Published: Feb. 5, 2019 By

Woman with head down, stressed out over laptop computer

It’s official: syllabus week is over. Now what? As we approach mid-semester, you may begin to feel the stresses of an increased workload and added responsibilities outside of school. Here are some tips to help you move past the stress.

Give yourself a reality check

What things in your life feel overwhelming? Write out a list of everything on your mind. This could include things like upcoming tests, projects, job stress or relationship issues.

Listing your stressors out on paper will allow you to be more mindful about what is truly causing you to feel overwhelmed. It’s also okay to take a deep breath, step away and come back to your list at a later time. Being mindful doesn’t always bring a sense of calm or bliss – it can actually be quite uncomfortable. In the end, though, it’s important to be present and understand all the things that are going on in your life that may be causing unneeded stress in order to move forward.  

Be honest about how your list makes you feel (anxious, tired, excited, etc.). Acknowledge those feelings and remind yourself that they are temporary. Ask yourself why these things make you feel that way. For instance, if the most stressful item on your list is an assignment, ask yourself why. Maybe it feels like there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it, maybe you’re feeling stuck or are confused about the directions. Once you’ve determined the causes of stress for the items on your list, start breaking them down into smaller tasks to tackle. It could be as simple as going to your professor’s office hours, doing a half hour of research or writing an intro paragraph.

Prioritize your needs

When we feel overwhelmed, even simple things can take a hit. Check in with yourself using HALT: are we Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? If you answer yes to any of those, take care of those needs first.

Imagine you’re feeling hungry, but you decide to put off eating in order to study longer. In the long run, this will likely cause more stress. You’ll get hungrier, and the last stretch of work may become unbearable or you’ll start to lose focus. If you’re tired, your priority should be getting some rest even if it means that you’re not able to finish an assignment until tomorrow. 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.

Do the next right thing

Sam Randall, program manager at the CU Collegiate Recovery Center (CUCRC), understands that when things pile up it can leave us feeling at a loss. If you’re looking at your list, your mind is racing or you’re feeling overwhelmed, Sam suggests focusing on the “next right thing”.

This means focusing on the next simple step that is going to move us forward. Sometimes that means dealing with your basic needs (HALT); other times it means tackling one of the items 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 overwhelmed can help you identify the next right thing.

Get support

Everyone goes through periods of stress. Reach out to your support system for help or try out one of these workshops from Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) to get you started.

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