9 Tips To Keep Your Over-Stressed, Over-Worked “Lizard Brain” At Bay

When law school graduation arrives, it’s time to relax … right? Not so fast. Not when the bar exam is on the not-so-distant horizon. One last hurdle to becoming a licensed lawyer, your ultimate personal and professional goal.

WE’RE ONLY HUMAN … WITH A “LIZARD BRAIN”

There’s so much pressure surrounding the bar exam. Passing means everything – mostly the opportunity to actually practice law and make a decent living doing it. Before that becomes your reality, you have to deal with the major stress of preparing for the bar exam. You are now on a deadline because the bar exam is happening on time, as scheduled, whether you are ready or not. You fear failure, which is totally normal. All this causes chronic sympathetic nervous system arousal – in other words, “lizard brain.” It’s a fight-flight-freeze survival mode that goes way back to our prehistoric days as Paleolithic humans.

YOU KNOW WHY, NOW THE SYMPTOMS

It’s likely that you may already have experienced chronic stress during law school. According to the Mayo Clinic, “lizard brain” 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.

IT WANTS TO DRIVE YOUR BUS

Considering the laundry list of symptoms, your body expends quite a bit, if not all, its energy to keep you going. It’s survival, literally. And that level of energy consumption doesn’t leave much for anything else, especially when you need to be able to memorize black letter law, take practice exams or simply remain upright during lectures. The lizard is driving your bus with the pedal to the metal. 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).

9 TIPS FOR TAKING BACK CONTROL

  1. Be Grateful. Every day, find time to reflect on 3-5 things you appreciate. Lawyers tend to be world-class pessimists. Remembering things that really matter can help you focus on the positive and, in turn, improve your overall physical health and much-needed energy levels.
  2. Make time for family and friends. Stay connected with the important people in your life. Your support system will help you feel less alone, or isolated, and keep your outlook positive.
  3. Smile. Research has shown that the simple act of smiling can slow your heart rate and reduce stress. Smiling more may even help alleviate depression.
  4. Meditate. Take a few minutes each day. Be still and focus on your breathing. Research has shown that meditation can help prevent mind-wandering, increase focus, reduce stress, improve sleep and strengthen the immune system. Om … Om … Om …
  5. Plan the day. Map out time for studying, eating, sleeping, fun activities and exercise, for example. You’ll feel prepared and ready, less anxiety, greater control and, ultimately, get the most important things completed. It will save you time, too.
  6. Eat, sleep, play. Smart food choices, enough sleep (seven hours minimum) and exercises that you enjoy (could be a nice walk outside or dancing at home, when nobody’s watching) are important to your health.
  7. Be your own cheerleader. We’re 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, handle stress better and – bonus! – even live longer.
  8. Laugh. Laughter has shown to lower cortisol in your bloodstream, relax your muscles and improve your overall well-being.
  9. Eat 1.4 oz. of chocolate: Doing this every day for two weeks can actually lower your stress hormones. How much is 1.4 ounces of chocolate exactly? Google it and you’ll see there are many choices and brands you may like.