Published: Feb. 25, 2019

stressed studentAs students get further into the semester, they might feel pressure from all different directions. While it’s important to be aware of our responsibilities, encourage your student to also look out for their energy and well-being. Here’s how to help them move past stress. 

Reality checking

The first step is to become mindful of whatever is causing those overwhelming feelings. Suggest your student try this simple strategy: write out a list of everything on their mind, like upcoming tests, projects, job stress or relationship issues. The act of getting the list onto paper lets them take a deep breath for a moment, knowing they can return to the list at any time. It also helps us work together to make an objective, mindful plan for moving forward.

Being mindful isn’t necessarily feeling calm or blissful—rather, it’s about being present and aware of what’s going on. Looking at their list, your student can become aware of how they’re feeling (anxious, tired, excited, etc.) and start to break things into smaller, more manageable pieces.

For example, if the most stressful item on the list is an assignment, check in about why it feels so daunting—maybe it feels like there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it. Once your student is aware of the source of their stress (the size of the project), help to break it up into smaller tasks. You can recommend they go to office hours with a professor, do a half an hour of research to start or write an intro paragraph.

If the stressor is something like a fight with a friend, it’s good to acknowledge what we can and can’t do to make it better. Remind your student that in any relationship, we can reach out and arrange a time to talk things out, but that may mean things aren’t resolved for a few days. If they’ve at least taken the first step, support them in taking a break from the issue until it’s time to address it with the friend.

Prioritizing needs

When we start feeling stressed, even the simple things can take a hit. The best way to minimize the impact of stress is by getting back on track. Check in with your student using the HALT acronym: are they Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? If so, these needs should be taken care of before anything else. Encourage them to do this check-in themselves! 

For example, if they’re hungry, putting off dinner to keep studying won’t help in the long run (and might make the last stretch of work unbearable). If they’re tired, they need to get sleep—even if it means not finishing up an assignment until tomorrow. These basic needs are within their control, and taking care of them will not only help but empower them to accomplish the other items on their list. 

Doing the next right thing

Sam Randall, program manager at the CU Collegiate Recovery Center (CUCRC), understands how things can pile up. When we’re looking at our list, or our minds are racing and we’re feeling overwhelmed, she advises focusing on the “next right thing.” Talk this through with your student.

The “next right thing” means looking at the situation they’re in and focusing on the next simple step that feels right for them. Sometimes it’s dealing with basic needs, like eating. Other times it’s tackling the first item on the list, like emailing a professor. When we focus in, we can give our full attention and energy to taking that first step: doing the next right thing.

If the next right thing feels too hard to pin down, encourage them to check in again. What feels the most overwhelming? Can they break it down into pieces? Can wethey tackle any of it right now? Have they done a HALT check-in and taken care of those basic needs? Repeating this check-in process any time we feel stressed can help us identify the next right thing. 

Getting support

Everyone goes through periods of stress. If your student is interested in learning more about how to work with their mind and move forward, check out these free workshops from Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS).