Healthy Buffs: Setting expectations and finding success at CU Boulder

A new school year comes with new possibilities: academics, internships, friends, relationships, activities and experiences. As exciting as this all is, it can also become overwhelming pretty quickly, and we can get trapped by the weight of our own expectations. Prioritizing, re-shaping thinking patterns and learning how to resource are the first steps toward having a successful and healthy year.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

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

However, even when we’re prepared, stress can creep in. This isn’t always a bad thing! Some stress is actually “good” stress, because it keeps us motivated. When stress becomes overwhelming and impacts other areas of our lives—like 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, others may experience anxiety or panic attacks—however it comes out, it’s normal and good to acknowledge.

Stress Management

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

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

Perfectionism vs. High-Achieving

It’s important to address your expectations, too—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 regimen or upper-division seminar is in striving to be a high-achiever, not a perfectionist.

Perfectionism can be damaging to self-esteem, lead to problematic behaviors, and bring on a feeling that some things are simply impossible; high-achievers, on the other hand, measure only against themselves, and respect their limitations along the journey to reaching their full potential.

Re-frame your expectations using this distinction as a guide. Try setting goals that are within reach but still a stretch. Practice positive thinking, even during setbacks, 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 on this process to achieving your goals. Prioritize things like getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals regularly, making time for the activities you like doing, 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. Whether you want to meet new people, find a job, train for a race, or make Dean’s List, there are resources at CU to support you.

If the stress of expectations ever becomes too much or the balance of goals and wellness just isn’t there, Counseling and Psychiatric Services can also help—look for them at outreach events across campus or visit them in Wardenburg Health Center and C4C S440.

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