If you’re like me, you struggle with resting. Sure, you may have some downtime, but are you using it to refresh yourself, or are you doom-scrolling in a way that provides no mental break? Here are a few things that have helped me in my pursuit of REST.
R—Remember who you are. Don’t forget your roots. Most of your life has been spent outside of law school.
Don’t forget where you came from and that there’s a whole world outside of school—which you’ll be going back to when you graduate. It may feel overwhelming at times, but don’t forget where you are and where you’re going.
Rest has connections to religious traditions, meditation, and other spiritual practices. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam observe the Sabbath, a day of rest from work. In Exodus 34:21, the people are ordered to rest “even during the plowing season and harvest,” illustrating the importance of rest during the busiest of times. Even if you’re not spiritual or religious, the practice of rest is helpful.
Also remember that you have worth.
The Japanese have a name for death from overworking, karoshi, which refers to fatal cardiovascular attacks aggravated by a heavy workload and long hours. Karojisatsu refers to suicide from overworking and stressful working conditions.
Even if you don’t consciously realize it, you may be living as if you’re willing to sacrifice your health—or your life—for school or your career. Please don’t do that. Your life is too valuable, and you’ll always be more precious than goods you can produce or accomplishments you can achieve.
You have worth that extends beyond what you can accomplish.
If you struggle to rest, it may be because you find your identity in work, use busyness to distract you from
other things, or struggle with insecurity.
I’ve been there, and something that helped me was starting to journal and read the Bible. Reflecting on my life, faith, and identity radically changed the way I lived and gave me confidence that I could rest and that things would still work out. Especially since you’re surrounded by competent classmates with whom you’re often competing, remind yourself of the worth and value you have as a human.
You’ve made it this far, and you are enough.
Also remember that you have limits.
Rest before you get tired, not when you’re already in dire need of it. If you wait until you feel like you can “afford it” or feel caught up, you may never end up resting. You’re not a machine, and it’s devastating when people overestimate themselves and burn out.
Rest is, ironically, something we need to work at. Start good habits now. You don’t want to one day find yourself seeking the help of Workaholics Anonymous “to stop working compulsively and to carry the message of recovery to workaholics who still suffer.”
E—Explore things outside law school. Get involved with people in different life stages.
People outside law school can provide you with a bigger perspective and remind you of why you’re studying. You can form connections with undergraduates by attending events, checking announcements, or even auditing an undergraduate class. A 3L at my school audited a ballroom dancing class and had a wonderful time.
Outside of law school, you can get involved in the community through volunteering, attending religious services, frequenting cafes, or joining other organizations. Explore your passions and hobbies. One student I know coached field hockey for high schoolers. Another made the softball team at her school. Yet another taught chess at a middle school.
Within law school, get to know your professors and the administrators on a personal level. You can combine time with people with other things you need to do, such as eating together or walking. There’s so much you can learn from others that it would be a shame if all you learned from law school was the law and nothing else.
Whether it’s to cook, bake, spend time with friends, thrift, create art, write, join organizations, go on hikes, volunteer at an animal shelter, or start a book club, schedule time to let go of your obligations, chores, emails, and other responsibilities to pursue things that make you feel more alive.
S—Steward your time, body, and resources. Spend your time well. You’ll make time for what you will make time for. Set reasonable boundaries on your time. Some people have a cutoff point and treat being a student like a 9-5 job. I take a full day off from studying each week, including during finals.
Whatever you choose, it’s helpful to separate work and studying from nonwork time. You don’t have to start with a whole day; you can begin with part of a day. Your goal should be to build a pattern of regular rest in your life.
It may not always be easy, but you can build your capacity for rest. Instead of seeking short-term bursts of energy through caffeine, reflect on the greater long-term patterns of rest and work in your life. Start good habits now because it’s always harder to start later when you feel busier and more pressed for time.
Apps and study methods can help. The Pomodoro Technique will remind you to take breaks while you study. Don’t waste time and mental energy on simple things like what you’ll eat, what you’ll wear, where you’ll study, and so on.
Setting habits such as meal prepping or using a capsule wardrobe can be helpful in reducing the burden of making many small decisions.
Also remember that rest doesn’t need to look like you’re actively doing something “restful.” It could also include taking a break from mindless consumption of media, electronics, or checking your email.
It also includes taking care of your body. Exercising, eating a balanced diet, and sleeping are so important but can be easy to overlook. Sleep is essential, not a luxury, so even if you have to sacrifice finishing a reading, it’s worth it to get a reasonable amount of sleep.
Overworking has been linked to a decline in cognitive function and increased sleep disturbances, which can affect your overall health, ability to drive safely, and quality of life.
It’s also linked to risky alcohol use. A 2016 study showed approximately 20 percent of attorneys engage in hazardous, harmful, and potentially dangerous alcohol-dependent drinking.
Overworking is also related to an increased risk of coronary heart disease and a whole host of other health consequences.
Take care of your body. It’s the only one you have.
Also use your resources for good. Although you’re a student, you may still have money, abilities, and time. Of course it’s important and expected that you’ll focus on your studies while you’re a student. Even then, there’s so much good you can do for others.
T—Thrive! Don’t forget to enjoy the process. Remember that the bigger perspective is that you’re steadily running—not sprinting—the marathon that is law school. There’s so much to enjoy while you’re in school, and you can’t be at your best if you’re stressed and lack rest. Rest isn’t about laziness or merely ceasing activity but about redirecting your activity into life-giving channels.
And be sure to prepare yourself for what’s to come. There may be societal pressure to be busy and reject rest. One 2016 study found that “a busy and overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol.”
Those researchers found “positive status inferences in response to long hours of work and lack of leisure time are mediated by the perceptions that busy individuals possess desired human capital characteristics (competence, ambition), leading them to be viewed as scarce and in demand.”
You don’t need to conform. You can thrive and trust that, if you rest, good things will happen—and might even be better than what you expected.
It’s not worth it to work so hard during law school that you burn yourself out and don’t do well on the bar exam or become ineffective in your career. School is meant to equip and prepare you to work, not sap your energy so you come away with a diploma and nothing left to give when you finish.