The non-law school life: encouraging mental wellness 

By Amanda Di Dio, Contributing Writer

Since beginning law school, my life is law school and non-law school. Law school is like running a marathon. Regardless of how prepared you are—it is challenging. Attending law school during a global pandemic, however, is like running a marathon without training, water, snacks, or even a map. COVID-19 has changed everyone’s lives, but the hardships that occurred during the ‘before times’ still exist. On top of law school and this pandemic, some students may still have children or familial obligations. Other students may have medical conditions or have recently lost a loved one. Every person fights silent battles.  

The legal field has a reputation of being unresponsive to claims of mental distress. As all 1L orientation attendees know, lawyers have some of the highest rates of substance abuse, depression, and anxiety disorders when compared to other fields.1 The next generation of lawyers has a moral and ethical responsibility to take care of ourselves and to encourage our peers to do the same. We must be compassionate. Even silent battles have quiet armies.  

The American Bar Association is part of this militant force. They have developed a myriad of mental health resources for every flavor.2 Over the course of the year, I plan to share and explore these resources and other methods for encouraging mental wellness. The best way to prevent burnout, or a mental breakdown, is to take preventative measures. The global pandemic has caused national distress, grief, and trauma. Law school has always caused national distress, grief, and trauma. It is okay to have a challenging time.


But what we you do to make it better? 

  1.   Mind the Little Things3 

Take time to be present at least one moment each day. This practice is also called mindfulness. This exercise involves the deliberate action of removing thoughts from a daily experience. Said differently, you quiet your brain and listen to your body. Humans, lawyers especially, have their brain turned on all the time worrying about this case or that. I challenge you to allow your thoughts to relax. The best part of this practice is that it does not require time commitment. You can do this whenever you wash your hands. Turn off your brain and feel the warm or cool water envelop your skin. Ground yourself in the moment. Checking in with your body, being mindful of the moment, helps fuel your brain. 

4 

  1. Redefine what self-care means for you.5 

Self-care has as many varieties as Ben and Jerry’s. Much like mindfulness, self-care does not have to take any more time or add another task to your to-do list. Self-care can be waking up at the same time every day, eating your vegetables, or staying hydrated. Self-care can also be setting clear work hours and following them, spending quality time with a loved one, or going on that hike you have always wanted to.6 Self-care is not just bubble-baths and rom-coms (although those certainly can help). Caring for your mind, body, and soul is not necessarily a task to check off. You do not always do self-care—you live it. Pick one habit or task you want to do more often and commit yourself to it for a week or two. After that if you think you have the capacity—add another habit or task. Remember, there is no finish line to taking care of yourself. It is always going to be a part of your journey. 

  1. Connect. 

Connection is an important part of the human experience. Reaching out and asking for help is not the only way to connect. Seeking connection can range from a google search of “why am I stressed” to emailing your Dean of Students a dissertation on why you are a mess. Connection can also be built by having dinner with a classmate, volunteering at a local animal shelter, or attending that student group meeting you have made excuses to avoid. Further, there are hundreds of law school students, graduates, and attorneys who are here for you. The ABA has a country-wide Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP).7 LAP provides confidential services to legal professionals who are facing substance abuse or mental health issues. Much like couches, some mental health issues are a two-person lift.  

I guarantee researching and implementing a self-care routine is much easier than researching and writing an appellate brief. Taking a moment to enjoy the parts of your non-law school life can ground you in the reason you are going to law school in the first place. We work to live, not live to work. Do your assignments, but taking care of yourself should always come first. 

1. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/workforce/white-collar/lawyers   
2. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/covid-19–mental-health-resources/  
3. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/gpsolo/publications/gp_solo/2019/may-june/mindfulness-mental-health-wellness/ 
4. https://www.actionforhappiness.org/media/863032/coping_calendar.jpg  
5. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/publications/after-the-bar/personal-life/easy-ways-to-integrate-self-care-into-your-life/  
6. https://hbr.org/2020/02/working-parents-give-yourself-permission-to-recharge  
7. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/lap_programs_by_state/ 

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