Student lying on the floor with a book over their face surrounded by papers, a laptop, phone and textbooks.

Stress can be a good motivator, but too much of it can take a toll on our well-being. That’s why it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress, especially during midterms. Here are some things you can do if you’re feeling overwhelmed (by midterms or in general).

#1: Check in with yourself

When we feel overwhelmed, it can be hard to concentrate on anything else. You can help get yourself started by doing a quick check-in with yourself. Consider grabbing a notebook or spare piece of paper and doing a “brain dump.” Write a list of everything on your mind that may be contributing to how you’re feeling. This could include things like studying, upcoming tests or quizzes, projects, job stress, relationships or things you’re uncertain about.

Listing your stressors out on paper can shed light on what is causing the most amount of stress. It’s also okay to take a deep breath, step away and come back to your list at a later time. Be honest about how your list makes you feel (anxious, tired, excited, stressed out, etc.). 

#2: Break it down

After you’ve created a list and can identify how the list makes you feel, ask yourself why. 

For instance, if the most stressful item on your list is an assignment, ask yourself why. Maybe it feels like too much to do in too little time or perhaps you feel stuck or are confused about the directions. Once you’ve determined the causes of stress for the items on your list, you can start breaking them down into smaller tasks to tackle. Focus on things you can accomplish in 5-15 minutes. It could be as simple as emailing your professor with questions you have, organizing your sources or creating an intro slide in PowerPoint. 

#3: Organize your time

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by assignments, projects or exams, it can feel like there isn’t enough time to get it all done. If this is the case for you, start by writing it all out—every upcoming assignment, project, due date, etc.—and plan your time backwards. Prioritize your work based on deadlines and the amount of time it will take to complete each assignment.

Jot down exactly when you work on each task and commit to the schedule you set for yourself. Creating a roadmap in advance may not create more time, but it can help you to visualize exactly where your time is going and how to best use it. We recommend using a planner or testing out the ultimate to-do list and organizer app, Wunderlist, free on iOS and Android.

#4: Prioritize your needs

When we feel overwhelmed, even simple tasks can take a hit. Check to see if your basic needs are being met by using HALT: are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? If you answer yes to any of those, take care of those needs first.

Imagine you’re feeling hungry, but you decide to put off eating in order to study longer. In the long run, this will likely cause more stress. You’ll get hungrier, and the last stretch of work may become unbearable or you’ll start to lose focus. If you’re tired, your priority should be getting some rest even if it means that you’re not able to finish an assignment until tomorrow. Pushing ourselves to the limits and ignoring our basic needs is a quick way to experience burnout, which could slow us down even more. Taking care of yourself will not only help you, but it will also empower you to accomplish the other items on your list.

It’s a good practice to address these needs regularly before they become an issue. Remember to drink water throughout the day, make time to prepare and eat balanced meals and snacks, plan for at least 7 hours of sleep per night and don’t be afraid to work in a 20-minute power nap here and there too. If you need a reminder to do these things, try setting up alarms on your phone.

#5: Focus on doing the next right thing 

If you’re looking at your list, and your mind is still racing or you’re still feeling overwhelmed, try focusing on the “next right thing”.

This means focusing on the next simple step that is going to move us forward. Sometimes that means dealing with your basic needs (HALT); other times it means tackling one of the items on your list.

If the next right thing feels too hard to pin down, check in with yourself again. What feels the most overwhelming? Can you break it down into pieces? Can you tackle a small piece of it right now? Most importantly, have you done a HALT check-in and taken care of your basic needs?

Repeating this check-in process any time you’re feeling overwhelmed can help you identify the next right thing.

Health and Wellness resources

There are a number of great Health and Wellness resources available on campus to 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 through telehealth 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.
  • Peer Wellness Coaching is another free virtual service available to CU Boulder students to help you set and achieve your goals. This can be a great option for students looking to optimize their personal health and wellness, or make meaningful changes in their lives.
  • Mindful Monday is a weekly virtual mindfulness program designed to help students work through mindfulness exercises to help you feel more grounded and present.
  • Follow along with your favorite Rec Center instructors during free online meditations and stretching exercises to feel more grounded.
  • Wellness Wednesday is a weekly virtual 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!
  • The Health and Wellness Summit in October is a virtual event, open to CU faculty, staff and students. Connect with other CU students wanting to live well, practice self-care and learn about campus resources. Registration is required to attend.

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