Elizabeth Rimmer - Law students, mental health and stress: keeping up appearances
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Your vocational, professional legal training is the first step toward what we hope will be a rewarding and successful career, but many law students feel it is important to keep up appearances. There is a belief that in order to look good, you have to give the impression that you are a potential professional with ambition and drive.
This can sometimes mask a multitude of hidden problems: anxiety, panic attacks, or feelings of being unable to cope, for example. There are students who outwardly seem confident and competent, but wake up with knots in their stomachs as they dread going in to college, sweat about deadlines and worry about exams.
Those who experience these issues worry that there is stigma attached to experiencing stress and anxiety; that it may prevent them from becoming successful, or stop them from furthering their legal careers.
However, despite these concerns it is important to listen to what your body and mind are saying. When you are feeling overwhelmed, try the following.
- Talk to teaching staff or your tutor.
- Organise your study time and deadlines into a manageable plan.
- Go to a GP and get a MOT, as you would for your car, to see if there is any underlying condition that could be treated.
- Consider the counselling that may be offered by your college, law school or university.
- Become more self-aware and recognise when you have a stress trigger – the symptoms are different for each of us – and immediately after the episode take a few minutes to recover. This prevents the body storing stress chemicals, minimising their impact, and also helps you to avoid being wound up like a spring at the end of the day.
- Take time for exercise and activities that you enjoy; long hours are sometimes unavoidable, but don't let them be the norm.
It's important to acknowledge what is happening to you. Keeping up appearances for everyone else is one thing, but telling yourself that you are fine and coping when you are not is something else. Don't worry that others around you seem much better at coping, they may be putting on an act too. Not everyone responds in the same way to stress, and your personal response doesn't lessen you as a person.
Don't put on a brave face and struggle on: acknowledge how you’re feeling and see your GP for an honest discussion. You can also call LawCare’s free, independent and confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888 or visit www.lawcare.org.uk.
We know what the pressures of studying for vocational, professional law courses are like – we understand life in the law.
Elizabeth Rimmer is the chief executive of legal mental health and wellbeing charity LawCare.