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Law school can be stressful and it’s only one part of all you have going on! Practicing self-care and stress management will help you to prioritize goals and balance the demands of your personal and professional life.
Self-care means paying attention to different aspects of your life: proper nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, satisfying relationships, personal meaning and perspective. Below are tips and resources that will help you cultivate habits to carry you through law school and beyond.
If you are experiencing overwhelming stress that these strategies can’t help, please contact Yale Mental Health & Counseling at 203-432-0290 or, after business hours, 203-432-0123 or YLS’ clinical counselor Mia Wilson at 203-432-2574, or wellness counselor Catherine Banson at 203-432-2366.
Tips for handling a stress response in the heat of the moment:
- Become aware - Pause to notice and acknowledge (“Oh, this is a stress response. Stress is here right now.”)
- Accept - Just for now, allow the physical sensations, emotions and thoughts without adding any analysis or judgment. Deep breathing may help.
- Mindfully proceed - Drop into the physical sensations of the moment and see if you can indeed start to read one sentence at a time or type one bulleted phrase at a time into your outline. Stay with your moment to moment experience with care and curiosity. Rather than freeze mode you can proceed with the energy of your stress response to grow and adapt.
If you need more help, consider:
- Self-compassion - Offer yourself supportive touch and words (“May I feel safe." “I deserve to be treated gently.”)
- EFT tapping – Emotional Freedom Techniques help you calm your body and regulate your nervous system. Wellness counselor Catherine can teach you; you may also contact firstname.lastname@example.org to download The Tapping Solution app.
Self-care helps you to be less reactive and to ride your stress response with more ease:
Find your people
Social support is a strong predictor of well-being and YLS offers a precious chance to make lifelong friends. Getting and giving support will increase positive emotions in the intense years here. Beyond Sterling Law Building, reach out to community or religious organizations or friends and family members with whom you have a balanced relationship. Resources both on and off campus can be found here.
Setting goals and priorities will help eliminate stressors. Decide what must get done now and learn to say “no” if you feel like you’re taking on too much or an activity doesn’t truly serve you.
A nutrient-rich diet low in sugar provides physical energy. Yale Health offers a number of healthy eating resources, including a quiz linked to personalized dietary recommendations. A Student Health Coordinator from Yale Health (203-436-5464; email@example.com) can assist you in developing better eating habits.
Reduce Substance Use
Avoid using substances to dampen the stress response since they can affect your health negatively and don’t lead to skills-building. Find more substance abuse resources here.
Deep belly breathing (aka vagal breathing) regulates the nervous system. Other techniques include warm baths, stretching, muscle relaxation and visualization.
From Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die from Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance, the benefits of mindfulness meditation for law students include:
- Increases gray matter in the thinking brain (prefrontal cortex, insula) and emotional brain (hippocampus) and connections between brain regions
- Improves immune functioning
- Develops greater control over attention and decreases distractibility
- Trains the brain to notice patterns and events instead of overreacting
- Grows compassion and empathy
- Stimulates left frontal lobe activation, improving mood
- Reduces cardiovascular disease, asthma, Type II diabetes, PMS, chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, phobias, and eating disorders
- Decreases stress-related hormones
Meditate every Thursday at 9:30am with wellness counselor Catherine Banson and check out her Soundcloud meditations. You can also sign up for Ten Percent Happier or Headspace (YLS has 200 subscriptions of each). Buddhist Life at Yale holds regular sits and talks with various teachers. If you’re looking for a community of lawyers and law students across the country to practice with, tap into Mindfulness in Law Society’s virtual gatherings.
To optimize learning and emotional self-regulation, try for a consistent routine that allows time both to move your body during the day and to wind down before bedtime. Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening. Here are more ideas on how to “rest well.”
Exercise promotes healthy brain functioning, reduces muscle tension, anxiety and depression and increases serotonin & dopamine, helping with mood, impulsivity and feelings of reward and satisfaction. Some say this is the secret sauce! Check out this page on keeping active and these “move well” ideas. The Student Health Coordinator (203-436-5464; firstname.lastname@example.org) is available to help you craft a personalized plan.
Taking a moment to notice nature can refocus and calm your mind. According to this paper by the Yale School of the Environment, “Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.”
Even when time is tight, do something pleasurable, e.g., read a novel, sing in the shower, or watch a favorite comedy (laughter benefits both mental and physical health). Consider reclaiming play!
Focus on the positive
Dwelling on what’s good in your life can make you healthier, improve your sleep and make you more energetic, generous, optimistic and successful. Gratitude practices include:
- Notebook/jar/phone: Record 1-5 things daily (repeating or unique)
- At day’s end, dwell on what you accomplished rather than what you didn’t
- Send a thankful letter/text to someone
- Make a list of your blessings
- Savor & appreciate what you have
Express your feelings
Find a vehicle that’s comfortable! Write in a journal; talk to someone, whether that’s a friend, relative, counselor or religious leader; or join a support group (Yale Mental Health & Counseling runs some).
You may want to access services listed in our Wellness Resources. If you feel overwhelmed and self-help isn’t effective, reach out to Mia Wilson, the clinical counselor at YLS, Catherine Banson, the wellness counselor at YLS, or Yale Mental Health & Counseling (203-432-0290 M-F 8:30-5:00 or 203-432-0123 after hours).
American Bar Association Law Students Mental Health Essentials
Healthy Ways to Handle Life’s Stressors from the American Psychological Association
How to Make Stress Your Friend – TED talk by Kelly McGonigal
The Law Student’s Guide to being a Happy Healthy Lawyer
Stress Management Tips from the Yale Stress Center, School of Medicine
Time Management Advice from Yale Health
The Wellness Booster Kit for students from the ABA
Why Eustress Can Be Your Friend from Very Well Mind