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Managing stress in first year

Managing stress in first year

Joe Defries


In this article I’ll address the important issue of mental health in the context of studying law in first year. I’ll discuss the early signs that you are experiencing stress, how to manage stress and why having a routine at university is vital to staying productive. 

What could be stressing me out?

Whilst stress can develop because of a range of factors, heavy workloads, social pressure, high expectations, competitive students and being away from home are common stressors in first year of law school. Unfamiliar sleeping and eating patterns don’t help mental health at university either. Getting into a cycle of poor habits can escalate to poor mental health and making students feel stressed about why they’re not coping like others. It’s important to note that every student is likely to experience stress at some point, so feeling like you’re struggling is really based off the false premise that everyone is meeting all deadlines, finding the course content easy and never feels overwhelmed. It’s worth speaking to other law students, friends and family about your university experience so you can listen to their reassurance rather than bottling up the stress. 

How to lower stress levels

Everyone will respond differently to the techniques commonly used to reduce stress. Therefore, you may need to trial a few techniques until you find something which works for you. From breathing exercises to reviewing the MIND website, I strongly believe there is something for everyone. In my personal experience, intense exercise and sport with friends has allowed me to release stress and tension most effectively. Sport takes my mind off of course deadlines and refocuses my attention to being productive when it’s finished. However, this is only my personal experience. If you want to try this out, universities have a vast array of sports clubs and there is abundant opportunity to try new forms of exercise out. Thinking more long term, another preventative measure to lower stress is to have a set routine that can comfortably be followed. Don’t set yourself too many goals if you’re already stressed, as failing to meet your own expectations will likely manifest itself into more negative thoughts. Simple things like having a set time which you wake up at university or a repeatable morning routine will give you the necessary stability in your life to stay on top of things and manage your time better. In my experience of university so far, there is nothing which leads to a less productive day than sleeping in late. Dieting is often overlooked as a significant part of feeling good mentally. Eating healthily, drinking enough water and limiting the amount of junk food consumed at university will affect your mental health as much as it will your physical health. 

Is law school even worth it?

Struggling with law school and feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle academically could make you question if law school is even worth it. As a first year, it’s important to remember that you are only at the start of your journey. You will improve note-taking and exam technique naturally as you progress throughout law school, so being patient is key. If you chose to study a law degree you probably had a high level of interest in the subject and with the clear career paths available after a law degree, I think that temporary stress is part of the challenge and can be softened if you focus on the value that this degree could potentially bring to your life later on. Therefore, take a step back from the narrow issue of missing a formative essay deadline or juggling extracurriculars and remember why you came to law school in the first place. Another mental trick which I have used myself when the going gets tough is to ask myself ‘which degree would I rather be doing?’. It’s a good thing to be able to choose how you suffer. The seemingly endless pain of remembering quotes and reading judgements is a struggle which I want to endure for the benefits of a law degree. You may not agree with my analysis, but I know it has helped me and others in my position in first year.