Legal Outreach Project
Taking care of yourself in law school
Minali Ranasinghe is a penultimate year Law student at King's College London and President of the Legal Outreach Project! In her post below, she details how to take care of yourself and your mental health during law school!
Whether you’ve just accepted an offer to go to university or you’re in the third year of your degree, looking after your well-being should always be your priority. I know this is far easier said than done. To be in the position you’re currently in, you’ve probably worked very hard. Whilst this is an amazing feat, I think it’s important to remember the basics.
As a second-year law student, members of my family and friends often ask me, ‘how do you do it?’ How do I balance an intense course, volunteer, take part in societies, keep up with friends and take care of my physical and mental health?
The truth is, sometimes I don’t.
In trying to get the best grades, meet deadlines and seek job opportunities, it’s easy to sacrifice a stable sleeping routine and healthy eating pattern. In the midst of hustle culture, we glorify the grind and aim for a job with 60+ hour working weeks for the consideration of a great pay and sense of security. The recent BBC show ‘Industry’ expediates the type of culture a lot of us will find ourselves succumbed in. We have become so focused on our next steps that we don’t look back and appreciate how far we have come and how hard we have worked to get here.
I personally never remember learning how to take care of myself in school, so here I have included some things which I try to incorporate into my day-to-day life. Whilst Covid-19 has brought many challenges, it also emphasised the importance of the basics, such as eating 3 meals a day, drinking lots of water and getting sunlight! From feeling the need to constantly people please, never saying no, afraid of missing opportunities and the impending fear of running out of time, I now recognise the importance of taking a step back and gaining perspective to avoid burning out and losing motivation all together.
1. Blocking out time in your week
By this I mean setting 3 evenings or mornings a week where you do nothing. That time is purely dedicated to meeting your own personal needs. In university, weekends and weekdays often blend together. In a 9-5 job, weekends are often considered your time. I’ve always had a part-time job, so weekends often fly by. This means it is even more essential to set time aside where you shut your laptop and instead pick up a book, watch the show you keep putting off or take up a hobby! Don’t feel guilty for doing something non-academic.
2. Reasserting boundaries
This is one of the hardest yet most effective ways of regaining control of your life when you’re feeling consumed. Perhaps you are part of a society or club- set a cut off time where you don’t check your email or phone. Whatever it is, it can wait. When you don’t have boundaries, people can take advantage of your time and energy. It is easy to give your all to something, but this is unsustainable. For me, I found not checking my emails relentlessly was the way forward. Ensuring no meetings are scheduled after or before a specific time in the day were small but much needed steps.
3. Pausing before you agree to do something
Has someone asked you to be on their mooting team? Maybe a colleague has asked you to pick up some extra tasks last minute. Taking 15 seconds to think about if you actually have the time or energy to complete additional projects is essential (and usually the other person doesn’t even notice!). By taking time to respond and letting yourself decide whether this is something you can take on, allows you to reflect before agreeing to something you don’t actually have the capacity to do. Take those 15 seconds.
A simple but often overlooked way of getting a boost of serotonin. With gyms and sporting activities temporarily on hold, it is harder than ever to find the motivation to do some exercise. When I looked at the steps I was taking per day, I did get somewhat of a shock. I found that doing 15–20 minute workouts through following videos on YouTube, I could manage regular exercise with little pressure. There are so many videos and YouTubers to choose from. My favourites include dance work outs and the Mr and Mrs Muscle channel.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoRmqE7A_IE : a routine based on TikTok audios which are fiercely catchy
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi_J6WNj99ro-9cPZOUrf8Q : Mr and Mrs Muscle [I opt for the beginner workouts]
5. Escape from screen time.
Online school and several lockdowns have dramatically increased the amount of time we spend on our devices. If I’m using the same screen to primarily complete university work and also try to relax through watching a show on Netflix, it’s easy to still associate the laptop with a source of stress. Spending time away from a screen can greatly increase your mood and creativity. For me, the easiest way to do this was through reading and painting. I would have to put my screen away to focus on my book or paint by numbers. This helped break up my day when I’m using my laptop for lectures and academic readings and then a Netflix Party session.
https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9780006550686?gC=5a105e8b: (book) The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
https://www.waterstones.com/book/everything-i-know-about-love/dolly-alderton/9780241982105: (book) Everything I know about Love by Dolly Alderton
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Painting-Beginner-Paintwork-16x20inch-Frameless/dp/B08BZGZ215/ref=sr_1_38?dchild=1&keywords=paint+by+numbers&qid=1616417619&sr=8-38: paint by numbers
My completed paint by numbers.
These are some of the things that have kept me going in a year of lockdowns and two years of law school. Whilst I look forward to the return of ‘normal’, I cannot forget the importance of basics which lockdown has shown me. As we live through a period of challenging events and we are under immense pressure to complete work and find a job in one of the most unstable periods of time. I am by no means the authority on self-care but taking baby steps and making different choices, is most definitely a step in the right direction.
 https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/m000pb89/industry  https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/  https://hms.harvard.edu/news/screen-time-brain