Thursday, October 24, 2013

Negative Ways of Handling Stress and Better Choices to Cope

We are in the ninth week of class here at our law school.  It is dawning on mamy students that exams are getting much closer and that they are not where they want to be in their studying.  I am beginning to see more negative ways of handling stress emerge.  In the midst of their stress, students often seem unable to see more positive fixes for their problems. 

Some of the negative responses to stress that I see (or hear students talking about) are:

  • Staying up until the wee hours of the morning to get everything done.
  • Skipping classes to have more study or paper time.
  • Skipping meals and exercise to have more study or paper time.
  • Procrastinating on tasks because you do not feel like doing them.
  • Losing your temper with others who are in the fallout zone (classmates, spouses, children, friends, pets).
  • Blaming others for your study predicament (the professor assigns too much reading, the casebook is awful, the Tutor/teaching assistant is not any help, my study group is clueless).
  • Assuming that everyone else is getting the material and you must be stupid.
  • Wasting time on bemoaning what you should have done earlier in the semester.
  • Giving up and allowing yourself to accept failure.
  • Avoiding going to professors, academic support professionals, and deans for assistance.
  • Using drugs or alcohol to mask the stress and gain a temporary high.

Here are some positive responses to stress that work for students:

  • Start immediately to get 7 -  8 hours of sleep each night and go to bed and get up at the same time.  Brain cells need energy to absorb, understand, and retain information.  Sleep allows you to get more done with greater focus in less time.  It often takes a week for your body to recharge, but after that period you will start to get much more done.
  • Attend classes regularly unless you are sick.  By skipping class you become even more confused about the material.  It is the point in the semester when professors begin to talk about the exam and pull information together across the course.  You do not want to depend on a classmate's notes for these important aspects.
  • Meals and exercise like sleep are essential to how your brain works.  Eat nutritious meals rather than depend on junk food, caffeine, and sugar.  Exercise at least 150 minutes per week - walking is fine.  Exercise is a great stress buster and will also help you to sleep better. 
  • How you feel is not important quite honestly.  Sure, it is more fun doing other things than reading and briefing or outlining or reviewing for exams; but no one told you to come to law school to have fun.  Break down tasks into smaller pieces to help you get motivated: a 40-page reading into 8 chunks of 5 pages; a paper assignment into small sections; practice questions into fewer questions at a time.  If you are really unmotivated, tell yourself you will just read 1 page, write 1 sentence, or do 1 problem.  Getting started is the trick.
  • Being irritated and grumpy with others will not make you feel better.  You will just have guilt for being a jerk.  If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all - grandmother was right when she told you that.  Tell people that you need some alone time.  Or do random acts of kindness for others to help you feel better about yourself.  Go for a run or walk to burn off the stress.
  • Blaming others means you are giving up control over what you can do.  Break down the reading assignment into smaller chunks so it seems more manageable.  Read a study aid to clarify the casebook material.  See the professor or teaching assistant on office hours to ask questions one-on-one if a larger group setting is unhelpful.  Restructure your study group to make it more effective (an agenda for meetings so everyone comes prepared) or take responsibility to explain material to the others (you can learn by teaching).
  • You are not dumb - you would not have been admitted if the law school did not think you could succeed.  Stop comparing yourself to others and instead start doing the best you can do each day.  Persistence means a lot in law school.  There is a lot of bluff among law students - you cannot know whether others are really spending more hours studying or wasting time while in the library, whether those speaking in class can talk a good game but not get it on paper, whether someone else really understands the material or just says she does.
  • Forget about what you should have done.  Focus on what you can do today and tomorrow and the next day.  Decide on your priorities and then get started.  Use a to do list each day and each week to stay on track.  Get help from the academic success professional at your school if you have trouble deciding what to do and how to get it done.
  • If you give up and allow yourself to fail, it does not get you any place you want to be.  Make a plan as to how to get the most results from the time you have remaining in the semester.  Get help if you need it.
  • Every law school has people who can help you.  Use their assistance.  Swallow your pride if that is what is getting in the way of asking for help.  Decide what help you need and go to the source that is appropriate.  Find out who at your law school can help with a particular problem.  Do not overlook sources at the wider university: counseling center, health services, etc.
  • Do not get caught up in a cycle of drugs or alcohol to deal with your stress.  You may feel as though you get temporary relief, but you are not dealing with the problems that cause the stress.  If you can step back from this cycle on your own, use exercise and other techniques to deal with the stress.  If you need help in getting back to healthy ways of stress reduction, see the counseling center or health services for assistance. 

Stress in law school is something that everyone has to learn to cope with effectively.  If stress is getting out of hand, seek assistance.  (Amy Jarmon)  

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