Article by Anu Radha Lal.
The decision to pursue a legal career is not an easy decision by any means. The journey can be a slow, uphill climb of uncompromising excellence and long hours which can result in heart-wrenching rejection. Within a global pandemic and a climate of anxiety and self-isolation, this process can be all the more damaging to our mental health. In this article, I am going to outline a few strategies to maintain your mental well-being during lockdown and beyond.
I would start by encouraging you to adjust your expectations. Life as we know it has significantly changed. Whether you are studying, revising or working, it is understandable that your productivity will also change. There may be days where your motivation is non-existent, and that is to be expected. The standard of attainment was never perfection. You may be able to produce excellent work, but this may not occur every single day. Your outputs will not be consistent or perfect, and that is normal. You are worthy regardless of your output. Your legal achievements are not your only achievements.
Adjusting expectations can be difficult in practice, particularly when this is unusual for you. Here are a few suggestions:
a) To-do lists can be helpful for a sense of consistent achievement every hour, day or week (however you choose to organise your time);
b) Consider how realistic your goals are – consistently unfulfilled tasks can lead to disappointment thereby hindering your long-term morale.
c) Allow yourself scheduled breaks with time limits. Perhaps longer or more frequent breaks are required during lockdown;
d) Evaluate what kind of break-time works best for you – do you prefer lone rest or social interactions to feel recharged and productive?
Lawyers, whether students or qualified, tend to be over-achievers. It is this quality which can be helpful in producing excellent work. The downside of this is that it can be difficult to switch off and let your mind rest. This is a critical part of the equation. To all readers: you work hard, you work consistently and you deserve to feel rested. Rest is not the same thing as sleep. You are a multi-faceted person and so should your rest be. Consider what helps you feel rested physically, mentally and emotionally. They are all important.
This is not a novel suggestion. This has been said time and time again. Because those who say it are onto something. Try to incorporate activities into your existing routine that will energise and motivate you. A 20 minute break can involve calling a friend, watching an episode of your favourite series, a headphones blasting / dance moment or cuddle time with pets. Each of these activities takes the same amount of time yet they can have different effects on your motivation and productivity. Personally, the worst type of break I can take is sitting in the same seat, scrolling through my Instagram feed. That leaves me feeling sluggish and I have undoubtedly physically slumped down in my seat. Mixing up work and play in a consistent way will keep your mind and body stimulated. Routine can be comforting in a time of uncertainty while we await further guidance. That being said, your routine is yours to create. Listen to your mind and body – you may need longer or more consistent breaks than usual.
We may be living in different homes, cities or countries from our closest ones. It is vital to stay connected during times that may feel isolating. We are social creatures and we need interaction and connection for our mental well-being. Support may be easily signposted and accessible to you. Or you may find it challenging to ask for support. It may be a case of allowing others to reach out to you. Perhaps that is forming a code-word with friends or family to communicate that you need company or a chat. We are all adjusting to these new times. Hold hands (metaphorically) with those in your circle and reach out, even if to support another. It may be that you would prefer an impartial ear. Listening services exist because you have something worthwhile to say and they want to hear it.
I am not suggesting that keeping updated with the news is not beneficial. But with information at our fingertips, it is easy to become obsessive about updates – especially for intellectually curious aspiring lawyers. To allow your mind to rest and retain routine, it might be worth considering how much news (whether measured by time or number of articles) you are consuming on any given day. In a climate of fake news and paranoia, it is important to access reliable news and information sources.
The above strategies are not intended to be exhaustive or prescriptive. However, they are tried and tested means to help maintain your mental well-being, especially during times of uncertainty. The journey to qualifying as a lawyer can be arduous. You deserve to rest, relax and allow yourself to feel joy along the way.