It wasn’t until my first year law school that I became aware of just how uncontrollable my anxiety was. I can count at least ten occasions where I would have an embarrassingly public panic attack walking home from the train station and have to retreat to the nearest public toilet cubicle to release my tears.
The majority of these attacks happened driving to the train station every morning and most of the time I would juggle up whether tutorial participation marks were worth the feeling of being unable to function like the average human being.
This meant in my first two years I lost out on marks big time due to the fact I was too stubborn and too ashamed to deal with my anxiety and depressive moods in a constructive way. That was until one morning: I had a 10am Contracts tute (my favourite subject at the time), my backpack was loaded and my tute work completed for the week, so why was I so worked up when I arrived at the train station?
To ponder such a question I drove my car straight to the nearest secluded area (missed my tute in the process) and decided to take a long bushwalk. Upon completing my journey I realised that I was not being strong or admirable for hiding my anxiety, but was being counteractive instead.
I should also make it clear that a certain amount of anxiety is good anxiety and can probably be labelled as ‘stress’. Without that kind of anxiety we wouldn’t be driven to do our readings, to study for our exams and to panic before assignment deadlines.
But anxiety is something that needs to be tackled before you experience the horrible side effects of it: decreased productivity while studying, fatigue, loss of interest, decreased satisfaction, physical and psychological disorders, ulcers, eating disorders, panic attacks and headaches. Worst of all, it can destroy your relationships with others.
It is absolutely no well-kept secret that anxiety and depression are major problems within not only law school but also the legal profession. Some of our most successful lawyers are grappling with stress and trauma related illness and the existence of groups such as the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation is a wonderful support base for those who need that extra bit of help.
Here are some ways to limit the negativity and help address anxiety-related illnesses:
Stop being such a perfectionist – work towards getting your best result rather than a ‘perfect’ result. Stand back from your work and take a deep breath.
Minimize procrastination – start assignments early and break them up over the period you have to do them.
Sleep! Getting a healthy dose of sleep can do wonders for your anxiety and helps you to think clearly when studying.
Take time out for yourself and actually schedule this time so you don’t forget to do it – get a massage, read a non-law related book, do relaxation exercises, exercise or watch television.
Seek help and don’t feel ashamed to do so – all Australian universities offer free counselling services. If you need to see a GP there is no judgment and most of the time they are more than willing to get you cheap student deals on psychologist appointments.
Hold out on caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and sugar as much as you can – believe it or not but they can add to stress and anxiety (no, duh!).
Avoid people and social situations that can feed into nervous energy – law is highly competitive. You may be in a study group with the most organised and subject-topping person in your course, but does that make you feel better about your progress or worse? There is also no shame in cutting certain negative people out of your life. Start to notice when you feel bad and eliminate the circumstances where these feelings arise.
Affirmations work wonders. I am not ashamed to say that at one point I had a sticky note that said “you rule” hanging above my bed.
Enjoyed this post? Sign up for the Survive Law weekly newsletter for more.