My friend, Dylan Wheeler, who is an attorney practicing in Iowa published an excellent article with the Federal Bar Association called, "Ten Tips to Maintain Physical and Mental Health During Law School." These tips definitely apply during the practice of Law as well.
Personally, the first year out of law school was the worst for learning how to care for myself. I didn't know how to manage my time at first. After a few months, I figured out how to manage projects, find time to work out, and eat healthily. I'm not perfect, but I work every single day at bettering my health to become a better attorney and human. You can too! It is no secret that lawyers have a high rate of substance abuse and stress related to our profession. It is important to combat this early and set healthy habits while you are in law school. If you are practicing, and haven't kicked bad habits, it's never too late to start bettering yourself with the tips below.
Dylan's Article: Federal Bar Maintaining Physical and Mental Health
Weighing In: Top Ten Tips to Maintain Physical and Mental Health During Law School
Content submitted by Dylan Wheeler.Dylan Wheeler is a law student at the University of South Dakota School of Law. For more information about wellness, please see Mr. Wheeler's forthcoming article for the Law Student Division Column in the May, 2015 edition of The Federal Lawyer
- Relieve Stress
Going to the gym, whether it’s lifting weights, running, or just shooting some hoops can provide an outlet to relieve the stress which law school instills. Perhaps set aside a time a couple times a week to go to the gym or get a group together and attend a fitness class.
- Set Achievable and Maintainable Goals
Undoubtedly, every law student has the goal of being at the top of the class, but goals are certainly applicable outside the confines of the classroom. Set a goal to lose some of that added weight put on during finals, and most importantly, reward yourself when a goal is reached!
- Find an Accountability Partner
Maintaining physical and mental health is a lot easier if there is someone at your side holding you accountable. This is especially true for going to the gym or going to a social event to get your head out of the books for a while.
- Drink Water
Granted, coffee and other caffeinated beverages have their upsides in regard to health, water is the bodies common denominator in fighting of sickness, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping all cognitive skills in check. Coffee in the morning hours and limited throughout the day has been shown to increase cognitive ability in the short term, but if overindulged, heavy coffee or caffeinated beverages can lead to blood pressure issues, heart rate, and heart rhythm issues. Grab the morning cup of joe and focus on H2O.
- Don’t be Afraid to Reach Out
Law school itself is a daunting task and one may feel intimidated to reach out to a peer or a counselor if a problem arises. Rest assured that those within your halls are there to help you. If you feel as though you’re struggling with depression or anxiety to a point beyond your control, go ask for help.
- Avoid Impulse Eating
It may be easy to have finger food next to you while you read Hawkins v. McGee, but this is when calories can quickly add up. Instead of reaching for those M&M’s, grab a healthy alternative such as carrots, sugar snap peas, or a small handful of nuts.
- Read Material Outside the Casebook
As a law student, one may metaphorically put “horse blinders” on in regard to the subject matter that one reads. The stress of reading multiple areas of law, coupled with fully comprehending what was read is difficult in itself. Instead of grabbing that treatise or restatement before hitting the hay, reach for easy reading in your favorite genre. Give Dan Brown a try, it will not disappoint.
- Log Your Time in a Given Week
An exercise that I have personally done, as suggested by a professor, is to log my time committed to everything throughout a day and week. Prior to doing this exercise, you may have thought you didn’t have enough time to get all your work done. After logging your hours (and being honest about it), you can see where you can cut Netflix hours and insert some Civil Procedure.
- Develop a Routine
Outside of one’s class and extra-curricular activities, the amount of reading and preparation you need to do for the next day may seem overwhelming; this may lead to an arbitrary approach. Meaning that you are working on one subject but thinking about what else has to be done. In order to combat this, create a routine for each night and devote an allotted time for a selected course. Blocking off this time may allow you to shut off the other work and focus on the task at hand.
- Don’t Forget to Have Fun Once and a While
A common theme throughout a law student’s experience may possibly be summed up as, “there are not enough hours in the day.” Every law student needs to remember that the three yours devoted in professional education is but a minute step in the grand scheme of the legal profession. There will always be a next case to read, a next statute to interpret, but at the end of a long week or after checking a lot off the “to-do list”, do yourself a favor and go have some fun.
For this post, I pulled out Dylan's tips and added in ways I have implemented his tips.
Going to the gym or for a walk is a great way to get out and relieve stress. Since I have been practicing, I have found yoga has been a savior. Additionally, I have found that working out over lunch is a great way to break up the day and to increase focus through the afternoon.
Set Achievable and Maintainable Goals
Set a goal to lose weight, or to exercise 20 minutes a day, really anything. My goals change regularly. In the summer, I usually try to go for a hike after work. In the winter, I have been focusing on my diet. I have a goal of not eating pasta, rice, and pizza until the end of this month. Literally something so little, but it makes a big difference in my happiness when I know I reached a goal.
Find an Accountability Partner
Maintaining physical and mental health is a lot easier if there is someone holding you accountable. This is especially true for going to the gym or going to a social event to get your head out of the books for a while.
I have a couple of friends who I check in about our goals. I'll usually send a quick text to check-in. If you don't have a person like that, hold yourself accountable. Make a journal or keep a sticky note by your desk reminding you about your goal!
Just do it!!! There are so many benefits from water that you cannot get from drinking coffee or energy drinks.
I have a camelback that I keep on my desk. I try to drink a full bottle in the morning and one after lunch. It's a lot easier than you think when you make a point to do it.
This is what I have:
Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out
Law school is challenging and one may feel intimidated to reach out to a peer or a counselor if a problem arises. If you feel as though you’re struggling with depression or anxiety to a point beyond your control, go ask for help. Your law school classmates, professors, counselors, and friends are a great resource for you.
I would not have gotten through without being able to talk to the aforementioned about the stress. Everyone is going through it, so its best to have a support system to help you through.
Avoid Impulse Eating
Instead of reaching for sugary candy, that will leave you with a sugar crash, grab a healthy alternative such as carrots, apples, or a small handful of nuts. Currently, I love cutting up apples and dipping them in peanut butter! I also love mini peppers dipped in yogurt ranch. During work, I can always use a snack, and my favorite things to keep at my desk are fig bars. My sister got me hooked on them. They are sweet, and filling. Here is a link:
Read Material Outside the Casebook
I loved reading anything by Gillian Flynn to break up the monotonous law-related reading. Her books are thrillers and are quick and easy to read. You have to do something to escape your studies, and chances are if you're in law school you like to read. This is a healthy alternative to binging on Netflix for hours (even though a good binge is good for the soul).
This book is awesome, too!
Log Your Time in a Given Week
This is my favorite tip suggested by Dylan. Currently, in practice, I schedule by months--with trial dates, status hearings, and motions hearings. I then update that monthly schedule weekly so I have a plan for each day of the week. This helps me manage my time. For law school, I would suggest getting a planner, logging your exam and project schedules, reading assignments, etc, and then planning out your day in 8-hour increments. Once you start planning out your days, you can see where you can find the time to complete your assignments. If you need help with this, please let me know, and I will send you a calendar that I used!
Develop a Routine
As Dylan pointed out, the amount of reading and preparation required may seem overwhelming; this may lead to un-productivity (is that a word). Meaning you are working on one subject, but thinking about what else has to be done. In order to combat this, create a routine for each night and devote an allotted time for a selected course or project. Blocking off this time will allow you to shut off the other work and focus on the task at hand.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun Once and a While
There will always be a next case to read, a next statute to interpret, but at the end of a long week or after checking a lot off the “to-do list”, do yourself a favor and go have fun. I would try to find healthy options for having fun in law school so that you are developing healthy habits. Get ahold of potential substance abuse early, and instead of getting wine with a friend, go to a yoga class, or hit up the mall. Find a painting class to do with a friend, or go to the movies. Learn how to make latte art, and let me know-how.
These days, my fun includes growing AttornyAttire
. What do you like to do for fun? Thanks so much for reading, and don't hesitate to reach out with questions!