This article originally appeared on New England Law | Boston's website.
Too much stress—especially the long-lasting kind—is not good. It can lead to everything from headaches and weight gain to heart disease and depression. It can also hurt your memory and cognitive abilities, which is the last thing you want in law school, not to mention as a professional lawyer. First, take some comfort in knowing that what you’re feeling is normal. Everyone is trying to play it cool in law school…and everyone has moments of doubt, struggles with the material, and feels like they’re in over their head sometimes. Second, you need to learn how to deal with your stress in healthy way—and the sooner, the better.
Luckily, there are lots of good coping mechanisms and habits you can develop now as a law student. Best of all, if you learn how to take care of yourself in law school, “you’re going to be a superstar when you get out,” says Barbara Bowe, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker who works with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers in Massachusetts. Here's how you can start finding some relief.
Take 10 minutes
A 10-minute break can make a world of difference, especially if you’re stuck in a rut. Here are some quick and easy things you can do to shake off the stress:
- Go for a quick walk or jog
- Write down or review your to-do list
- Meditate (check out apps like Headspace, Calm, MyLife, and Aura)
- Listen to your favorite music
- Look at funny things (like memes, videos, jokes—anything that makes you laugh!)
- Talk to someone you care about
- Take a shower or bath
- Hang out with a pet
- Just close your eyes and breathe
Don’t be afraid to get help
You don’t need to go it alone, you don’t need to pretend everything is fine if it’s not, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed asking for help when you need it. It’s also important to remember that getting professional treatment for mental health and even substance abuse does not appear on bar fitness results. Your law school should have mental health resources available to you. There are also free mental health resources like hotlines and local support groups. And, of course, your friends, family, faculty, and mentors want to help you too, and a short conversation can go a long way in making you feel better.
Treat it like another school assignment
You carve out time to do your classwork; why not schedule time for breaks and stress-relieving activities too? Think of it as an important part of your training for the rigors of being a lawyer. Developing healthy coping mechanisms and stress-busting habits requires work, but it’s an effort that pays off in dividends. Law students who are willing to look at themselves and do a deep dive into their mental health and coping mechanisms are better off.
Prioritize the basics: sleep, diet, exercise
This is basic advice but it bears repeating: getting enough sleep, eating right, and squeezing in some exercise is critical in law school. Granted, finding time to do so may feel impossible, but these are the building blocks for good overall health and worth prioritizing. Always. So bust out those time management skills and do your best to get a little more sleep, do a quick workout, or run to the grocery store for some wholesome goodies.
Don’t make big decisions
When you’re in a tough situation and stressed out, it’s the worst time to make an impulsive decision, Bowe says. You’re not thinking clearly. Give yourself 24 hours to think things over, talk it out with a trusted friend, write a pros and cons list—whatever you need to do to feel like you’re approaching the decision from a rational place.
Write in a journal
Think journaling is just for kids scribbling “Dear Diary”? Think again. Regular journaling can be a powerful tool for processing your emotions and identifying both good and bad patterns in your behavior. It doesn’t have to take long either. The most important part is sticking with it. Apps like Day One, Penzu, and The 5 Minute Journal can make journaling a breeze.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Why did you want to go to law school in the first place? Whether it’s providing a great life for your family, accomplishing your professional goals, or enacting policy changes, let it motivate you. After all, in just a few short years, you'll graduate from law school and a new adventure will begin.
In law school—and in life—it’s important to remember that you can’t control your stressors. But you can control how you deal with them. Focus on knowing yourself and finding ways of relieving stress that work best for you. With a little time and effort, you’ll learn to manage your stress in healthy and productive ways.