How Stress Can Help with Finals

Headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, and feelings of exhaustion. I’m not talking about Covid; these are all negative side effects of stress. As law students, we are likely familiar with managing stress, especially during finals season. In the midst of the madness, there are a few consequences of stress that actually benefit us:

  1. Increased Productivity

When you’re about to hit that begin test button on Examplify and a knot forms in the pit of your stomach, it can actually be helpful. This is because moderate stress strengthens the neural connections in your brain which enhances memory and attention span, and increases productivity.

In a UC Berkeley study, researchers found intermittent stressful events caused stem cells in rat brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that improved the rats’ mental performance.

“You always think about stress as a really bad thing, but it’s not… Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.”

Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

That explains why as a chronic procrastinator, the stress of an impending deadline is sometimes the only thing that can kick start getting my work done.

  1. Resilience & Strengthened Relationships

Sadly we cannot fast forward through the most difficult parts of law school. On the bright side, there is evidence to suggest that once we make it through, we’ll be more resilient. Stressful events create an opportunity to develop a physical and psychological sense of control which can help us more easily face forthcoming challenges, according to Richard Shelton, MD, vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama Birmingham. Additionally, a study published in the Psychoneuroendocrinology journal, speculates that low-to-moderate intermittent stress or “manageable stress” may promote resilience, in a manner similar to exercise, while other studies by Robert Sapolsky found that it may also lead to enhanced social bonding. Acute stress may “inspire kindness, connection, and desire to stand together and support each other.”

  1. Improved Immune System

This benefit is especially useful with flu season upon us and the Omicron variant landing in Massachusetts. As an adaptive response to stress, there is a change in hormone levels such as cortisol, catecholamines (including adrenaline) and thyroid hormone. Moderate stress also stimulates the production of interleukins, a type of cytokine. These proteins play a vital role in the regulation and mediation of inflammatory and immune responses. As a result they “[give the] immune system a quick boost to protect against illnesses — unlike [chronic] stress, which lowers immunity and increases inflammation.”

“[S]hort-term stress — the fight-or-flight response, a mobilization of bodily resources lasting minutes or hours in response to immediate threats — stimulates immune activity

Firdaus Dhabhar, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a member of the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection.

I hope these help to put a positive spin on this stressful time. For more support and to ease some of this stress, Boston College Law School offers all sorts of programming from meditation and mindfulness sessions to therapy dogs to Academic Success Drop-in Hours to free coffee and donuts in the Law Library this week. Good luck to everyone on finals.


Fiona Maguire is a second-year student at BC Law. Contact her at maguirfi@bc.edu.

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