I have recently been accepted to Law School, which is a dream come true, but ever since getting the admission packet I’ve been having terrible anxiety. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, and my friends have noticed that I don’t want to hang-out with them as much anymore. I’ve felt anxious before, but never to this degree. It’s like a gut-check every morning when I wake up just to get to work. I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, but this has got me thinking that maybe I’m making a bad decision. Maybe someone is trying to tell me something. What can I do to help manage these feelings? Is it possible that this is a “sign” telling me not to go to law school?
First of all, I want you to relax and take a deep breath. The anxiety you’re experiencing is not a harbinger for negative things to come. It is not uncommon to worry that a period of intense anxiety surrounding a big decision is a message from the gods – but in reality, it’s just an expression of some deep and unsettling fears. And let’s face it, it’s a frightening thing to think about going to law school, particularly when it represents a dream coming true. You’re probably thinking, “what if this dream becomes a nightmare?” But you should know that everyone experiences heightened levels of anxiety during big, life-altering transitions. This can come in the form of worrisome thoughts, sleep disturbances, difficulty eating, periods of social isolation, loss of concentration, and a multitude of other disturbing symptoms. You can interpret this as your mind and body saying, “Hold on a second, buddy! We were doing just fine without this development!” When we begin to step out of our “comfort zones” and into the vast unknown, our bodies signal us about the impending change. Almost like a reminder in case we missed the important news bulletin. While this can create intense discomfort, it helps to reinterpret what you’re feeling as a positive indication of growth. Remind yourself that you’re feeling this way because you are challenging yourself to develop as a person. You could go on feeling perfectly comfortable by dismissing law school and returning to “business as usual,” – but you would be giving away a tremendous opportunity to realize your life’s potential. And wasn’t the point of applying to law school to shake things up a bit? Remember, anxiety is a hard-wired response that alerts us to changes, particularly meaningful changes, in the world around us. It will make you uncomfortable, but the symptoms are generally harmless and temporary. Avoidance will destroy a life.
Of course, there are many ways to manage the anxiety response and support yourself through this transition. I recommend that you look into Edmund Bourne’s Anxiety & Phobia Workbook for suggestions about deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visual imagery techniques that will help you tolerate the symptoms of your anxiety while you wait for law school to begin. Also, look towards friends and family to support you through this monumental change. Don’t worry about burdening them with your concerns – that’s what they are there for! A good strategy is to write down all of your fears and worries about law school and read them off to a thoughtful and trustworthy friend. This will infuse more rationality into your thinking, and help you distance yourself from the intense and irrational worries that are swirling around this decision. If things do not improve over the next month, outside support may be warranted. An empathic CBT therapist, trained in relaxation techniques and cognitive restructuring, will help you learn to calm your anxiety now and for years to come.
Good luck! And congratulations on this impressive achievement!
- Dr. Goldberg