Law school is a stressful time. The major workload, heavily-weighted exams, competitive environment, pressure to get a job and financial strain leaves a lot of law students stressed out to the max. Unfortunately, it’s not realistic to recommend closing the books and taking off on a two-week vacation in the Bahamas when things get tough. Here are some coping techniques that helped me manage the stress of law school, without sacrificing my grades.
1. Spend time with non-law friends
It’s easy to get caught up and feel like law school is your whole life (it’s not). When you’re at your wit’s end with law school, it can help to spend some time with family or friends outside of law school. It can be as simple as a phone call or Facetime call. Law students, especially in 1L, can live in a law school bubble that makes it easy to forget that there’s more to life. Spending time with people with no ties to law school or anything law always gives me a refreshing perspective.
There aren’t enough hours in a day as a law student. It might be hard to find time to exercise, but I promise squeezing in even a half-hour workout is well worth it. As I’m sure you’ve heard, studies show that exercise improves memory and studying, but it’s also good for your mental and physical health – something that often gets pushed to the side during the extra stressful periods in law school. If you’re worried about lack of time, schedule time to exercise in your calendar so you know that you’ve planned accordingly.
3. Don’t overcommit
While I strongly recommend getting involved in extracurriculars in law school, don’t try to do it all. Before committing to something, understand exactly how much of a time commitment it is and whether you’ll be able to take it on. Extracurriculars are supposed to enrich your law school experience, not feel like a burden. Pick one or two things you can maintain throughout the year but don’t spread yourself thin trying to participate in absolutely everything. Don’t feel guilty if you need to say no to an event or social night – people will understand.
4. Let yourself feel the feels
When you’re feeling stressed, you might think you need to stifle your emotions, put on a brave face and push through it – especially when a major assignment or exam is approaching. If you’ve had a stressful day, give yourself full permission to truly feel it. Don’t bury your feelings or ignore them. Let yourself be sad, angry, frustrated, exhausted. When you get home, hit pause and get your emotions out, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes. Ugly cry, scream in your pillow or do what you need to do (safely) to get your emotions out. I promise you’ll feel better afterwards.
5. Ask your professors for help
If you’re feeling stressed because you don’t understand something, whether it’s a concept, case, or assignment, ask your professor for help. I used to avoid asking questions, worried I would ask something dumb. This couldn’t have been more of a mistake. Asking questions shows that you care about what you’re learning and have initiative. You’ll also avoid hours of stress, trying to teach yourself something and worrying about whether you’re doing it right. Always, always, always, ask questions.
6. Seek professional help
A survey by the Canadian Bar Association found that over half (58%) of lawyers, judges and law students experience significant stress, nearly half (48%) battle anxiety, and a quarter suffer from depression. If you’re feeling burnt out, please seek professional help. All law schools in Canada have mental health professionals and resources available to law students, and there’s no shame in using them.
Law school is stressful for everyone, so know that you’re not alone. Whether you use the above tips to deal with stress, or find other methods that work better for you, it’s important to deal with stress in healthy ways. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 9-1-1 or get help from a local crisis centre.