Let’s have a little chat about stress. Do you have it? Of course you do, everybody does. This time last year I was a major stress case. Spring of 1L (first year law school) is probably the most stressful time in law school. You’ve just gotten your grades, which thanks to a forced curve probably aren’t like what you became accustom to seeing in college. You’re applying to summer internships, getting your resume and cover letter together, sending out emails, hoping you get something respectable or that pays or that you actually are interested in. Plus you have various other things going on such as memo writing, classes, and journal participation. While UCLA is relatively non-competitive as far as law schools go spring of 1L is when the competition amongst classmates begins to be more evident. Plus, there is still the prospect of taking the bar and managing a career as an attorney.
Truthfully, I did not cope well with the stress, at first. I took some great steps like eating healthier, running, and blogging. However I was still very anxious. It even got to the point where I developed heart burn for the first time in my life (ironic since I was eating healthier) and I could literally feel my heart racing and beating out of my chest. This is a bad sign of anxiety and not dealing with stress properly.
Thankfully, I took steps to reign in my stress and today am doing a good job of handling my anxiety. Changing the way I deal with stress has improved my quality of life drastically. So what do I do to manage my stress now?
Hand over heart (like the pledge of allegiance) and hand over stomach (like you’re preggo) breathing
In the moment anxiety, like a racing heart beat, this is the best strategy. Like I do in yoga class, put one hand on my heart and the other on my stomach, concentrate on my breath, and close my eyes. This takes me down a peg when I feel anxious. Concentrating on my just breathing is like a mini mental vacation. If your heart is racing nothing good is going to happen to you. I promise.
Give yourself down time
And when I say down time, I mean only down time. One of my problems was that I would have down time at night and I would be trying to get too many things done in my down time. For example, I would watch TV, while blogging, and reading other blogs. This isn’t down time; it’s multitasking for an hour under the guise of “relaxation”. Now I have my down time and I just do down time. I read a magazine. Or I’ll watch a show. Or I’ll read blogs but not all three at once.
Just say “no”
If you commit yourself to doing too many things you will not have time for down time and relaxation. This goes for school and your social life. It’s important not to take on too many responsibilities at school. Take it slow. Only take on one or two commitments at a time. If I don’t have enough time or I find myself getting stressed I ask for help. As far as social life, I know I can’t go out every night on the weekend partying and still be awake, alert and get my work done. Thus, I plan accordingly.
Pet an animal
Pets are suggested as companion and therapy animals for a reason. I cannot tell you how much seeing Izzy everyday has improved my mental state. In fact, she is kneading away on my leg right now. It’s nice to know that no matter how said stressful thing turns out that animal will still love you and think you’re fantastic (as long as you keep the treats coming). Plus, if you put them in a tutu you’ll have hours of endless enjoyment.
Talk to your friends
I hands down wouldn’t have gotten through last year without my pre-law school friends. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people in law school but chatting with people who knew me before always made me feel better. My Simmons friends have been some of my biggest cheerleaders and always remind me why I’m awesome. They also provide wonderful distractions from my own stress. Sometimes talking to someone else about their lives puts your own problems in perspective. At the very least, it’s a fun distraction. Note the oldie but goody picture below circa 2006.
Talk to an objective person/thing
Sometimes when talking about the things you really fear you need to talk to someone without an agenda or that won’t talk back. I personally think everyone should go to therapy and if you’re dealing with stress I would absolutely recommend it if you can afford it. Or, you can embrace the free option: talk to a worry doll. I got my worry doll when I was in college. When I’m feeling anxious and worried and don’t feel like I can verbalize how I feel to other person I take the worry doll and tell it to the doll. Sometimes just getting out your deepest fear can take the pressure off. Worry, stress and anxiety really are just born out of fear. Vocalizing fear is the first step towards diminishing fear. Get rid of the fear, get rid of the worry. I also sometimes talk to my cat. I swear I’m not a crazy cat lady.
Develop healthy habits
Eating well and exercising is a great way to feel better and relieve stress. For me, running is like an Advil and a Prozac. Yoga is also a great way to relax and keep calm. Keeping healthy habits going while you’re busy isn’t easy but for me it’s worth making the time. Whether you’re thinking through the stressful things you’re facing or just totally zoning out working out is never a bad idea. Same thing goes for eating healthy. For me, nothing makes me feel worse than eating frozen meals. Sometimes when you’re stressed it seems like a good idea to cut corners and eat a box of mac and cheese or a ton of take out but for me I feel best when I’m eating fresh foods with limited preservatives.
Train your brain to think positively
I have a new favorite quote: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change“. I believe this is true because I have seen it work in my own life. Instead of thinking “I hate law school what I am doing here” I decided to think “wow, I am so lucky to have this opportunity to learn so much”. Or, instead of wishing I was running faster I think about how lucky I am to have a body that allows me to run. Finally, when something unexpected happens (like the T randomly stops running or the Presidential convoy causing you to be unable to cross the street for 45 mins) I don’t get upset anymore. I simply look at it as the universe telling me to take things slowly. When I was in Boston there was a morning when the T stopped running. Instead of panicking I walked to Starbucks, got a coffee and walked to school. When the President’s convoy shut down Wilshire last summer instead of getting upset like those around me I snapped photos, watched Barack drive by and people watched for 45 mins. No one was going to cross the street so there was no use in freaking out about it.
Make a gratitude list
This goes hand in hand with the suggestion above. Sometimes when I’m feel particularly worried, stressed or anxious I make a list of all the things in life I have to be grateful for. Sometimes I even do it by the alphabet like A is for apples fresh from the farmers market that nourish my body, B is for Boston and all the wonderful memories I have from living there, C is for cat because my cat mellows me out. It gets me out of my own head and helps me refocus on what is important in my life.
Get rid of bad vibes
I’m going to sound like a California hippie, but clean and smudge your apartment. It’s so much easier to get things done and think clearly when your living area has been cleansed.
Put it in perspective
This goes with the gratitude list, but often I stress out over small, nonsense things like sounding stupid when I’m called on in class or getting stuck in traffic on the 405. These things are not going to have a long term impact on my life and it’s important to remember that. I like to apply the 10 year test: “will this matter in 10 years?” or even “will this matter in 1 year?” Generally the answer is no. If you can see the end point of the thing that stresses you out, it can be easier to get through.
Overall, stressful things are going to happen and sad things are going to happen in our lives. We are powerless to stop them from occurring or controlling them. The only thing we can control is how we respond to them. I believe that we make choices every day. Last year at this time I was stressed out and I acted in a way that perpetuated that stress but today I am making healthier choices for myself. When I feel anxious I put my hand over my heart and breath. When I’m upset I make a gratitude list. When I’m fearful I tell the cat or the worry doll. When I need a reality check I call my friends. I am much happier today because of it.
How do you handle stress? I love hearing new suggestions!