Midterms season is in full swing. During this time, many students may experience increased stress levels as papers, projects, assignments and exams are due. It’s important to remind your student to take care of themselves and seek out support as needed.
Here are seven tips to share with your student to help them manage midterm stress.
1. Brain dump
Encourage your student to check in with themselves about how they’re really doing. We recommend trying out a “brain dump”. During this exercise your student should write down everything on their mind that is causing them to feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. This could include things like studying, upcoming exams, deadlines, group projects, relationships, work responsibilities, finances or other general uncertainties.
Listing stressors out on paper can help students shed light on what is causing them the most stress right now. It’s important to know that this exercise isn’t intended to cause students more stress or force them to create a to-do list. Instead, students are encouraged to use this as an opportunity to better understand the sources of stress in their lives.
2. Break it down
Once students have made their list, it’s important to encourage students to ask themselves why.
For instance, if the item causing your student the most stress is an upcoming assignment, ask them why. Maybe it feels like there is too much to do and not enough time or perhaps they’re not sure how to begin.
This is an important step in the process, because it allows students to break down their list into smaller, more manageable tasks that they can tackle. Encourage your student to focus on things they can accomplish within five or ten minutes. It could be as simple as emailing their professor with questions, organizing a list of citations or creating an intro slide in PowerPoint.
3. Time management
If your student is working through multiple assignments, projects or exams, they may assume it’s impossible to complete every single task. In these cases, it’s helpful for students to write down each assignment, deadline and exam date. It can be especially helpful to use a planner or calendar to keep track of these important dates and deadlines.
Encourage your student to prioritize their work based on what is coming due and the amount of time they think it may take to complete a given task. It may be helpful for them to jot down when they’re going to work on specific assignments and commit to a planned schedule. Remind your student that creating a roadmap in advance may not give them more time, but it can help them visualize exactly where their time is going and how to best use it.
4. Basic needs
When we’re feeling overwhelmed, even simple tasks can feel exhausting. Make sure your student is meeting their basic needs by using the acronym: HALT.
Hunger can be a signal to satisfy our physical and emotional needs. Eating regularly can also help students maintain their energy and motivation. Encourage your student to plan ahead for longer days on campus by packing snacks or prepping meals in advance. If your student sometimes forgets to eat, it can be helpful to remind them to set a timer or alarm in their phone for breaks and meal times.
It’s normal for students to feel agitated, angry or frustrated during midterms. However, it’s important to help your student find ways to move through their anger in a healthy way. Physical activity, movement, meditation and creative outlets can help. Encourage your student to explore options that work best for them, and remind them to make time to enjoy activities that help them work through feelings of stress and frustration.
Students can sometimes struggle with feelings of loneliness or isolation when they don’t feel understood or have withdrawn into themselves as a coping mechanism. If your student appears to be struggling, ask them if they’ve reached out to anyone recently. Calling a friend, visiting a loved one, making time to be social or connecting with a mental health provider can all help ease feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Students are often tempted to pull all-nighters. However, reminding them to prioritize their sleep schedule to ensure they’re getting 7 to 9 hours of rest each night can be more helpful in the long run. Encourage your student to use the “do not disturb” function on their phone and put away their devices before bed. If they’re still feeling tired during the day, encourage them to take a short nap. Students can use nap pods on campus to help them feel extra rested.
5. The next right thing
Let’s be honest: Your student may look at their list and feel completely overwhelmed. When this happens, it’s important to help them focus on doing the “next right thing.”
The “next right thing” is the next simplest step that is going to help move your student forward. Sometimes this means attending to their basic needs (HALT); other times it means committing to start a single item on their list.
If the next right thing feels too hard for your student to pin down, encourage them to check in with themselves again. What feels the most overwhelming? Can they break it down into smaller pieces? Can they tackle one of the smaller pieces right now?
Reminding your student to repeat this check-in process anytime they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed can help them remember that it only takes one small step to gain forward momentum.
6. Small wins
Help your student bask in the glory of small achievements. If they call to tell you about an exam or how much they’ve been studying, acknowledge the progress they’ve made. You can also encourage them to celebrate the end of midterms by:
- Having a nice dinner at home or at their favorite restaurant
- Taking a day off to relax and practice self-care
- Treating themselves to an extra special coffee order or a trip to the movies
7. Support resources
If your student is feeling stuck right now or isn't sure what to do, let them know it’s okay to ask for help. They can reach out to friends, family, peers, professors and campus resources for help!
There are a number of academic resources on campus that can help students study, write papers or prepare for exams.
Students can access tutoring services across campus through the residence halls, academic programs and other departments.
The Writing Center is available to help all CU Boulder students with papers, presentations and more for free.
If your student is unsure about expectations or needs clarifications on an assignment, encourage them to reach out to their instructors or TAs for help. Students can also visit them during office hours for additional support.
If your students need help managing stress, practicing self-care or learning healthy coping techniques, there are a number of wellness resources that can help.
Let's Talk is a free service that allows students to check in with a mental health provider for a brief, confidential consultation. Let’s Talk counselors can help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources.
Peer Wellness Coaching is a free service that allows students to access peer-based support. Peer wellness coaches can help students set and achieve their goals related to relationships, academics, wellness and more.
Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers free virtual workshops to help students practice healthy coping skills to manage stress, anxiety or other distressing emotions.
Health Promotion offers free activities like mindfulness, self-care planning, stress management and studying tips every Wednesday. These events are open to all undergrad and grad students.
The Rec Center is a great resource to help students stay connected with other Buffs and enjoy physical activity. They also offer a wide variety of free programs and events.
WellTrack is a free app designed to help students understand their mental health and provide lifelong coping skills. Students can sign up for free using your CU Boulder IdentiKey.
AcademicLiveCare is a telehealth platform that allows students to schedule and attend mental health appointments for free. Easily schedule virtual visits with licensed psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, or other providers.