Law school can be stressful, so can life. Sometimes law school + life gets to be a lot. The key to managing both is knowing how to take care of yourself. Practicing self-care and stress management now will help you to prioritize your goals and balance the demands of your personal and professional life throughout your career.
Self-care means taking care of all aspects of your life: proper nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, satisfying relationships, personal meaning, and perspective. Below are some tips and resources to help you reduce stress and cultivate habits that will nurture you throughout law school and your career.
If you are experiencing overwhelming stress that better sleep, nutrition, and exercise can’t help, please contact Student Services at 510.643.2744 or Berkeley Law’s dedicated psychologist Dr. Linda Zaruba at 510.643.5447.
It’s one thing not to eat enough fruits and vegetables. It’s another thing entirely to acknowledge that poor diet can impair your concentration and aggravate stress. The keys to a healthy diet are relatively simple: eat more plants, including whole grains and legumes; limit processed foods, sugars, animal fat, and alcohol.
UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health publishes evidence-based nutrition information and recipes for better health at BerkeleyWellness.com. More Matters is another online resource with information on meal planning, shopping and storing healthy ingredients.
If you’d like to speak to a nutritionist, drop by the Tang Center or call for an appointment at 510.642.2000. You can also request a coaching session to discuss your goals with a health and wellness professional or peruse Tang’s list of nutrition resources for additional links and information.
If you’re concerned about your alcohol use you can take online assessments here and here. For more information, tips and support for cutting back or quitting, contact Dr. Linda Zaruba in 362 Boalt Hall (510.643.5447) or the Tang Center (510.642.6074).
You know exercise is good for you, but did you know that sitting is bad? Whether you like walking, running, yoga, stretching, swimming, cycling, lifting, or planking, more movement is good for your mental and physical health.
If you don’t currently have a regular exercise routine, or if you had one that has since lapsed, now is the time to get moving. Even moderate exercise relieves stress and improves mood. Establish the habit now and it will serve you well throughout your life.
Cal Recreational Sports (Cal Rec) has extensive facilities, fitness programs, and instructional classes available to students for $10 a semester. Members can participate in intramural sports, group exercise classes, and martial arts. If you’re looking for more adventure, take a class in kayaking, paddle boarding, ropes or wilderness medicine. The Tang Center has information and links to get you started and advice on injury prevention and self-care.
If you’re short on time, or feeling out of shape and overwhelmed, try walking. Studies suggest that walking or hiking in nature can reduce stress and improve memory, attention, and vitality. Strawberry Creek runs right through campus and you can seek it out for a quick reprieve from studying. For more ambitious hikers and runners, try the Berkeley Fire Trail or the Claremont Canyon Trail above campus. The East Bay Regional Park District also has hiking and biking trails to explore.
Sleep helps us regulate our moods, respond to emotional challenges and learn. Sleep needs vary, but most adults need 6-8 hours a day to feel refreshed and alert. Sleep problems can contribute to worry and anxiety, weight gain, and relationship troubles. To make matters worse, alcohol and nighttime computer use can both interfere with sleep. In short, sleep problems add to your stress and mess with your head.
Respect your need for sleep now and you will set yourself up for a longer and healthier career. If you’re experiencing sleep problems, manage stress and develop routines that support better sleep. For help falling asleep now, forget counting sheep and try reciting favorite song lyrics or plots form favorite books. For an added boost to your studying, try an afternoon nap.
Make time for friends and family
You already know the importance of social support and you probably also know how to make friends. Your time here is short, but the friends you make will be friends for life. So, put down your books and back away from the outlines. Say yes to coffee and conversation. Make a point of talking to people not in your mod or even in law school. Plan a dinner party with friends. Take a deep breath, smile, and be kind.
Remember to make time for the friends and family you had before law school. Sure it’s hard to be you and maybe they don’t understand, but odds are it’s hard to be them too. The analytical thinking and critical debate skills that got you here may not be what your partner or parent or former roommate need from you right now. Again, breathe, smile, and be kind. Your friends and family will thank you for it.
Remember to Play
It’s true there’s not enough time for all you have to do between now and finals, but that will almost certainly be the case throughout your career. Remembering to make time for play will save you from burnout and help you relax and focus better when it’s time to work. So set aside some time for a music break, a dance party, a run, a bike ride, or pointless fun and games with a child, pet, roommate or friend.
If you’re in need of ideas: take an art class, catch up on film history, go to the movies (downloads count, have you seen all these?), root for the home team (GO BEARS!), take a dance class, visit the Greek, read a book, visit a museum, or catch a theater or dance performance. And that’s just Berkeley; Oakland, San Francisco, and much of Northern California are all well within reach, each with much to explore.
Whatever you decide to do, consider inviting a friend or friends and use the time as a mental vacation. You’ll enjoy it more and feel revitalized afterwards if you focus on the experience and leave your work and worries behind.
For some people, law school fits neatly with their sense of purpose and personal meaning. For others, it doesn’t. U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center recommends practicing mindfulness, gratitude, forgiveness and kindness for a happier more meaningful life. Other recent findings in the field suggest that callousness has a price, that status and ethics are inversely related, that respect is more important than riches, and that compassion can be learned.
Whether or not these ideas resonate with you, now is a good time to contemplate what your legal education will mean for you in terms of meaningful work and a meaningful life. Core values and a healthy sense of perspective will help you enormously when making choices in law school and throughout your career.
Learn to recognize what stresses you out and develop healthy ways to cope. If you haven’t already, try progressive muscle relaxation to release stress and relax your mind and body. Learn to identify and address negative thinking and cultivate self-compassion.
Tang’s Be Well to Do Well page has further advice and resources for managing stress.
Remember that self-care is especially important if you are suffering from grief or loss. If you are experiencing the death of someone you care about, or a major loss of any kind, be kind to yourself and don’t hesitate to reach out to Student Services, Dr. Zaruba (510.643.5447), or Tang CPS if you need additional support.
The ABA’s health and wellness advice to young lawyers.
The Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law (BIML) promotes meditation and mindfulness practice within the legal community. BIML conducts weekly meditation at the law school. They also have a resource page with additional readings and a list of meditation communities in the Bay Area.