Too much on your mind? Here’s how to keep the "lizard brain" at bay

By Christy Cassisa, Esq.,
BARBRI Director, Professional Effectiveness

Congratulations, law school is done. Time to relax, right? Not when there is one last hurdle to becoming a licensed lawyer.


Every exam, study group and dollar spent on law school comes down to the next few months during your stressful bar exam studies. Stressful because of the major deadline looming, fear of failure and continuous depletion of physical resources that are your daily reality. All this causes chronic sympathetic nervous system arousal – in other words, “lizard brain.” A fight-flight-freeze survival mode that dates back to our prehistoric days as Paleolithic humans.


You may have already experienced chronic stress during law school. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include: headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, increased illness, upset stomach, chest pain, sleep disturbances, anxiety, lack of motivation or focus, irritability, restlessness, depression, angry outbursts and social withdrawal.


Your body is expending all its energy to stay alive. There’s not much left over for anything else, including memorizing black letter law, taking practice tests and remaining upright in your BARRBI classes. The lizard is driving your bus. And, as you might imagine, a frazzled lizard driving a bus can be detrimental to everyone and everything nearby, including the bus itself (that’s you).


Be Grateful. Every day, take a few minutes to think of 3-5 things for which to be grateful. Lawyers tend to be world-class pessimists, but research shows that this may not be good for our health. Remembering things that really matter can shift your focus to the positive, improving physical health and energy levels.

Make time for family and friends. Connect with the important people in your life. Your support system will help you feel less alone and improve your outlook.

Smile. Research has shown that the simple act of smiling can slow your heart and reduce stress, and may even help alleviate depression.

Meditate. Take a few minutes a day to be still and focus on your breathing. Recent research has shown that meditation can help prevent mind-wandering, increase focus, reduce stress, improve sleep and strengthen the immune system.

Plan the day. Map out time for studying, eating, sleeping, fun activities and exercise, for example. You’ll feel in greater control and get the most important things completed.

Eat, sleep, play. Healthy foods, enough sleep (seven hours minimum) and exercises that you enjoy (a groovy walk or dancing in the kitchen) are critical to your health.

Be your own cheerleader. We are often quite critical of ourselves. Become aware of your self-talk, challenge it and replace it with a positive mantra. Research shows that people with a positive outlook can fight off colds, can handle stress better and even live longer.

Laugh. Laughter has been shown to lower cortisol in your bloodstream, relax your muscles and improve your overall well-being.

Eat 1.4 oz of chocolate: Doing this every day for two weeks can actually lower your stress hormones.