The end of the semester can be stressful, especially with exams coming up. In some cases, stress can be a good motivator to help you get things done, but too much can take a toll on your well-being and performance.
Here are some techniques you can use if you’re feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed.
1. Do a 'brain dump'
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes the best thing to do is slow down and check in with yourself. Take some time to grab a notebook or scrap piece of paper to do a ‘brain dump.’ Write down everything on your mind that is causing you to feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. This could include things like studying, upcoming exams, group projects, job stress, relationships, finances or uncertainty.
Listing these items on paper can help shed some light on what is causing you the most stress at this moment. It’s important to know that it’s okay if you need to take a deep breath, step away and come back to your list later if it feels like too much. The goal if doing a ‘brain dump’ isn’t to create a never-ending to-do list or to tackle everything on your list.
It’s simply a way to practice mindfulness and get clarity around what is causing you to feel so stressed. Looking at your list and focusing on the things that are both important and timely can help you prioritize what to put your energy toward. This can also help you avoid feeling like you have to accomplish everything you just wrote down right away.
2. Start small (like, really small)
After you’ve created your list and can identify how the various items make you feel, ask yourself why.
For example, if the most stressful item on your list is an upcoming group project, ask yourself why. Maybe you feel like group members aren’t contributing or there is too much to get done in too little time.
Once you’ve determined why the things on your list are stressing you out, you can start breaking them up into tasks to tackle. It’s important to start small, like, really small. Focus on things you can accomplish in five to 10 minutes. It could be as simple as emailing your professor with questions, organizing your citations, scheduling a group meeting, writing a few sentences for a paper or creating the intro slide for a PowerPoint presentation.
This method works because when you look at the entirety of things you have to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, which can stall your progress. Concentrating on small, incremental progress, can help you get out of a rut, reduce your stress and help you stay motivated.
3. Plan backwards
If you’re trying to work through multiple assignments, projects or study guides, it may feel like you’ll never get it all done. If this sounds like you, start by writing down each assignment, deadline and exam date you have coming up. Then, use this list to help plan your time backwards. Prioritize your work based on deadlines and the amount of time you think it will take to complete each task.
It may also be helpful to create a schedule for yourself, so you can stay on task. For instance, you may decide to work on your paper for two hours in the afternoon, take a break, and then start working on your study guides for a couple more hours in the evening. While creating a roadmap in advance may not give you more time in the day, it can help you visualize exactly where your time is going and how to best use it. We recommend using a paper planner or testing out apps like Todoist.
4. Do the next right thing
If you’re sitting there looking at your list and feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, try to focus on doing the ‘next right thing.’ Ask yourself, what is one small step that you can take to propel you forward or gain momentum?
If you’re struggling to pin down what the ‘right’ thing is, take a moment to check back in with yourself. What feels most overwhelming? Can you break it into pieces? Can you tackle one small thing right now? Have you taken care of your most basic needs, like eating, resting and taking breaks?
Repeating this check-in process any time you start to get overwhelmed again can help you identify what you need in the moment, so you can make it through the end of the semester in one piece.
5. Relinquish control
Once you’ve submitted an assignment or project, that’s it. Relinquish your control over the outcome and allow yourself to accept that it’s in your instructor’s hands now. Try to avoid ruminating over things you may have gotten wrong, problems you didn’t finish or areas where you could have done better. Instead, allow yourself to breathe a sigh of relief that you completed something on your to-do list and you can now focus on other things.
6. Make time for yourself
As you work through your study schedule, don’t forget to prioritize and make time for yourself. Taking care of your needs outside of studying can help you stay motivated, boost your mental health and feel better overall.
Focus on making time for things like:
7. Revel in the small victories
Allow yourself to bask in the success of small victories. Whether you’ve been studying for one exam or several, it’s important to acknowledge the progress you’ve made.
Here are a few ideas you can use:
Have a nice dinner. Cook your favorite meal or order something special from your favorite local restaurant.
Take a day off. Give yourself a day off to relax and recharge, whether that means curling up on the couch, getting outside or spending time with friends.
Treat yourself. Congratulate yourself on your progress with a small treat, such as an extra special coffee order.
Practice gratitude. Take some time to express gratitude for those who have been helping you study or who have supported you through stressful moments (including yourself!).
8. Don't do it all on your own
Sometimes, it takes a village and it’s important to remember that you don’t have to navigate stress, anxiety or other challenges on your own. Instead, connect with campus resources to help you through it.
CU Boulder offers a wide variety of tutoring services. Some are specific to classes, departments or groups of students, while others are available campus wide. Many of these services are free to use. If you aren’t sure where to begin, be sure to check your syllabus, and ask your professor or course assistant for help and referrals.
The Writing Center provides free one-to-one tutoring sessions with professionally trained writing consultants, individualized guidance and feedback, as well as time-saving skills for writing and presentation projects. The Writing Center is available to all CU Boulder undergrad and graduate students for free.
This program allows degree-seeking undergrad and graduate students to retake a course in which they earned a low grade in an attempt to improve their cumulative GPA.
Disability Services support students, staff and faculty with accommodation requests, implementation, guidance and general information. If you need testing accommodations for finals week, be sure to reach out to them.
If you need support for your mental or physical well-being, there are a variety of Health and Wellness Services available:
Are you feeling anxious about classes, upcoming exams or projects? Join Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) for a free two-part workshop to learn practical, life-long skills to help you manage and reduce anxiety.
Are you struggling with motivation, feeling overwhelmed or out of control? Join CAPS for a free, three-part workshop to learn practical skills to help you get back on track and feel better fast.
Let's Talk is a free service that allows students to check in with a counseling provider virtually or in person for a brief, confidential consultation. Let’s Talk counselors can help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources. Students commonly visit with concerns about stress, sadness, worry, relationships, academic performance, family problems and financial struggles.
AcademicLiveCare is a free telehealth platform that allows you to schedule and attend mental health appointments from anywhere.
SSCM assists students to reduce the adverse impact of challenging situations through connection with campus partners, community resources and support systems, encouraging success through individualized planning.
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.