The first thing I’m going to urge you to do, now that the bar exam is over, is to take a deep breath. You did it! No matter the outcome, you poured your heart into your studying for the last 8+ weeks, you did your best on the exam, and now it’s over. Now, hopefully, you have some time off between this crazy endeavor and starting your job. If you don’t, no worries. Keep breathing and jump right into your new career! This is what it was all for.
When I took the bar the first time, the only thing that got me through was knowing I’d have at least a month off between the exam and starting my job as a communications specialist. I planned to travel on an extended road trip with my best friend and really relax. In fact, just before the afternoon session on the second day of the exam, I jumped at the opportunity to head to New Hampshire for a weekend of boating and relaxing with said friend. It really helped the tension of the afternoon slip by and remind me that this was just an exam. It did not decide my worth, it was simply a test.
1. Plan a Vacation
I’ve talked to many students about this. The best time to go on vacation and celebrate the bar and graduation is, of course, right after the bar exam. Plan a trip. Go on an adventure, sit on a beach, read a non law related book, and enjoy being still. Most importantly, let the exam go. It is out of your hands, and the cards will fall as they may. Think positive but move forward. Don’t let fear and anxiety over your score cripple you.
During the time between bar and job, I wholeheartedly agreed to let the exam go. I held on to the hope that I had passed, but I no longer allowed the result to take hold of my day to day life. This acceptance helped ease my mind, calm my anxiety, and let me catch up on some much-needed sleep and rest.
2. Visit your Family and Friends
My family and friends were a huge support during my bar experience (even bigger the second time), and it was important to me to remind them just how much they’d helped me. I made a point to call or visit and check in on their lives – be present and talk about something besides my anxiety. Visiting family and friends also has another added benefit – hugs. Hugging someone, for long enough, especially if they squeeze you, helps produce oxytocin in the brain – a drug that can help ease adrenal fatigue, fight anxiety, and improve mood.
A week into my second bar prep, I started begging for someone to buy me a weighted blanket because it has the same effect as a long hug. Instead, my mom started hugging me morning and night, and it really helped with my stress levels. I think being around family and friends, people who knew you before the bar, before law school, can really dampen your inner critic and help bloom your self-confidence.
3. Sleep and Exercise
Just like during the bar, sleep and exercise are just as important after the bar. Focus on getting extra sleep. Go to bed earlier, and if you can, sleep in later. Do so in a cool, dark room, and you’ll notice your cortisol levels drop, greatly impacting your reaction to stress. Further, keep moving. Gentle walks, easy yoga, and light weightlifting can make a world of difference in your ability to bounce back after such a stressful season in your life. They do so without causing more stress. (Exercise is stressful on the body – mostly in a good way, but sometimes it can be detrimental to the health of a body already at maximum stress. Staying consistent with gentle workouts does way more good.)
After my second attempt at the bar, I was able to drive back from New York to Boston and visit with my family and friends, sleep, start back at running, and have a little vacation. It was exactly what I needed after going through a stressful event. If you don’t have time to take a vacation, take the days in between your exam and position starting to just be still. When all is said and done, the bar exam is just an experience. One we all have to go through in order to be a lawyer, but one that is more than stressful for most of us. By focusing on life after the bar, and trying to stay in the moment, we can alleviate much of that stress and start getting back to our normal selves.