By Sophia Soloway, LCSW at New York Law School
If you’re working out and challenging yourself to excel at a new goal, you’re going to take certain precautions—gradually adding reps at higher weights with proper conditioning, stretching your muscles before your exercise, and taking rest days as needed—to keep yourself safe and healthy and your body free from injuries.
Your inner life is the same way. When taking on a new challenge or starting a new chapter of your life, it’s important to ensure you receive the care and support you need to keep your mind and your emotional life safe and healthy.
The ability to study and thrive as a law student is deeply connected to mental health, and with the right supports in place, students will be better able to manage their mental health and live happier, more productive lives both inside and outside of law school.
I want students to know that mental health struggles are not a sign of weakness. In fact, dealing with what life throws at you and taking steps to help yourself are signs of resilience and grit—both traits that will serve you well as a lawyer.
From my experience treating law students and new lawyers, here are four things NYLS students can do to manage their mental health.
At NYLS, I see a range of students: students who just graduated from college and students who have had careers and are coming to law school later or making a career change. All these students have different relationships with their inner lives. Some have been in therapy before and have done a lot of self-exploration, while others have not spent much time examining their own mental health. Spending some time getting to know yourself, either in therapy or through other means of self-exploration, is critical to understanding who you are and what makes you happy.
You might learn: How do I cope when I’m stressed? How does stress manifest for me? What triggers my anxiety? Do I tend to isolate myself when I feel down?
Having a sense of your patterns is the first step towards managing your mental health when things feel hard or overwhelming.
The research is clear: Regular exercise is extremely helpful for our mental health. Oftentimes when I suggest exercise or walks to my student clients, they dismiss the idea and say that they can’t find the time. They sometimes sound as if they expect themselves to operate like machines with no breaks, no self-care, and no time for enjoyment. But we are not machines. Our energy towards studying (or anything else) is not unlimited, and if we do not allow ourselves to recharge, we will not be able to keep studying, reading, or focusing.
Exercise does not have to be rigorous or extremely time-consuming. It doesn’t even have to be a trip to the gym. Taking a brisk walk, doing morning stretches, or taking a yoga class are great ways to incorporate movement into your life. Even a little bit of movement on a regular basis can go a long way.
When you are studying around-the-clock, it can be easy to self-isolate. Isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and detachment. The support of a community is critical to ward off these feelings, and for law students who often feel like they don’t have time for regular social events, study groups can be a great way to feel connected to a community and gain the support you need.
In my time at NYLS, I’ve learned that study groups are a crucial way for law students to connect and help each other through the experience of law school. They are a way to create bonds with people who understand the unique experience of a rigorous law school life. Study groups are also a reminder that, as a law student, you are not alone but rather part of a community of people with similar goals.
I always tell my student clients to try and set aside even a little bit of time outside of studying to do something they like. It can be as simple as cooking a special meal or watching a favorite TV show. Adding things into your life that you do because you like them can balance out the rigors of law school and keep you going through this multi-year challenge.
When I make the above suggestions to my student clients, I often hear panic about making the time to care for their mental and physical health. Students may express fear of stigma around accessing mental health services and worry that the legal profession demands lawyers to be perfect and never in need of help.
But I am here to tell you that is not the case. It’s important to make the effort to prioritize yourself during law school (and beyond), so that you can sustain yourself and thrive while meeting the rigorous and rewarding demands of law school and a career in law. Putting in a bit of time for yourself could be the difference between feeling in control and out of control during times of duress. Making time for yourself is an acknowledgement that you are human and not a machine and that you deserve community, care, and to prioritize yourself.
NYLS has a number of options to support students in addition to a staff of deans who are available for support. Students experiencing stress, anxiety, or other emotional challenges may reach out to the Office of Student Life and/or NYLS’s licensed clinical social worker, Sophia Soloway, to schedule a virtual session.