While attending the Georgia Institute of Technology, I experienced severe stress and test anxiety that significantly hindered my ability to perform at my highest level. It was not uncommon for me to experience anxiety attacks before and while taking exams. I had to use every homework assignment and extra credit assignment to do well and compensate for low midterm and final exam scores resulting from my anxiety.
Before starting Georgia State Law, I realized I would have to do something to change my relationship with stress and anxiety because law school was going to be different. I wouldn’t have numerous homework assignments, small quizzes, and extra credit assignments to prove my comprehension of the course material and boost my overall grade. I would have one grade: my final exam. I knew if I couldn’t get a handle on my test anxiety, I wouldn’t make it through law school. I didn’t want my test anxiety to define me.
When I saw the college was offering mindfulness training, I was hopeful it would provide the tools I needed to manage my stress and anxiety. Following the recommendation given in the first session, I started practicing mindfulness at home in addition to the weekly training. I began to see a difference after about three weeks.
Positive Changes from Mindfulness
I noticed the changes in my personal life first. Small things, like I was calmer while driving in heavy traffic. Instead of getting frustrated, I was rolling down my windows and enjoying the sunrise. My personal relationships grew and became healthier as I became more patient and less anxious.
I also noticed a difference in my academics. In class, I became less anxious about getting cold called, and I became more comfortable answering questions posed to the class. And when it came time for exams, mindfulness came through for me. With mindfulness, I could own my test anxiety instead of it owning me.
I remember sitting for my first final, Civil Procedure I. When I opened the exam, I saw that the fact pattern was about seven pages long and involved confusing cases in Florida and Georgia. I could feel my anxiety rise: my heart rate elevate; my breathing intensify; and my body tense. So, I closed my eyes, took several deep breaths, and told myself I was ready: I did everything to prepare. I know the material, and when I open my eyes I am going to read, outline, and write until time is called. And I did just that.
And, even better, when I left the testing room, I left the test in there. I didn’t ruminate on what I did write, what I didn’t write, what I could have written. That was the past and that was where it would stay. This would have been impossible for me to accomplish before mindfulness.
Mindfulness on the Job
I saw benefits of practicing mindfulness in my employment as well. After my first year, I decided to split my summer with two big firms and work the entire summer, from the end of spring finals until the first day of school. After a couple weeks into my first job, I thought to myself that I was crazy, and I could feel the stress and anxiety rise again. I was managing multiple projects for multiple partners who all wanted different work products, and I was just extremely tired.
So, I jumped to my mindfulness. I would take several deep breaths before working on a project. I used mindfulness to keep my focused attention, so I didn’t waste time creating more stress for myself by thinking about all the other assignments I needed to complete. I took everything one step at a time. This helped me manage my stress and anxiety, so I could deliver my best work product for each assignment.
Making Mindfulness a Habit
I have kept up my mindfulness practice because it has made such a big difference in my life. I started my own personal, daily practice during the mindfulness program. I meditate between 10-20 minutes a day, depending on the day. My meditation practice incorporates various styles like mindful breathing, body scans, and loving kindness. I also strive to incorporate mindfulness in my daily routines by trying to be fully present when I’m driving, eating, and walking. But, maintaining a personal practice can be extremely challenging.
As law students we are so busy, and there is never a moment where we couldn’t be working on some assignment, so we push other things to the side. When you’re maintaining a personal practice, it can be tempting to skip your mindfulness practice because of other assignments you could be working on. The challenge becomes making time for yourself.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
I highly recommend mindfulness training to everyone. Mindfulness can contribute to creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle for yourself, your friends, and your family. Attorneys work in high stress environments, and issues with depression and substance abuse are commonly noted. Creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help decrease the chances of stress, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse from ruining important relationships in your life.
Mindfulness can help with focusing attention and managing stress and anxiety, which can impact your academic performance by increasing attention and decreasing stress when completing assignments, getting called on in class, and taking exams.
This can also translate to career success. After my first year of law school, I interviewed with various big law firms, judges, and public interest organizations, and without fail, the first question I got in every interview was: tell me about mindfulness. Interviewers across the board were impressed with the program and my ability to already know the importance of having healthy tools to manage stress and anxiety now.
I had attorneys tell me they wish they had this program when they were in law school because it might have saved relationships or changed career trajectories. Mindfulness can help you succeed in summer jobs by giving you the tools necessary to manage various important projects for various partners with different work styles, all at one time.
Finally, using mindfulness to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle can help ensure you deliver your best work and your best self for all of your clients throughout your career.
Tatiana Posada (J.D. ’18) is a lead articles editor for the Georgia State University Law Review and was selected for publication in the Law Review’s 2018 spring issue. In addition to participating in the Mindfulness in Law program and student organization, she has volunteered more than 150 pro bono and public service hours and completed externships with Justice Harold D. Melton, presiding justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, and the ACLU of Georgia. She spent her summers working for Alston & Bird LLP, Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, and Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, and after graduation she will be clerking for Judge Jean-Paul “JP” Boulee.