I’ve never felt a constantly physical ill feeling until I started law school and neared finals. It felt like such a do or die period and I was so 1) completely ignorant of the process and 2) incredibly nervous. I started having a lot of physical symptoms (b/c that’s how I manifest stress) that resulted in making a lot of bad choices because those brought instant-gratification and would quell my stress. But of course, that became a vicious cycle because often that bad choice would eventually make me feel worse–and did little to help my stress. I’m sure many of you who are starting finals are beginning to feel that pinch (if you haven’t already).
The first thing I want to remind you is that this moment will pass by in a flash and you will be a better person for it. However, it’s super likely that during finals time, you may start to cultivate bad habits to cope with the stress. And I know you may be thinking idgaf how I cope with stress–I just need to cope with it. I get that–I really do. BUT, I am the Ghost of Christmas Future and I can tell you that you may be ok with eating your emotions or whatever your vice during finals time right now, but eventually that will catch up with you.
The key isn’t how to not be stressed because you will be stressed during this time. It’s high pressure, it really matters, and it’s all happening in a time-crunch. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t decide what type of habits to form. And that’s essentially what you have to decide: will you cultivate good or bad habits to cope during times of stress?
It took me a long time, but here is what I realized helped me to manage my stress in a healthier manner:
One. Assess reaction. You should know yourself enough to know how it is you respond to stress. Or in other words, the first step is admitting you have a problem. This means being really honest with yourself and reviewing any past unhealthy behavior (and triggers to those behaviors). This may seem easy, but it’s difficult to admit–even to yourself–that some things you’re doing may not be necessarily good for you. But once you realize your behavior patterns you’ll be able to make better decisions.
Two. Gameplan. Once you recognize those patterns, make a plan as to how you’ll react differently this time around. For me, I started small. I opted to replace one bad habit with something healthier: I replaced soda with water. Super simple, but it made a big difference. I made sure that I would stick by this new plan by always carrying a water bottle in my bag and would make goals to drink a certain amount every day. Of course, at first drinking water didn’t feel as satisfying as drinking a soda, but it made my body feel better and that eventually helped alleviate some of my stress. So, think of some actions you can take to make the smarter choice the easier option for you.
Three. Find Support. Confide in your friends that you’re hoping to cope with your stress better. Those that are going through the same things as you are likely also in need of healthier options. Form a mini-support group so that instead of taking a break to smoke together, you opt to do something else. And while I totally get wanting to unwind with drinks–maybe replace one celebratory night out with a yoga class, etc. It starts small, but when you seek out help from others it makes things easier.
Important side note: high stress like this can be overwhelming and leads to a real mental impact–never hesitate to reach out to your school’s mental health services if things seem to be reaching a breaking point. Even one or two sessions can help make things clearer and help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Stay healthy and happy! The semester is almost over!