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.

#The3Llife: Keeping Stress Under Control

GUEST BLOG Katie R. Day,
Quinnipiac University School of Law, J.D. Candidate 2018

Full Disclosure: I barely had time to write this post.

Between classes, clubs, homework, and things ramping up at my part-time job, I’ve been feeling stretched a bit thin. Why am I writing about this? Because I have a feeling I’m not alone.

As law students, we’re usually insanely busy, it’s part of the job description. When you attend orientation on your first day of law school they warn you about the time commitment you’re about to make. But just because you know it’s coming, that doesn’t make it any easier to handle.

I’d like to think that over the past couple of years I’ve become pretty adept at juggling all my activities. I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t always easy, but I have discovered a few tips and tricks to avoid losing your mind.

Organization is key

We all think we have great memories, but the truth is, if you don’t write it down you probably won’t remember it. Whether it’s a to-do list on a Post-It Note, a daily planner, or an app on your phone, you need to find some way to keep track of your commitments. My friends and family tease me for writing EVERYTHING I need to do in my planner. From basics like “do laundry” to more important tasks, like conference calls, meetings with professors, and dinner plans, it all goes in my planner. I know that if I don’t write it down, I might not do it.

It’s not just okay to say “no”… it’s necessary

I’m the type of person who wants to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. I’m a “yes” person. While that’s a quality I love about myself, I also need to keep it in check. The truth is, when I take on too much I’m not able to do a good job and I’m not enjoying what I’m doing. It’s essential to evaluate the opportunities and activities in front of you and be really thoughtful about the different options and how they benefit you.

It’s also okay to bribe yourself

There, I admit it. I bribe myself. When I feel my motivation waning I try to come up with little incentives to keep me going. If I’m struggling getting through my reading, I’ll treat myself to some Netflix time when I finish. If my to-do list seems monstrous, I divide it into sections and give myself a little treat or a short break when I finish each section.

Take a break

Taking a break might seem counterintuitive to getting everything done, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need. Taking some time to get dinner with a friend or go for a run will help you relax and refresh your mind. You’ll likely find that when you come back to do your work you’ll be more focused and motivated.

What are your tips and tricks for handling stress? Share them with me on Twitter @the3llife!

Don’t Stress. Take Control of Bar Exam Fees.

By Hadley Leonard,
BARBRI Legal Education Advisor

Studies show most law school students won’t begin thinking about the bar exam until their last year. That might mean that you, on the verge of said final year, are feeling the creep of anxiety from the looming expenses: the fees for sitting for the exam, the balance on their bar review account, the living expenses during bar studying. Then the panic begins to set in – where is all this money going to come from?

Create a budget

Budgeting is maybe the least glamorous work in the English language. But it’s also one of the most effective and proven ways to manage financial challenges. No one has ever had fun sitting down in front of Excel and allocating out their income or financial reserves to food, rent and savings. Those who do, however, sleep better at night, in control of where their money is going, rather than their money being in control of where they are going.

Find areas to cut back

After looking at your budget, try to find where you can eliminate spending. I know we all feel like we can’t possibly do this, but really you can. The easiest areas are eating out and entertainment expenses. A good strategy for cutting back: plan to eat out one meal per week. And skip the specialty coffee pit-stops a few days a week. It all adds up.

Save

Determine how much you need to save, how much you need to spend each month in necessities and find an equilibrium. Put it on paper and stick to it. Make sure you start saving as soon as possible; it’s never too late. Whatever your income, save a little each week.

If you were to save only $25 a week, over the course of three years of law school, you would have accumulated almost $4,000. $25 a week is not noticeable; the balance you accumulate (plus interest) is.

BUDGETING PUTS YOU IN CONTROL

This may have been the most un-fun post you’ve read all week (and probably sounds like a lot of things your grandpa used to tell you), but there’s a reason people keep shelling out this advice. It works. Taking control of your income and financial reserves puts you in the driver’s seat and frees you up to invest in what’s best for your future.