Three students sitting on blankets at Farrand Field with laptops and textbooks to study.

It’s normal to feel stressed about midterms. Sometimes stress can be a good motivator, but too much can take a toll on our performance and well-being. Here are some things you can do if you’re feeling overwhelmed.


1. Make a list

Checking in with yourself can help you slow down when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Try grabbing a notebook or a scrap 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, deadlines, group projects, job stress, relationships, finances or general uncertainties.

Listing your stressors out on paper will help shed light on what is causing you the most stress right now. It’s also important to know that this exercise may also cause you to feel overwhelmed, and it’s okay if you need to take a deep breath, step away and come back to your list later on. The goal of doing this isn’t to create a to-do list or tackle every single item, it’s just to get a better understanding of things that might be contributing to stress.


2. Break it down

After you’ve created a 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 assignment, ask yourself why. Maybe it feels like there is too much to do and not enough time or perhaps you’re not sure how to begin. Once you’ve determined why the items on your list are causing stress, you can start breaking them up into smaller tasks to tackle. Start by focusing on things you can accomplish within 5 to 10 minutes. It could be as simple as emailing your professor with questions, organizing your citations or creating an intro slide in PowerPoint.

Study tip:

Try using the Pomodoro method to manage your time when studying or working through assignments. Here’s how it works:

  • Choose a task or assignment you’d like to work on.
  • Set a timer for 15 to 25 minutes.
  • When the timer goes off, take a five minute break to get water, walk around, breathe or just chill out.
  • Follow this cycle four more times.

After you’ve completed your forth cycle, take a longer break (20-30 minutes). This allows your brain to process information and relax before you start back up again. 


3. Prioritize your time

If you’re currently working through multiple assignments, projects or exams, it may feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. If this is the case, start by writing down each assignment, deadline and exam date. Use this list to plan your time backwards. Prioritize your work based on deadlines and the amount of time you think it will take to complete each task.

Jot down when you’re going to work on each task and commit to a schedule. While creating a roadmap in advance may not give you more time, it can help you visualize exactly where your time is going and how best to use it. We recommend using a planner or testing out apps like Todoist.


4. Maintain your energy

When we’re overwhelmed, even simple tasks can feel exhausting. Make sure you’re covering the basics by using HALT: are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? If the answer is yes, take care of that need first.

Hungry

Hunger can satisfy both our physical and emotional needs. Eating regularly can also help you maintain your energy and motivation to keep going. Plan ahead by packing snacks or preparing meals in advance. If you sometimes forget to eat, set a timer to remind you to take a break at meal times.

Angry

It’s normal to feel agitated, angry or frustrated during midterms. However, it’s important to find ways to move through your anger in a healthy way. Physical activity, movement, meditation and creative outlets can help. Find what works best for you, and be sure to make time to enjoy activities that help you work through feelings of stress and frustration.

Lonely

We tend to feel lonely or isolated when we don’t feel understood or have withdrawn into ourselves as a coping mechanism. If you’re feeling lonely, ask yourself if you’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.

Tired

While it can be tempting to pull all-nighters, prioritizing your sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting 7 to 9 hours of rest each night can be more helpful in the long run. Try to use the “do not disturb” function on your phone and put away all of your devices at least one hour before bed. If you’re tired during the day, consider taking a 15- to 20-minute nap. You can even use the nap pods located at the Rec Center or the Wellness Suite in Wardenburg Health Center.

It’s a good practice to address these needs regularly before they become an issue. 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.


5. Do 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 doing the “next right thing.”

The “next right thing” is the next simple step that is going to move you forward. Sometimes that means attending to the basics (HALT); other times it means tackling an item 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 stressed out or overwhelmed can help you identify the next right thing.


6. Celebrate small wins

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 ways you can celebrate the end of midterms:

  • 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 watching shows or movies or spending the day outside.
  • 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 helped you study or supported you through midterms (including yourself!).

7. Reach out for support

If you’re feeling stuck, having a hard time or aren’t sure what to do next, it’s okay to ask for help. Remember that you can reach out to friends, family, peers and professors for support. 

 Academic support

There are a number of academic services available on campus to help you study, write a paper or prepare for a presentation. Students can access tutoring services across campus through the residence halls, academic programs and other departments. The Writing Center is also available to help you with papers, presentations and more for free.

If you’re unsure about expectations or need clarifications on an assignment, be sure to reach out to your instructors or TAs for help. You can also visit them during office hours to help you get started in the right direction.

 Health and Wellness resources

If you need support for your mental or physical well-being, there are a variety of Health and Wellness Services available:

  • 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.
     
  • 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 mindfulness program designed to help students practice mindfulness exercises to help you feel more grounded and present.
     
  • 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.
     
  • The Rec Center is a great resource for staying connected with other Buffs and enjoying physical activity. They also offer a wide variety of free programs and events.
     
  • The Health and Wellness Summit in October is open to CU faculty, staff and students. Connect with other Buffs who want to live well, practice self-care and learn about campus resources. Registration is required to attend.

*If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) for crisis support