5 must-try tips to reduce stress over finals | Health & Wellness Services

Photo of a student studying at a cafe with a latte.

Here’s some good news: the semester is almost over! And some bad news: it’s almost finals week. Whether you have exams or projects coming up, here are some practice tips to help you manage and reduce stress around finals.


Change the narrative

You may not realize it, but the way you talk to yourself can help (or hinder) your progress when working through stressful tasks. For instance, you may find yourself saying something like, “Ugh, I should really be studying right now.”

This type of self-talk can increase stress and create unnecessary pressure to complete a given task. Instead, try changing the narrative and see how you feel taking a gentler approach. For instance, you could say something like, “It would be a great kindness to my future self if I got  up right now and did XYZ.”

Changing the narrative in this way can help you practice self-compassion, which can be especially beneficial when you’re trying to work through stressful situations or demanding tasks. Keep in mind that this isn’t a foolproof formula. Changing the way you speak to yourself might not always make you jump into action, but it can help you be kinder to yourself in the process.


Prioritize and simplify self-care tasks

During stressful times, self-care may start to seem like a chore. When you can’t do everything you want to do, it’s important to identify which self-care tasks are necessary for you to function. Prioritize these tasks and simplify them whenever possible. Here are a few examples of tasks you can simplify:

HygienePracticing good hygiene can be difficult when you’re feeling burnt out, depressed or overwhelmed. However, it’s an important component of both our mental and physical health. If you don’t have the energy to take a shower, consider trying one of these simplified tasks:

  • Put a plastic or water-safe stool in your shower, so you can sit down and relax while you bathe.
  • Opt to wash your face and brush your teeth instead of a full shower. If you’re still struggling, consider investing in micellar face wipes, dry shampoo or wisp toothbrushes to simplify this task even further.

LaundryThe way we dress can be a reflection of our emotional state, and wearing clean clothes can help improve our well-being. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your laundry, consider trying one of these simplified tasks:

  • Try putting your clothes away into their respective drawers without folding them. This will allow you to still sort between shirts, pants and other articles of clothing while reducing the amount of time you spend folding or hanging them.
  • Wear your clothes more than once before washing. Most articles of clothing, like jeans, can be worn two or three times before they truly need to be washed.

Dishes: Whether you live alone or with roommates, dishes can be a task that causes many of us stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by dishes in the sink, consider trying this simplified task:

  • Opt to use paper plates and plastic utensils for meals until finals week is over. For those of us who are environmentally conscious, this may be a hard alternative to accept. However, it’s okay to pause your efforts to save the planet while you work on saving your own mental health. A few days of less-than-perfect sustainability won’t make or break your efforts overall.

Groceries and food: Eating regular meals and snacks can help you stay motivated and energized throughout finals. However, if the thought of grocery shopping feels like a burden, consider trying one of these simplified tasks:

  • Try ordering your groceries ahead of time for pickup. This allows you to browse and select products on your phone and schedule a time that works for you to come pick them up.
  • If you’re too overwhelmed to pick up your groceries, opt for delivery instead. Many grocers provide free or low-cost delivery services. You can also order groceries for delivery from retailers like Amazon.
  • If you’re struggling with food insecurity or need extra help affording groceries this month, check out the Buff Pantry at the UMC. They provide up to 20 pounds of food each week to students, staff, faculty and affiliates who need a helping hand.

Set boundaries

Boundaries are limits or rules that we set for ourselves and how we interact with others in order to protect our mental health, well-being and energy, among other things. You can set healthy boundaries during finals week by coming up with rules around projects, assignments and study sessions.

Here are a few examples of healthy boundaries during finals:

  1. My to-do list is here to serve me.
    Prioritizing and scheduling tasks is supposed to make your life easier, not more difficult or stressful. Remind yourself that to-do lists don’t need to be a looming reminder of what you still haven’t completed. Instead, try to think of how your to-do list can serve you. For instance, it may remove the burden of having to remember all of your upcoming tasks, or it may help you preserve energy when sorting through what your priorities should be.
     
  2. I can walk away and come back later.
    During finals, it may feel like you have to complete every study guide or project in one shot. However, it’s important to give yourself permission to walk away and come back later. In fact, this can actually improve your performance. Taking breaks and giving your brain a rest can help you retain information, boost your creativity and allow you to process information more effectively.
     
  3. My grades don’t define me.
    It’s pretty normal to feel like you have to perform well on your final exams. However, it’s important to remember that your value is not defined by your grades. Being good or bad at something (like studying or test-taking) has nothing to do with who you are as a person, friend, coworker or son/daughter. Remind yourself that you’re still a kind, smart, capable person even if your grades this week don’t perfectly reflect those qualities.
     
  4. This is temporary.
    How you’re feeling today won’t be how you feel forever. Remind yourself that finals are temporary (and so is college). How you do on your exams won’t determine the rest of your life, even if it feels that way right now. Instead of focusing all of your energy into your current circumstances, try imagining how you might feel seven days from now, seven months from now and seven years from now. More likely than not, as time passes, how you do on college exams won’t seem as dire.

Focus on 15-minute wins

Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed, it can be hard to start even the simplest of tasks. If this sounds familiar, try challenging yourself to commit to 15 minutes of productivity. This technique lends itself well to work, life and care tasks. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Pick a single task
    Pick any task, large or small. This can include things like creating a study guide, packing for winter break, working through practice problems, paying a bill, doing the dishes, finally returning that Amazon purchase or anything else you can think of.
     
  2. Start the clock
    Set your timer for fifteen minutes. This will give you enough time to make progress without derailing your entire schedule for the day. You can use a kitchen timer, stopwatch or phone.
     
  3. Allow resistance
    Oftentimes when people feel resistance to a task, they immediately stop, quit, procrastinate or distract themselves with other things (hello, TikTok). Because of this, feelings of resistance often become an excuse to not take action on a task. However, if you can allow yourself to feel discomfort and still take action in spite of it, you’ll be able to make meaningful progress toward any goal. This is the foundation work of cultivating grit—the ability to persevere through long-term goals.
     
  4. Challenge yourself
    Turn tasks and deadlines into a game with yourself. Can you complete something in less than fifteen minutes? Can you complete a task in less time than it took you previously? Can you make it fun?

Treat rest as a right, not a reward

You do not need to earn the right to rest, connect or recreate. Practicing self-care often means we must unlearn the idea that all tasks must be completed before we can sit down and relax. The truth is, your to-do list will never really be done. There will always be something else to do tomorrow or next week or next year.

Give yourself unconditional permission to rest (yes, even during finals week). It can be helpful to jot down some ideas of things that feel mentally, physically or spiritually rewarding. Consider things like reading a good book, going for walks, spending time with friends you haven’t seen in a while, crafting or exploring new hobbies. When you feel burnt out from exams or studying, spend some time doing things you genuinely enjoy, whether you have five minutes or five hours of free time.


Finals resources

For a full list of support resources, events, study spaces and additional tips, visit colorado.edu/finals.

Additional resources

Let’s Talk

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides free drop-in services through Let’s Talk. Counselors are available in person and online to help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources related to academics, stress, anxiety, substance use, relationships and more.

Peer Wellness Coaching

Meet one-on-one with a trained peer wellness coach to set wellness goals and connect with campus resources. Coaches are available to help you create a plan to study, reduce stress, manage your time, create a sleep schedule or routine, practice self-care and more.

Disability Services

Disability Services is dedicated to providing students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in university programs, courses and activities through reasonable accommodations and services. If you’re planning to use testing accommodations, make sure you’re on the same page as your instructors about how they’ll be administered.

Workshops

CAPS provides weekly workshops that can help students develop healthy coping skills related to stress, anxiety and other painful or distressing emotions. All workshops are covered by the mental health fee. Join virtually by signing up online at MyCUHealth. 

Weekly programs

Health and Wellness Services offers weekly programs to help you develop healthy habits, participate in self-care and take a break from academics. Programs are available throughout the week and are free to all CU Boulder students.

Tutoring services

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.

Writing Center

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.

Grade Replacement Program

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. 

AcademicLiveCare

AcademicLiveCare is a telehealth platform that allows students to schedule and attend mental health appointments from a smartphone, computer or other mobile device for free. Easily schedule virtual visits with licensed psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, or other providers. Please note: AcademicLiveCare does not provide crisis or emergency care.

WellTrack

Health and Wellness Services has launched a new mental health app for students, staff and faculty! Download WellTrack to track your mood, practice skills and complete modules. WellTrack is available on the App Store and Google Play. Sign in with your IdentiKey for free access.

Figueroa Wellness Suite

The Wellness Suite is a great place to rest and reset. Whether you need a nap, want to pick up free health and wellness supplies, or if you just want to find a quiet place to study, the Wellness Suite provides a relaxing environment for students.

Free Finals Week at The Rec

The Rec Center will be hosting free activities and events for all students with a Buff OneCard during finals week, including ice skating, bouldering and climbing shoe rentals and fitness classes!

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