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Managing stress: taking a break isn't procrastinating

Managing stress: taking a break isn't procrastinating

Max Alexander-Jones


For those of you who are about to start your first year, I am probably making the understatement of the century when I say that going to university is immensely different from going to school. Stress is inevitable.

This blog will shine light on the stress that first year’s may feel and how taking a break from work to clear your mind should never be confused with procrastination.

After Freshers week finishes, and you move on from the accompanying excitement, reality catches up with you.

You have what I call that ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment – “I’ve a feeling we’re not in school anymore”.

This is the moment when you realise that you have left your life at school behind and are finally on the path to becoming the nebulous ‘adult’. It’s important to note that I don’t think this is exclusive to studying law; uni life is an enormous leap for students of all disciplines.

The big jump

Despite the best efforts that your uni will go to make you feel welcome, settled and ready, no one can tell you the best way to take notes in a way that you will understand and suit you. No one can show you the things that are relevant and the things to ignore. It’s not like school where topics are revisited repeatedly and spelt out. This jump to having to work things out yourself is easy for some people but they are in the minority. The jump can feel as if you’ve suddenly gone from taking baby steps, to running a marathon.

Soon the work starts piling up, and you sit in lectures half the term zoned out, or with a permanent confused expression. There will be a point where you panic, asking questions such as:

  • Can I do this?
  • What if I fail?
  • What if admissions got it wrong?  

Of course, no one ever wants to admit they’re feeling overwhelmed. And from personal experience gained through listening to friends, this projected perception may result in a sense of feeling alone in the struggle.

But of course, that isn’t true. No matter how you may feel now, it’s important to remember that year in, year out across the country and the world people go through their first year of uni. And at one point or another, they will have hit a blip. Another thing to remember is that, although it is hard, the first year isn’t designed to be impossible.

In my experience, the hardest thing I’ve had to learn is that sometimes I must take a step back to relax. Sometimes rather than trying to cram in as much work as possible, it is better to realise that enough is enough.

Procrastination isn’t taking a break

Sometimes when I’m doing a large bulk of reading or work, I will take a five-minute break, which then turns into 50 minutes, which then turns into five hours. I end up feeling guilty for not sticking to my plan and then have a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the day.

One thing I have learnt from this is that procrastination isn’t taking a valid break, because of that guilt I will feel like I have to work more, and then I end up burning myself out.

Listen to your body

Personally, I have learnt the hard way that sometimes I need a time out, where I don’t do any work at all. I am the kind of person who usually feels like I always have to be doing something and be productive. However, I must listen to myself and understand that my brain can only take so much. Yes, you might feel overloaded with work and like there is not enough time, but at the end of the day, your health and general wellbeing is the number one priority. You should understand and respect this by taking a step back, sleeping early and refreshing yourself.

Look for a hobby

I would also advise you to do something totally unrelated to your subject and take up a hobby. For example, I’ve recently been trying to teach myself to draw, this helps me to destress. Sometimes I read or write something totally unrelated to law, to prevent me from feeling stuck in one type of world.

The more you are around something that’s part of the stress, the less it will help. I think the most important points I am trying to make are:

  • find balance;
  • be realistic; and
  • give yourself a break.

For first-year students, the type of stress you experience at university will be a different kind of stress from what you have experienced before. Despite this, the ways of dealing with it are still very much the same.

If you’re a first-year law student: