Managing stress in law school

 Juggling life and study as a law student can be demanding, and you may find yourself feeling stressed at times. 

When do you want to be concerned about stress?

One of the tricky things about stress is that each of us experiences stress differently. This makes it difficult to describe what ‘normal’ stress looks like, and subsequently, to define clearly at what point stress turns into something more serious.

In general terms, identifying stress usually means noticing specific changes in ourselves, or someone else. Usually these changes fall into these categories:

  • Physical Changes – Body tension or feeling breathless
  • Emotional Changes – Feeling overwhelmed or anxious
  • Thinking Changes – Trouble seeing big picture or remembering important details
  • Behaviour Changes – Being less productive or drinking too much coffee

When does stress become something more serious?

Psychologists usually answer this by asking people questions about time frames and the impact of the stress on someone’s life and functioning.

Generally, stress may become a problem, or something more serious, when it has been going on for too long, when there hasn’t been enough opportunity for recovery, and/or when the stress is interfering in the person’s ability to do their job well or function well in their life. For example the stress is interfering with their ability to be a good parent, or to maintain close relationships.

As well as this interference in the person’s life or functioning, or both, stress can morph into other difficulties. Often these will show up as anxiety or depression.

What should you do if you notice these signs in yourself, or in another student? Firstly, and most importantly, tell someone, and get help.

The person you tell will ideally be someone you trust, and whom you feel comfortable with. You don’t have to give details; just let them know you are finding things hard. If the words are hard show them this article, or anything else you have seen or read which describes how you are feeling.

Secondly, seek help for yourself, or ask the person you have told to do it for you or with you, if the help seeking feels too hard.

How much stress is normal?

Another tricky question to answer because again there are individual differences. Some people are comfortable with and even enjoy high levels of stress. They may think of the signs as signs of challenge, or excitement. Other people experience even small amounts of stress as uncomfortable. There is no right or wrong about this, it’s just personal style and preference. It is helpful to know which style you tend to prefer as this has implications for career and life choices.

One fact we do know is that as human beings, we perform best and maintain better well-being when stress or challenge is for specific periods of time, and is balanced with recovery (when we recharge our mental and physical batteries). Oscillating between periods of challenge and periods of recovery is ideal.

Good places to start

  •  Your University’s Health and Counselling, or Chaplaincy services.
  • Talking to a Student Support Adviser within your University’s law faculty.
  • Free call or text 1737 to talk to (or text with) a trained counsellor or peer support worker
  • Your GP.
  • NZ Depression Helpline 0800 111757.
  • NZ Mental Health Foundation