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May 1, 2020

Dean's Fellow Digest Issue #10 - Stress Responses and Final Exams

Issue: 2020-10

Dean's Fellows consistently strive to support students in realizing their full academic potential, leading ultimately to success on the bar exam and in the workplace. To support all Southwestern students in this goal, the Dean's Fellows created this Digest as a way to check-in at critical times throughout the semester with helpful tips, strategies, and encouragement. 


  • Stress Responses and Final Exams

Stress Responses and Final Exams
By: Kristen Abajian*

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I know many students are faced with unprecedented challenges and stressors during this unusual time. A stress response can often be triggered when you feel you don’t have the resources to manage a challenge you’re facing. Heightened levels of stress can affect your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Below are some ideas to help with processing stress and some practical ways to build coping skills into your day-to-day life, so that you can tackle final exams with clarity and confidence.


One of the best methods for silencing the negative voices in our heads is to commit to saying affirmations, especially ones that you speak aloud. By repeating affirmations daily, we can’t help but believe these new (and true!) messages. Although it may sound cheesy and feel ridiculous at first, try expressing love, appreciation, and respect to yourself—you deserve it.

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– I am strong and capable.

– I am enough.

– I have the power to be focused and have a productive day.

– I am doing the very best I can.

– I can do anything I set my mind to!

In addition to affirmations, try taking meditation breaks when you’re feeling unfocused or if you are having trouble falling asleep. Here are some helpful sources:

That being said, while you tried your best to lower your stress before finals, it is perfectly normal to face a heightened level of stress the day of your exam. Here are a few tips to recognizing and mitigating this stress:



The first trick is to become aware that you are physically responding to a stressor. Some physical signs include your heart racing, your breathing becoming shallow, or your muscles tensing in your jaw. Ask yourself: Where do you physically feel your stress?  

When you start to notice these symptoms, take three deep, long, slow breaths, expanding your stomach and diaphragm, which will change your brain chemistry and slow your heart rate. This will give you a feeling of calm.

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If you begin a final exam, read the call of the question, and have no idea what it is asking—or in the midst of an exam you realize you forgot to write about an issue—do not panic. You may find your mind racing or shutting down in this stressful moment. If faced with this situation, plant your feet firmly on the ground, whether standing or sitting, and close your eyes. Feel the earth supporting you, holding you up, and imagine bringing your spinning energy from the top of your head down to your feet. This will distribute the intensity centered in the mind throughout your body, while drawing powerful, grounding, energy from the earth. Keep breathing deeply as you visualize the energy moving downward.

And go one step further—bring that energy from the earth to your heart center and allow it to swirl there. Take three more deep breaths and open your eyes. I know that many students do not feel like they have the time to perform this exercise in the middle of an exam, but this should not take more than a minute of your time. Once opening your eyes, you will find yourself calmer and able to think more quickly.



Lastly, be kind to yourself during this time. Do not shame yourself for not being productive enough, or not performing as you wish on an exam.

As we all adjust to our new normal, the Dean’s Fellows want to remind you that it is okay to give yourself grace in this area.

Good luck with finals, you’ve got this!

*About the Author:


Image - Kristen AbajianKristen is a 2L traditional day student. During the summer of 2019, Kristen worked at Manzuri Law, a cannabis corporate and transactional law firm. ​In addition to being a Dean’s Fellow, Kristen serves as the National President of the Armenian Law Student’s Association.

Kristen is excited to provide meaningful guidance to 1Ls. She intends to share tools with students to grow both professionally and academically during their first year of law school. ​


Southwestern Law School Dean's Fellows | Scheduling and Booking Website

Dean’s Fellows are upper-division students with strong academic skills who go through a rigorous application and training process. They are an integral part of the Academic Success and Bar Preparation Department. They are carefully selected based on their academic excellence and ability to teach other students best-practice study methods that will help them become acclimated to the study of law. Dean’s Fellows meet with students as academic mentors.

Please click HERE to make an appointment with a Dean's Fellow.