With grades coming out this week, I thought it would be important to discuss how the stress of law school can impact your mental health and ways to manage those 2 a.m. thoughts.
Stress Anxiety: Grades
First, I want to emphasize how normal it is to experience anxiety, especially as a law student, and that you are not alone in your thoughts. If you have nightmares about the issue you forgot to spot on your final exam, that’s normal. I had them every night for three weeks and as much as the nightmares killed me, they also led to extraordinary relief when my actual grades did not reflect the over-exaggerated nightmares.
If your grades weren’t as high as you expected them to be and now you are doubting yourself, you are not alone in that feeling. However, your self-worth is so much more than the grade you got in your first semester of Contracts. You worked hard to get into this program and you worked even harder for whatever grade you ended up with. Maybe it was lower than you expected, but in the long run, that does not define you. Remember why you came to law school in the first place and hold on to what motivates you as you work toward improvements this semester. After all, there is a better story in someone who struggled and overcame hardship than someone who had an easy journey the whole way through. I mean, would you really want to hear about how Little Red Riding Hood made it safely to Grammie’s without encountering a Big Bad Wolf? Don’t let the wolf stop you from achieving your goals. Maybe you need to go to more networking events this semester, meet with someone to discuss your resume, and form new study habits or strategies to improve your performance in class. You might even need to take a semester off to re-evaluate some personal things and there is no shame in that. Do what you need to do to put yourself in the position that you envision for yourself. Whether you were top of the class or barely coasted this semester, your grades are not a testament of your value. Be proud that you completed your first semester and made it this far. Continue to work hard and to grow as a student and as a person outside of law school.
Social Anxiety: Networking
Sometimes, your connections matter more than your grades. This can be scary when making connections requires talking to new people at networking events or reaching out to employers on LinkedIn to get your foot in the door. You’re not alone if this scares you. Personally, when I go to networking events, I feel perfectly content standing in the corner talking to the same two friends the whole time while eating the free meatballs and enjoying my limited two glasses of wine. Sadly though not surprisingly, this style of networking has not catapulted me toward job offers of my wildest dreams.
If social anxiety is holding you back from meeting people in the field of your interest, attend these events with a friend who has more networking experience and is willing to pull you out of your shell. If you find yourself sticking to your friends rather than mingling with new people, set goals for yourself. Maybe you wait to eat those meatballs until you’ve gotten three business cards. Maybe you tell your friends to split up and go to different tables. Start with simple questions, like “How did you choose your field?” or “How did you get involved at ______ where you work?” or “What suggestions might you have for a first year law student in applying for internships?” Set goals and believe in yourself. You don’t have to know what you want to do with your career when you attend these events but have confidence when presenting yourself to people who can help answer your questions.
This post has been heavily focused on law school anxiety, but I want to emphasize that anxiety is a mental disorder affecting 18% of the population. It keeps you up at 2am, makes you think you aren’t good enough, and reminds you of every mistake you’ve ever made. You have to be strong to hear those thoughts in your head and fight through them every day. Some days, you might not feel so strong and that’s okay, too. Keep fighting. If you try to ignore these thoughts and they aren’t going away, there are resources to help you. Everyone has a different outlet for how they manage feelings of anxiety. Some common coping mechanisms include listening to music, coloring/drawing, playing guitar, journaling, or talking to a friend. Maybe these are providing short-term relief and you need something longer lasting – it’s okay to seek help. Counseling can really help you understand yourself better and it typically helps control the anxious feelings. A lot of people have told me they are ashamed of going on medication or seeking help from a doctor/therapy, but there is absolutely no shame in bettering your mental health. Anxiety can be crippling and can hinder you from your daily activities. It’s better to acknowledge anxiety than to run from it, but it takes courage to do so. If you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, I encourage you to reach out and to not face it alone.
A Note From Jess:
Impostor Syndrome Anxiety
You know how they say “never meet your heroes” -right, don’t study under them either (kidding!). In my case, I’m incredibly lucky to have met one of my Internet Law “heroes” as I’ve learned more from him about the field I’m most passionate about than I probably ever will from any law school, journal, or Internet scholar out there. The life lessons and wisdom gained are priceless and immeasurable but damn is it easy to catch yourself thinking how little you know and how small you are in comparison. Alex wrote an excellent article on the all too commonly experienced Impostor Syndrome, but I believe it serves to be reiterated here in this post as well. Law school is a pressure cooker. We’re surrounded by brilliant students, and even-more-so brilliant professors. It’s easy to get caught up in a wave of rumination wondering how you stack up and whether you truly belong. With grades posting this week, it’s tempting to compare yourself but I urge you to resist.
My solution: stop talking about grades with your colleagues. There’s only a few people that need to know about your grades; you, your job recruiter, your S.O (but be wary if your S.O is also a law student), and maybe your advisor or someone you trust. As tempting as it is to compare contracts grades with your study group, remind yourself that it will most likely harm your mental health and overall well-being. Ask yourself, why do you really want to know? If your best friend did worse, you’re expected to console her which only drains your own emotional faculties, and if you did worse, well then you get to spend the next waking hours wondering why you’re not as good as her (and anyone else in your section). Neither are productive uses of your time or energy but both can be avoided by simply avoiding the unnecessary conversation.
When it comes to dealing with Impostor Syndrome in my professional circle, I find it helpful to take a step back from the spiral and remind myself how old I am and where I am in my life as opposed to the expert (or experts) I’m attempting to compare myself to. I may not have anything important or groundbreaking to contribute in the Internet law realm right now, but at my stage, it’s also not expected of me; that’s why I love being a research assistant instead! We, as 1L’s, are in the learning stage of our career. We are sponges. For the next three years, it is our responsibility to absorb as much knowledge and expertise around us before we graduate. Remind yourself of that at 2am tonight when you wake up in a cold sweat fretting about your grades and career prospects.
Lastly, when it comes to academia, don’t be afraid to meet your heroes -they inspire you for a reason. Seize the opportunity to learn as much as possible so that one day you’ll be a hero in the eyes of the next anxiety-ridden 1L.
Crisis Text Line: The free, 24/7, confidential text message service for people in crisis. Text “Home” to 741741
Rise Above the Disorder: Connects users with resources for finding a therapist, answering mental health questions, and applying for grants to cover the cost of therapy.
Self-help Anxiety Management App: Facilitates self-help for anxiety with resources to build one’s own Anxiety Toolkit through an app for iOS and Android.
My Study Life: App Provides students with access to a free planner for school and allows them to gain organizational and time management skills.
Stop, Breathe, and Think: Provides short activities to guide people through meditation and grounding for mindfulness and self-regulation.