’t do anything productive; you just lie around and watch Netflix, play video games, or read trashy magazines and novels. Never changing out of your pajamas becomes the norm, and the prospect of putting on actual clothes and spending time with real human people is terrifying. I call this potato-ing.

You become this immovable couch potato who can’t function. A certain amount of winter break potato-ing is OK, and in fact, I would argue that it’s necessary. However, since our winter break is so freaking long, if you spend the whole break being a potato, then it becomes unhealthy.

One of the things you can do to make sure you don’t potato away your break is have someone who will plan activities and then make you participate. Whether it’s your parent, your sibling, your friend or a significant other, it’s nice to have someone who will push you to get out of the house and not just be a tired lump on the couch.

However, if that individual has a life of some sort—which is likely—and can’t necessarily be helping you out of your potato-y slump all the time, or you just don’t have anyone who can fit that role, then it is important to have a few other tools at your disposal.

For example, you can make a schedule for yourself. I suggest this all the time, I know, but please bear with me. This can be as simple as establishing a daily routine—that hopefully involves you getting up before noon—and sticking to it.

On the other hand, if you want to play it a little more loosey-goosey day-to-day, you can create a sort of larger-scale schedule for the break. It would be something like, “I will have bought all my holiday presents by ___” or “I will have ordered all my textbooks for next term by ___.” This kind of thing can help spur you to be productive.

Another thing you can do is think up some craft projects that you can do over the break. That way you have something to accomplish or some sort of goal to meet before the end of the break. Then you have a reason to get up at a sensible hour and actually put on clothes, since you will need to work on your project or go and get supplies for it. Your project can also be a nice destresser from the academic work you’ve been doing all term. It should not feel like a burden, so pick something you really enjoy doing or teach yourself how to do something you’ve always been curious about—as long as it’s safe to do at home, of course. Don’t try and teach yourself how to tattoo people or something of that sort.

Basically, the trick is to find things other than Netflix to occupy your time. It really sucks when the end of the break rolls around and you feel like you wasted it sitting on your butt. Go out into the world and experience things! You’re finally out of the Lawrence bubble — make the most of it!

Good luck!

– Fiona