Help out a nervous college student!
October 11, 2010 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm stressing over grades! What can I do?

I'm a sophomore in college, and while I've always been a little bit anxious about academics, it's affecting me more profoundly this year. If I see a low grade posted online, I'll stay up all night, stressing about it. If I have a test coming up, I'll feel weak in the knees and I won't be able to eat breakfast. Aside from seeing a counselor, what are some general coping strategies that people know of? I exercise, and that helps some, but what else is there? Can anyone say something that might uplift me a little bit?

What's worse is that I know that my stress is somewhat justifiable. Next year I apply for law school, so I'm starting to realize, "Holy shit, I've got to keep my grades up or my life is going to be very different than I want it to be". Hearing the word 'LSAT' ruins my day, because I spend the following hours freaking out over not doing well (not hysterical freaking out, but quietly worrying). Knowing that my anxiety is not completely irrational bothers me even more. Anyone have any good coping strategies?

Sidenote: I've already leechblocked Top Law Forums, and I won't be visiting until the months before the time of application. That's helped a little bit.
posted by anonymous to Education (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You know your university's counseling service should have CBT therapy to help you with coping strategies. This sounds like the perfect situation to see them.
posted by TheBones at 1:04 PM on October 11, 2010

Exercise and therapy are the usual one-two punch for anxiety. I'm sure you'll find that they do wonders.

Bonus advice: don't go to law school. If you're anxious now about how your grades determine your future, the first semester (and possibly all of 1L) may well crush you. And then, after law school, you get to be a lawyer, with crazy deadlines, high stress and 24/7 availability to your clients and partners. That's even leaving aside the fact that right now the legal job market is horrible. Obviously, you'd be graduating in 2016 at the earliest, so the lack of jobs today is not as much of an issue--but it is a shitty, shitty career path for people prone to anxiety.

Consequently, I'd advise you to do the exercise and therapy,and put law school aside for the time being. It will remain available to you, and doing something else in the interim will help you to keep life in perspective. I'd also note that at my top-ranked law school, almost all of the law review staffers and those who graduated with honors took several years off before matriculating at law school. Take a breather--you'll feel better and do better in law school if you ultimately go.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:14 PM on October 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

I was like that once upon a time, then a friend reminded me that every minute I spend freaking out is a minute wasted that could have been used to study or sleep.
posted by atetrachordofthree at 1:38 PM on October 11, 2010

When it's time to study: Dim the lights. Put on some relaxing music. Turn off your computer so you won't get distracted, unless you need it for part of the assignment. Close the door and ignore all knocks. Turn off your cell phone. Prepare a tasty beverage and climb into the most comfortable clothes and furniture you have. Burn some incense if your dorm/housing rules permit it. Breathe deeply and deliberately.

Study until your mind stops cooperating. Then go outside and get some fresh air.

Don't go to bed later than 10:00; you need a full night's sleep. Don't eat junk food right before bed. If you're restless, try some Sleepy Time tea and/or a sleeping aid.

Wake up in the morning with plenty of time to spare before class, so you're not in a hurry running out the door. Make sure you eat a hot breakfast... this is critical.

You have to discipline yourself, eat well, sleep well, and move no faster than is necessary.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:44 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is probably a horrible idea, but I didn't look at my final class grades at all during college, until I applied for grad school (when I found out my grades were pretty good). Then I didn't look at my grades at all during grad school, except for one time to make sure I was above the minimum GPA (I was). Grades are intended to cause stress so you work hard, but for those of us who are prone to stressing out they just cause us to go off the deep end!
posted by miyabo at 2:38 PM on October 11, 2010

It sounds cheesy, but the thing that worked best for me was reminding myself that I was there to learn things, and the grades were only secondary to that. I could only do this because I had chosen my classes out of interest (for the most part) rather than obligation or because I thought they would give me a good job. But because I did, reminding myself of that and refocusing led to a lot less stress. It also meant that if I got a bad grade but learned something out of it, I could chalk it up to random factors and move on rather than stewing over the unfairness of it all. And once I was actually focusing on learning, the grades for the most part followed naturally.

This probably won't work if you're in your current major (and/or thinking law school) not out of interest but because you think you should for some other reason (security / prestige / parents / etc). In that case, grades are the main reason you're doing it, and it's natural to stress about them. But if that's the case, then I strongly advise you to reconsider your strategy. I've now been out of university for just over ten years, and of my friends then who were doing something that they didn't like out of obligation, I have seen two things happen: (a) the luckier ones got so burnt out on it that they couldn't force themselves to do anything with it ever again, and forged a path in some other direction - a path made more difficult by the fact that they'd wasted their undergrad getting what turned out to be an irrelevant education; (b) the others stuck with it, and are still miserable. They have spent most of their life doing something they hate, and now kind of think of misery as a pretty natural state. It is very sad.

The point: if you can at all manage, try to learn things you genuinely want to learn. Then focus on whether you've actually learned it, and make that -- not the grades -- the standard you try to attain.
posted by forza at 3:06 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

By the way, I didn't mean to imply that you must currently not like what you're doing. It just seemed like a possibility, and is the most likely reason that you wouldn't be able to get yourself to refocus on what you've learned rather than the grades.
posted by forza at 3:09 PM on October 11, 2010

This is sort of an aside, but I wanted to second Admiral Haddock's advice to put law school on the back burner. Even if you do decide you want to go straight from undergrad, you've got tons of time; I'm not sure I understand your "next year, I apply" comment, since it's really going to be two years from now, i.e. your senior year, right? That's plenty of time to forget about that goal, think about some other career options, and still come back to law with plenty of time to go through the application process.

And that's assuming you don't decide to go work for a few years before eventually deciding to go to law school, which was my path and one that I endorse wholeheartedly.

Having such a rigid and possibly unexamined (it would have been for me at 19, I concede you may have great reasons for wanting law school) long-term goal can really put a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself to perform.

Try to be proud of your achievements as they come, but also recognize that once you get your first job, nobody will care much about your GPA, or even where you went to college; also recognize that for law school applications, if you must continue thinking about them, it's not much going to matter whether you get an A or a B in any particular class right now. Don't sweat the small stuff.

This is all easier said than done, I recognize, and more of an end than a means to it w/r/t not freaking out over grades, and maybe a little pedantic, but, I submit, something to keep in mind.

(FWIW, I'm a current 1L posting this instead of doing a large quantity of torts reading, so you could say I am something of an authority on not worrying too much (or enough) about school.)
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 4:52 PM on October 11, 2010

Deadlift more.
posted by tiburon at 6:15 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

When you start to stress about grades, repeat the following out loud to yourself: I am a competent person and I will succeed by making the appropriate effort. You get anxiety because deep down your unconscious doesn't really believe that you can do it. Every subsequent bout of worrying reinforces your inner belief that you can't actually do it. Break the cycle by repeating positive affirmations (even if you don't believe them yet!) out loud. Say them over and over them until they don't sound weird coming out of your mouth. I know it sounds silly, but this works if you stick to it.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:24 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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