Law School Exams Getting You Down? The Best (Free) Exam Stress-Buster

Get some exerciseWorried about law school exams? Of course you are!

That’s why we’re thrilled to welcome Elena DuCharme, a lawyer turned performance coach, who’s here to offer a great (free) suggestion for surviving exams with your sanity intact.

Stress is a fact of life. And it has a big upside. The human race, and indeed, all plants and animals, have evolved by adapting to stressful situations and coming out stronger and more capable as a result — becoming more “resilient.”

As a budding lawyer at exam time, you now have the opportunity to create your own positive, resilience-building habits. The payoff is feeling calm and empowered in the face of challenges, rather than freaked and anxious.

A Sad Body Sabotages, a Happy Body Helps

Just as much as your thoughts and perceptions can drive stress and anxiety up (anxiety being essentially stress plus fear), a poorly cared-for body will do the same. This instigates a vicious cycle that’s exhausting and undermines your exam performance.

What makes your body sad, tired and unable to help you perform?

Sitting on your butt day after day and sleep deprivation. Eating habits that mess with your blood sugar and dull your mind gets honorable mention.

On the other hand, a well exercised, slept and nourished body will give you much more of what you need right now — more calm energy and mental clarity, greater focus, processing speed and capacity, and a much better memory.

Become Your Own Personal Trainer

You can short-cut stress by approaching exam-time like an athlete gearing up for competition. Make your physical well-being and energy levels a priority. Create a schedule — a loose one is fine — and prioritize exercise, sleep, and food to feed your brain rather than sap it.

Let’s talk about exercise.

Regular exercise is hands-down the safest and best stress-beating tool you have at your disposal. And as a bonus, it beats medication for long-term diminishment and resolution of depression, which is not uncommon in law students and often drives anxiety.

Why is exercise so helpful? Because we’re born to do it.

Throughout our millions of years of evolution we’ve responded to stress and the energy it unleashes it with movement. We are biologically wired to take physical action when we’re stressed. But in our modern world, we don’t have that outlet built into our everyday lives like our ancestors did; we are quite literally fighting our instincts when we sit still under stress.

And law students do a lot of sitting.

Turns out regular exercise will still make a huge difference. Studies show its multitude of calming, mood-boosting and brain-powering physiological effects kick in immediately after you get moving and continue into the long-term.

Exercise also helps de-stress you for a couple of other reasons:

  • It trains you to be comfortable with the physical feelings of stress – so you don’t have a knee-jerk freak-out whenever your heart rate increases and blood rushes to your legs (a feeling virtually every law student is familiar with).
  • It’s a terrific active coping approach. Having something you do when stressed gives you a sense of control, which is critical in reducing anxiety.

And there’s a bonus.

Exercise makes you smarter.

It literally grows your brain, including the parts of the brain involved in learning and memory. Years of studies worldwide show that regular vigorous exercise increases learning rates and exam scores across the board. And even 20 minutes of exercise just before an exam increases scores.

And lest you worry that exercise will take precious time from studying, consider that the time you spend exercising will only increase your study efficiency by that much, and probably more.

Your Recipe for De-Stressing
  • Do at least 30 minutes total of good old fashioned exercise daily: Brisk walking, running, strength training, dancing, yoga or other focused exercise will help relieve stress, increase your brainpower and focus, improve your sleep and keep depression at bay in both the short and long term.
  • Use it as your active coping method: Just a quick bout of vigorous movement can short-cut the anxiety circuit and train your brain to stay calmer. Sit-ups, push-ups, sun salutations, dancing, jumping rope or just jumping up and down are great for this purpose.
  • Try the 50-10 rule: Set a timer and take 10 minutes every hour to do some vigorous activity. You can adjust the 50-10 to whatever ratio works best for you.
  • Stand up and move around several times per hour. This will keep you alert and mitigate the damaging effects of uninterrupted sitting. Simply going against gravity by standing up from a sitting position has the biggest overall benefit. So make a habit of standing and stretching your arms above your head every 10-15 minutes. You can still be looking at what you’re studying – just so long as you are up off your butt!

I hope you embrace exercise as a key to becoming a happier and more successful law student, lawyer and person.

More about Elena
Elena DuCharme is a lawyer turned performance coach, who works with law students and bar studiers to help them conquer fear and anxiety and find exam success.

You can read more of her exam-related advice here:

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Image: Syda Productions/Shutterstock.


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