Your first year of university should be thrilling and exciting. Often, this will be your first time living away from home. You’ll be socialising with different people, making new friends, and all the while undertaking a degree you’re passionate about. Along with this drastic change, new responsibilities will inevitably present themselves. Your commitments might feel overwhelming at first, which can trigger increasing stress levels. It’s crucial to learn how to manage your time to make the most of your years as a law student. But to do that, you’ll need to keep stress levels at a minimal.
Stress in the first year: noticing the signs
Small amounts of stress are recognised to be useful in driving productivity. But it’s important to recognise when your stress exceeds healthy or “normal” levels. Excessive and prolonged levels of stress can lead to anxiety, restless sleep and irritability, which can further generate feelings of depression, mental health issues and even lead to diseases. Everyone is likely to feel overwhelmed by stress at least once in their lifetime, and this is especially true when entering a new environment such as a law school.
Major stressors when studying law include high expectations, competitive environments, heavy workloads, final examinations, social isolation and family tensions. You might find yourself experiencing symptoms of stress, such as unusual eating patterns, difficulty in making decisions, incessant worrying, restlessness, indigestion, heartburn and headaches. To discover further ways in which stress may be affecting your health and wellbeing, take a look at the Mind website.
There are many techniques that you can incorporate into your daily routine that may help to reduce excessive stress.
You could, for example, practise mindfulness on a regular basis, or more specifically mindfulness-based stress reduction. Dedicating a small amount of time every day to activities such as breathing exercises, meditation, gentle yoga and mind-body exercises can be highly effective in taking control of your stress. There are plenty of free apps and websites you can explore that offer guidance and tips about mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Learning how to balance your studies and your social life will also reduce your stress levels. Creating a timetable that dedicates parts of your day to compulsory tasks such as academia and various other universities commitments, while leaving time for social and physical activities, can help to ensure you reach all your deadlines within the correct timeframe. Another idea is to dedicate time to clearing up your workspace and taking care of miscellaneous tasks, such as doing laundry. This could help clear your head and allow you to focus on important tasks related to your studies.
Finally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle while studying is shown to help maintain manageable levels of stress. Starting a physical activity, such as joining the rowing society or attending your local gym, will significantly reduce your stress levels. Performing any physical activity releases endorphins— the “feel good” hormone—leaving you high on energy and triggering a positive feeling in your body. Further, eating a balanced diet and avoiding “short-burst” and processed foods will help to maintain constant levels of energy and reduce fatigue.
It’s good to talk
It’s important to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, whether that be a friend, family member, or your tutors or mentors. Sharing your feelings with another person can distract you from your own stressful thoughts and release the mounting tension. They may offer an alternative perspective to the situation you’re facing, and alleviate any strains you may be feeling. Alternatively, you can look to counselling by getting professional help and advice from an external body, or you could contact a helpline for confidential support.
If you feel stress is seriously affecting your mental health and wellbeing, it might be worth considering therapy. A good first port of call is to check whether your university offers any mental health services. Most universities tend to offer student psychological and counselling services. You can register with their services and seek an initial consultation with a counsellor to discuss the best form of guidance for you. These could include short-term individual counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, psychiatric consultation and workshops, as well as external services.
Further resources at your disposal include LawCare and Mind, both of which offer useful tips, resources and helplines. If you’re seriously struggling with stress, please reach out and seek help and guidance from another individual, whether that be friends and family or a counsellor. It may sound paradoxical, but strength comes from vulnerability.