Published: Sept. 4, 2018 By

Starting the new school year at CU comes with new classes, friends, activities, relationships and more. As exciting as this all is, it can also become overwhelming and you can feel weighed down by your own expectation to do it all. Prioritizing, re-shaping thinking patterns and learning how to resource are the first steps toward having a successful and healthy year.

Person sits at table with computer, stressed outGood stress vs. bad stress

The best way to handle stress is by preparing for it. Time-management skills, such as planning your schedule, keeping to-do lists and breaking up big assignments into smaller tasks, will keep you on track and help avoid the side-effects of a last-minute panic.

Even when you’re prepared, of course, stress can still creep in. This isn’t always a bad thing! Some stress is actually “good” stress, because it keeps you motivated. When stress becomes overwhelming and impacts other areas of your lives, such as health and relationships, that’s when it becomes “bad” stress.

Knowing how to recognize this “bad” stress is important. It’s different for everyone: Some may experience it as irritability and moodiness; others may have trouble sleeping or feel nauseated, while some experience anxiety or panic attacks. However it comes out, it’s normal.

Stress management

Finding ways to deal with this stress will make it easier to move on and maintain your motivation. Try different techniques to relieve the pressure and see what works best for you.

Positive psychology research indicates that physical activity, getting fresh air and sunshine, laughing, meditating, deep breathing, talking things out with a friend and asking for help can all reduce stress and improve one’s outlook.

Perfectionism vs. high-achieving

It's important to address your expectations, both for reducing stress and having a better experience at CU. One of the most important distinctions you can draw, whether it’s about a new gym routine or a class, is striving to be a high-achiever and not a perfectionist.

Perfectionism can be damaging to self-esteem, lead to problematic behaviors and make it feel like doing it all is impossible. High-achievers, on the other hand, measure only against themselves, and respect their limitations along the journey to reaching their full potential.

Reframe your expectations using this distinction as a guide. Try setting goals that are realistic and within reach but still a stretch. Practice positive thinking and learn to react positively to constructive feedback. And enjoy the process, not just the outcome. A lot of our growth happens on the way to our goals.

Health and success

Keeping up with your health is also important, as it allows you to continue achieving your goals. Prioritize getting enough sleep (7–9 hours per night), eating balanced meals regularly, making time for the activities you enjoy and forming positive relationships.

Taking care of yourself through stress management, keeping a realistic perspective and prioritizing your wellness will make the path to success a lot smoother. And, when you need some help on the way, you can always reach out. CU offers services and resources for a wide variety of student needs.

If the stress of expectations ever becomes too much or the balance of goals and wellness just isn’t there, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) can help—find them at their main office in C4C N352 or at various locations on campus through their Let’s Talk program. All fee-paying students are entitled to free, unlimited groups and workshops through CAPS, as well, on topics from procrastination and productivity to meditation and stress management.

Follow @CUBoulderHealth on Facebook and Twitter for more tips and resources.

Healthy Buffs is a weekly series with tips and information on a variety of health topics important to college students. Learn more at colorado.edu/health.