Students in masks studying at a long table.

So far this year has presented us with a lot of new challenges. Even when exciting changes happen, like making new friends or starting new classes, it can feel overwhelming. Prioritizing things that are important, evaluating your expectations and making use of resources are the first steps toward having a successful academic year. Here are five ways you can get ahead of stress this semester.  

Tackle stress before it becomes overwhelming

The best way to handle stress is to be proactive. Using time management skills like planning your schedule, keeping to-do lists and breaking up big assignments into smaller tasks can keep you on track and help you avoid last-minute panic.

Recognize good stress vs. bad stress

Feeling stressed from time to time is common and isn’t always a bad thing! Some stress is actually “good”, because it keeps you feeling motivated. When stress becomes overwhelming and impacts other areas of your life—like your health or relationships—it changes into “bad” stress.

Knowing how to recognize “bad” stress is important. It can look different for everyone: some may experience it as irritability and moodiness, others may have trouble sleeping or feel nauseated and some may experience anxiety or panic attacks. These are all normal ways for stress to manifest. Once you are in tune with how stress affects you, it can be easier to recognize when you may need to take a step back or seek out support.

Use positive coping skills

Finding healthy ways to cope with stress can make it easier to manage and keep your motivation up. Positive psychology research shows that physical activity, getting fresh air, laughing, meditating, talking with a friend and asking for help can all reduce stress and improve your outlook. Try some of these techniques to find the ones that work best for you.

Know the difference between perfectionism vs. high achievement

There is often a fine line between perfectionism and high achievement. Setting realistic expectations for yourself is important for stress management and can improve your overall experience at CU.

Try to reframe your expectations by setting goals that are challenging but within your reach, and break them down into smaller steps if they feel too big. Practice positive thinking, and learn to accept constructive feedback in a positive way. Your experience at CU is about enjoying the process, not just the outcome: growth often happens on the way to achieving your goals.

Focus on healthy habits

Staying healthy, physically and mentally, can also help you reach your goals. Prioritize things like getting enough sleep (7-9 hours per night), eating balanced meals, making time for the activities you enjoy and building positive relationships.

Check out CU resources

Need help along the way? Don’t be afraid to reach out. Whether you want to meet new people, learn something new or get advice on what to do next, there are a number of health and wellness resources at CU that can support you.

  • If expectations ever become too much or you feel overwhelmed, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) is here to help. Students can meet with a provider for an initial screening by making an appointment through their MyCUHealth portal. Screening appointments are used to develop individualized plans to improve your mental health, which may include therapy groups, topic-specific workshops, community providers, short-term individual therapy and psychiatry or a combination of these services.
  • SilverCloud is a confidential online portal that offers secure, immediate access to online programs for stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Mindful Monday is a weekly mindfulness program designed to help students work through mindfulness exercises to help you feel more grounded and present.
  • Peer Wellness Coaching is another free service available to CU Boulder students to help students set and achieve their wellness goals. This can be a great option for students looking to optimize their personal health and wellness, or make meaningful changes in their lives.
  • Wellness Wednesday is a weekly program where students can engage in self-care activities, learn about campus resources and build community. Students can come and go as they please, participate in the activity and have a one-on-one conversation with an emotional wellness peer educator to create a personalized self-care plan. Activities are free and open to all students!
  • Recreation Services provides free virtual fitness classes. Exercise and physical activity are great for reducing and managing stress.