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Being in college can be a whirlwind of new classes, internships, friends, relationships, activities and more. As exciting as this all is, it can also become overwhelming and we can feel trapped by the weight of our own expectations.

Prioritizing, re-shaping thinking patterns and learning how to resource are the first steps toward having a successful and healthy time during college.

Good stress vs. bad stress

The best way to handle stress is by preparing for it. Time-management skills like planning your schedule, keeping to-do lists and breaking up big assignments into smaller tasks will keep you on track and help you avoid the side effects of a last-minute panic.

Even when we’re prepared, of course, stress can still creep in. This isn’t always a bad thing! Some stress is actually “good” stress because it keeps us motivated. When stress becomes overwhelming and impacts other areas of our lives—such as health and relationships—that’s when it becomes “bad” stress.

Knowing how to recognize this bad stress is important. It’s different for everyone: Some may experience it as irritability and moodiness; others may have trouble sleeping or feel nauseated; others may experience anxiety or panic attacks—however it comes out, it’s normal. No matter how our bodies react to stress, learning ways to manage it can help us stay healthy in mind and body.

Stress management

Stress management is a task of balance. Learning to listen to how stress shows up in our bodies and minds helps with finding that balance. There are certain times in our lives, particularly when we are students, where tasks require a lot of attention so it is important to understand that managing stress can be a process over the course of a few days, or can be as simple as a five-minute breathing exercise.

No two people will respond to an identical stressor the same way, so trying different methods for managing stress can help with finding one that works for you. When addressing stress, tuning into our sense is a great way to stay present when anxiety hits. For instance, targeting the physiological response by naming what we see, hear and feel can in turn help calm a speedy mind.

It is important to identify methods that help us care for our nervous systems to counteract the negative effects of stress and anxiety. For instance, bringing our thoughts to the present has tremendous benefits for our physical and emotional wellbeing. Take time to be outside and be mindful of your senses. Take advantage of free time by engaging in old hobbies or explore new ones. Explore apps, podcasts, YouTube videos and other resources for guided relaxations you can do at home.

Perfectionism vs. high-achieving

It's important to address your expectations, too, both for reducing stress and having a better experience at CU Boulder. One of the most important distinctions you can draw, whether it’s about a new gym routine or a class, is striving to be a high-achiever and not a perfectionist.

Perfectionism can be damaging to self-esteem, lead to problematic behaviors and bring on a feeling that things are impossible; high-achievers, on the other hand, measure only against themselves and respect their limitations along the journey to reaching their full potential.

Reframe your expectations using this distinction as a guide. Try setting goals that are within reach but still a stretch. Practice positive thinking, and learn to react positively to constructive feedback. And enjoy the process not just the outcome: A lot of our growth happens on the way to our goals.

Health and success

Keeping up with your health is also important, as it allows you to continue achieving your goals. Prioritize things like getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals regularly, making time for the activities you like doing and forming positive relationships.

Taking care of yourself through stress management, keeping a realistic perspective and prioritizing your wellness will make the path to success a lot smoother. And, when you need some help along the way, you can always reach out. Whether you want to meet new people, find a job, train for a race, or make Dean’s List, there are resources at CU to support you.