When Things Start to Feel Out of Control

I am happy to host a guest blog today from third-year student Imran Hossain on a very important subject for law students and lawyers.

I am a 3L. I have a job that I am excited about, working for a firm that I love. I have the most amazing family and friends. Yet I am anxious–and it’s taken me a while to understand that this is totally okay.

Being a huge sports fan throughout my life, I have constantly admired and tried to emulate athletes and have a great deal of respect for Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan (among others) who are pushing the conversation on mental health forward. While awareness of mental health issues in the legal profession is important, I believe sharing effective coping strategies is even more important. In that vein, I’d like to open up about how I cope with anxious times.

It’s 2013 and I am running on the soccer field when I notice my heart skip a beat. Nothing too outrageous, but I did hear about that one basketball player, Reggie Lewis, who died mid-practice from a fatal heart attack. The ball is coming my way. Focus on the ball, Imran.

A few hours later, I am studying for a big engineering exam, digital system processing, and I drink my second coffee of the day. That soccer game took some wind out of me. Twenty minutes later, my heart starts to race; hard. I look up symptoms of a heart attack: 1) shortness of breath (definitely have that) 2) left arm pain. A second later, my left arm starts hurting. I can’t stop ruminating on what it could be. I call my mom and she insists it’s anxiety and that it is not dangerous.

I go through a few months with these symptoms recurring, until eventually one day I can’t take it anymore. I want this “anxiety” to go away. My mom, being a physician, understands the situation and takes me to a psychologist. My therapist tells me that I am a student under a lot of pressure and I am having a run-of-the-mill bout of anxiety.

Ever since seeing a therapist, my life has changed for the better. I have come to understand that anxiety is something almost everyone experiences, especially lawyers and law students. It is simply our body trying to warn us about possible danger. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. The more I have explored meditation and mindfulness, the more I’ve come to grasp with my anxiety. Instead of forming an adversarial relationship, I view this anxiety as my extra watchful friend who sometimes becomes overactive based on perceived threats. Mr. Anxiety, as I call him, wants to protect me, and sometimes needs to be trained to recognize real threats from false ones. Anytime he pops up in a situation that doesn’t warrant his presence, instead of fighting Mr. Anxiety I gently tell him everything is okay and he can stay as long as he wants. After realizing there is no danger present, he usually goes on his way.

While I have become effective at managing anxiety, there are times of transition that are overwhelming for almost everyone. Like I said before, I am happy and excited about the future, but facing graduation and the bar is a lot to handle. In addition to talking things out with my friends and family, I go to a therapist every few weeks to help me reason out my thoughts and feelings. I encourage anyone who has similar issues to talk with a therapist. Although therapy isn’t for everyone, it can help identify baseline issues. Boston College offers resources for students: for the first time, University Counseling Services is making a clinician available on the Newton Campus for individual counseling or same day consultation services on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00am-5:00pm. Appointments can be scheduled by calling UCS at 617-552-3310 and asking for the Newton Campus clinician.

Preparing to enter the legal profession and never feeling overwhelmed is like playing football and never suffering an injury. Every football player will experience one. It can be minor and resolve within a few weeks with the right treatment plan. If the player denies the injury and continues to play hurt, he or she will almost certainly suffer another injury with more severe consequences. Similarly, when entering a field as mentally and emotionally taxing as law, we will have times of sadness or anxiousness, and that is completely normal. Once we accept that thoughts or feelings are like seasons, constantly changing, we can come to peace with what we are feeling.

When the rain pours harder than we expected, it is totally fine to feel a bit overwhelmed. Just remember, it’ll pass; I promise. On the other side of a shower is a rainbow.

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