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Friday, September 24, 2010

Tennis balls and Vivaldi

Stress: a physiological response to something you perceive as a threat

Maybe it’s what a 2L friend of mine calls the “lawyer eyes” I’ve developed over the past six weeks (traffic lights after dusk are vague splashes of color at this point), but some of us are looking a little frayed at the edges these days.

Closed memos were assigned a couple of weeks ago and are due Oct. 4. There are outlines to draft, structured study groups and continuing orientation workshops to attend, at least one practice mid-term and a Legal Research final to study for. Meanwhile, there are daily reading assignments and case briefs to tend to, along with any individual conferences we schedule with professors. August seems like a long time ago.

So the timing of our mandatory workshop on stress management was just about right.

During the break we have between Torts and Civil Procedure, a woman with a lilting voice breezed into our classroom, dimmed the lights and slid Vivaldi into a disc player. When she asked us to define stress, some of my classmates identified sources of stress instead: time demands, exam anxiety, family responsibilities, financial woes and so on. Someone even found the Socratic method itself worthy of mention. Our guest nodded sympathetically to each response and then offered us a working definition of stress: a physiological response to something you perceive as a threat.

Over the course of the next hour, she taught us to banish negative thoughts from our minds, to fashion homemade massagers from tennis balls and orphan socks and to use a handy technique for progressive muscle relaxation. After that, she distributed thermometers and hand sanitizer, reporting with caution that campus health officials had noticed a correlation between the study of law and incidents of the flu.

One might argue that a mandatory workshop on managing stress defeats its purpose. And I can think of less stressful things than having a college athlete hurl a tennis ball in the general direction of my head. Still, it’s comforting to know the faculty is cognizant of the escalating pressure. I gave away my tennis ball, but I’m definitely giving that muscle-relaxation thing a try.
It beats what I’ve been doing, which is to entertain fleeting thoughts of violence and then go for a drive until the temptation passes. Last Sunday, after spending much of the day studying contracts, I went to the refrigerator to look for food and discovered that I owned 10 eggs, three of which were broken on the way home from the store. Instead of making an omelet, I stood there with the door open, fighting off an urge to break the other seven.

A lot of things about law school can be perceived as threatening. Chief among them is the fear of failure, of crawling away poorer but wiser, forced to live with the knowledge that the best you had wasn’t good enough.

I now know that when those thoughts creep into my mental space, I have to find a way to gently nudge them out. And so do you. So put on some Vivaldi. Stuff some tennis balls into a sock. Break some eggs. We’re going to be just fine.

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