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Five Tips for Keeping Sane during another Year of Law School

3 students hiding behind their books

A new year of law school means great things: crisp new stationery, new people with fresh brains to pick, and new 9am lectures to not attend. However, the new academic year also brings the old stresses of untouched readings piling up in the corner, applying to volunteer at anywhere remotely law related, and overachievers who make you feel like a Professional Failure at Life.

When this realisation dawns, this is the immediate reaction of many:

Cat facing the corner

While it may seem these issues are inevitable, the trick lies in how we react to them. Here are five simple things you can do to stop you from falling into the black hole of law school insanity this year.

1. Change it up

After one, two, three, four, or even five years of law school, we inevitably form habits that stick like ‘Kirby’ to ‘dissent’. We claim them to be useful. Your parking spot minimises the time needed to walk to class, maximising morning sleep in time. Your coffee place makes the most potent short black on campus, needed for optimal life performance. Your seat in the library, the one you claimed in first year, is where you study best.

This may all be true, but nothing leads to insanity quicker than doing the same thing every, single, day, year after year. While you can’t change big things, like having to go to class, mixing up little things at uni like your café of choice or the route you walk to your lecture, can make another year of law school seem a little newer and a little less like Groundhog Day.

2. Have Non Law School friends

Law friends are God’s gift to law school. As well as being excellent at general friend stuff, they get us through subjects that make us want to tear our hair out and provide support during the torment of the clerkship/grad job period.

However, when you’re all facing the same stresses at once, it becomes very easy to lose perspective. This is when it helps to have people around you who have no idea who the top firms are and think a tort is a type of cake. While all your law friends are losing their collective minds about that exam or about the prospect of being Not A Lawyer, you have an option to remove yourself from it. Having friends outside law reminds us that you can be a perfectly excellent human being without being a lawyer and that your degree is not your whole life.

3. Quit the comparisons

Someone wise and quotable once said ‘Comparison is a thief of happiness’. This could not be more true than in law school. Put hordes of high achievers together in one place and panic ensues, yet this panic is largely due to comparing ourselves to each other on the Almighty Bell Curve.

Instead of beating yourself up for being a failure when you feel someone is better at life, try using other people’s successes to learn more about yourself. Use the know it all in your tute to help you identify where there are gaps in your knowledge and as motivation to actually go and learn it. Use someone else’s career win to ask questions about what you might want to do with your life. By seeing other people’s successes as part of your own, you can actively better yourself. Infinitely more helpful than the usual paralysing angst of feeling like you’re not good enough.

4. Cut excessive thinking

In law school we are taught how to think and over analyse anything that seems like it could maybe, potentially, hypothetically be a problem. While this is helpful when trying to distinguish between all the torturous types of hearsay, it real life it kind of sucks. Most of us are guilty of having a monkey mind- constantly swinging from one thought branch to another, sometimes with no stopping in between.

The mental newsfeed is fine, enjoyable even, when thinking about happy things, but becomes your worst enemy when something doesn’t go your way. ‘This past exam is hard’ leads to ‘I’m so bad at this subject!’, which turns into ‘failure awaits’ and somehow evolves into rocking back and forth in foetal position, mental health on the brink, whispering ‘Centrelink awaits me...’. Yet most of that IS NOT EVEN REAL. All you face is one, lowly past exam, so why let your mind convince you that it’s more than that? Stopping the mental train of thought takes practise but is one of the most helpful things you can do to save yourself from losing your mind.

5. Stay in the moment

So much of the angst law students experience is in face of an unknown future. It’s not our fault either, as much of the law school experience is geared that way. Get good marks so you can get a clerkship in the future so you can a job in the future and be happy in the future. Everyone is concerned about what to do with the rest of their lives.

Here’s the thing though: nobody experiences the rest of their lives in one fell swoop. It will be a series of moments, just like this one. So what makes this moment, the one that is real and in front of you, less important than an imagined one in an imagined time? Instead of seeing right now as a stepping-stone to the future, try and appreciate it fully for what it is. Being the master of your own timetable, having the opportunity to learn every day and three-month summers are not going to be around forever. Focus on being in the moment, instead of what’s going to happen in some distance time, and your mental health will thank you.

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