Learn How to Manage Your Stress

Negative stress is a problem for some law students all year long, but it tends to be prevalent during the exam period.  It helps to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly about stress to deal with it.

There is such a thing as positive stress.  This type of stress helps us respond in an emergency, helps us perform well under pressure, encourages us to reach our potential, and gets us moving and being productive in our lives. 

When we talk about stress in law school, most people think of the negative stress which is also termed distress in the literature.  The symptoms of distress are warning signs to us that something is wrong and we need to deal with the situation.  Some of the common distress symptoms are:

  • Poor concentration
  • Short temper
  • Trembling hands
  • Churning stomach
  • Tight neck and shoulder muscles
  • Sore lower back
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Accelerated speech
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disruption

Distress can lead to decreased productivity when studying, physical illness, fatigue, loss of interest, and decreased satisfaction.  If high levels of distress are experienced for prolonged periods, physical and psychological disorders can result including migraine headaches, ulcers, colitis, high blood pressure, panic attacks, and more.  In addition, a law student's distress can affect their relationships with others.

What are some positive ways you can manage your stress:

  • Avoid being a perfectionist.  Work towards an excellent result rather than a perfect result.  Rarely does a law student get every possible point on an exam question.  Rarely does a law student write the perfect paper.
  • Break down large projects into smaller tasks so that you are not overwhelmed.  Break every topic into subtopics so that you can make progress in smaller time blocks and focus on manageable pieces. 
  • Avoid people and situations that add to your stress.  Steer clear of certain classmates who cause you more stress because of their attitudes, hyperactivity, panic, or competitiveness; end conversations diplomatically and go on your way.  Find locations to study that do not add to your stress.  If the law school is too stress-laden, go to other academic buildings, a coffeehouse, the university library, or the business center of your apartment complex.
  • Get enough sleep.  Sleep makes an enormous difference in our being able to manage stressful situations.  It gives our body the defenses to fight disease.  Getting sick during exams will only cause you to have more stress.
  • Practice stress release.  Get a massage (FREE MASSAGES TODAY!).  Do relaxation exercises.  Go for a run or swim.
  • Lower your alcohol, sugar, and caffeine intake.  All of these ingredients can cause your stress to increase even though you may initially think they are relaxing you or giving you energy.
  • Seek help if the stress is interfering with your life.  See a doctor or counselor if the stress has become more than what you can manage on your own. 

Take action to keep negative stress from getting the best of you.  It is far better to do something about it than wish you had later.  Adapated from a post on the Law School Academic Support Blog by Amy Jarmon.