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Psychological problems in law school

An overview of common psychological problems and disorders that can occur due to the long-term stress in law studies and exams.

The law degree is one of the toughest courses ever and demands a lot from the student. Quite apart from the huge workload, the sometimes miserable study conditions, the difficult requirement profile and the almost indisputable grades in other courses, the exams that decide whether to be or not to be lurked at the very end, so that onelong-lasting psychological stress caused by stress, exhaustion and fear can be regarded as completely normal. Unfortunately, not everyone gets along well with it, so that the stress is discharged into a variety of problems and is further fueled by the apparently deliberate test anxiety and in some of this constant stress leads to mental illness. However, this does not only apply to wobbly candidates who are afraid of failing, but also to those students who demand too much in the hunt for ever better grades. I would like to address some of the most common problems and provide pointers on how to overcome them that have helped me further. However, this is only a very superficial overview and does not claim to be complete or scientific.

sleep disorders

Stress and sleep disorders very often occur together and if the nervous system is no longer given a night time rest, the stress can be managed even more difficult. The disorders that can prevent sleep are diverse. With some, for example, repressed problems come to the surface during the day at leisure and rob you of calm, others cannot stop their thoughts and constantly brood over this and that, and still others are driven out of bed by nightmares and anxiety attacks as soon as they fall asleep are.

There are ways and means to ward off such problems. Some are preventive in nature, while others are used to combat acute insomnia. It is better to use the chemical club only in exceptional cases, as it cannot eliminate underlying difficulties - but if you only have the choice between pharmaceutical and no sleep, the decision is easier.

Preventive action

Increasing the occurrence of insomnia is sometimes quite easy to combat. One possible measure is, for example, from a certain point in time, around two hours before going to bed, to no longer tackle demanding mental tasks - regardless of whether it is leisure time or work. This gives the mind more opportunity to calm down and not get bogged down in problems. Another measure is sufficient exercise to tread the tiredness of the body as well as the mind. And since exercise is otherwise beneficial for health and helps relax the mind, it is recommended in several ways. It also helps not to go to bed with an empty or full stomach and to do something relaxing before going to sleep. In any case, the sleeping accommodation must be comfortable. Sometimes little sleep rituals help to distance oneself from the noise of the world and to find peace.

Combat acute insomnia

If it happens that sleep does not want to or cannot come, there are also simple countermeasures. As a rule, it doesn't help to just lie there stubbornly and wait for sleep to bend and break. Instead, you should get up or at least go to another place like the armchair or sofa. Then something should be done there; what exactly does not matter. Whether watching TV, reading, listening to music, surfing the Internet, washing up - everything is useful to distract the mind and possibly cause further fatigue. Anyone who suffers from obsessive-compulsive brooding or anxiety attacks can use repression strategies, such as those used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, to throw the unwanted endless loops of thoughts off the rails: solve mental arithmetic tasks, recite poems to you, form chains of associations with the alphabet, etc. Ä .: everything that strains the head and helps to suppress the other thoughts is suitable. If you don't want to sleep at night, you can lie down a little during the day to compensate for it, but shouldn't turn day into night if possible, otherwise the whole day's rhythm could get mixed up. The better alternative is usually to struggle through the day somehow and bet that the exhaustion will eventually do its job and make the following night more relaxing.

If you have persistent sleep disorders, we recommend going to the doctor. A sufficient amount of sleep is very important and permanent lack of sleep makes the psyche highly vulnerable after a short time, which is by no means simply accepted in a course like law.

Social retreat and loneliness

Anyone who has to cope with such an enormous workload as a budding lawyer has to seek solitude at times. Wakeful candidates in particular tend to bury themselves deeper than others in work in order to be able to compensate for their deficits. However, this also has its pitfalls, because if you push it too far, you risk becoming lonely and doing yourself and your prospects of passing an exam usually no favors.

A chain reaction can set in motion, especially with the wobbly candidates already mentioned. This is based on the following logic: Due to poor grades, more work has to be done and that takes more time, so that you can hardly get out of the door. But more work and less interaction with other people also mean more stress, which in turn can lead to work ethic and psyche being damaged and the grades not getting better or even worse. According to the logic described, there is then even more work and even less exercise, etc. ad infinitum.

A healthy mind, however, is usually dependent on a minimum of interaction with other people, because people are social beings. Online encounters are usually not enough, because they are at best a poor substitute. It is much more important to experience something with real people who mean something to you, so as not to get lost in a self-spun cocoon of loneliness and a guilty conscience, without this benefiting the work performance and the grades; rather the opposite is the case.

What do you do about it? Very simple: get out of the booth and experience something, get out of yourself and get on with it. Anything that is fun, that brings you together, that is legal and that doesn't take up too much time is also allowed. However, you should stay away from excessive excesses, especially when combined with alcohol: you will need the brain cells later, and alcoholism is also not to be trifled with. We'll talk about that later.


A common problem that tends to be associated with social withdrawal, insomnia, and stress is restlessness. Anyone who has a lot to do and is plagued by tight deadlines and fears often tries to compensate for this with hectic activity and more and more work. However, this can mean that this constant alarm state will at some point take on a life of its own and it will be increasingly difficult to find peace at all. The corresponding thoughts dig a deep bed like a fast flowing river from which they can no longer be so easily displaced. Typically, it is then difficult to calm the troubled thoughts and think of anything other than problems of any kind, bad grades and remorse that prevent you from finding relaxation, joy or even sleep. The constant state of being excited may become an end in itself and you no longer dare not to compulsively deal with something because you fear - not entirely wrongly - that you will then fall into a deep hole. This hole does exist, but it does not consist of the horror of doing nothing and its consequences, but of the feeling of emptiness that comes with the sudden break with the torn, addictive behavior, a kind horror vacui. The only temporary way out is avoidance behavior, which helps to temporarily numb the thirst for action and remorse, but can hardly help to alleviate exhaustion and tiredness.

The overloaded nervous system reacts to the overload with stress symptoms, which reduce efficiency and performance. But since you don't want to be a coward and urgently have to continue, many just steer through and make things even worse. The constant state of tension and stress can come to a head when sustained mental exhaustion and complete overstrain take their toll and lead to breakdown.

You can't let it get that far. Careers and studies are very important, but it is not worth risking mental illness and the problems that come with it, which can transform your own mental life in a series of personal rides through hell. It is much better not to go that far in the first place and, if in doubt, decide against work and relaxation. Without a halfway intact psyche, going into exams and working life is not very promising anyway, which is why you can justify these investments in your own well-being to yourself and others.

The compulsive preoccupation with problems or work as well as the inability to come to rest can be slowed down with the repression techniques described above, with the help of which one can throw the circling thoughts off the track and come to rest more easily. However, it is also important that you use this in order to be able to calm down and not immediately fall back into the pattern afterwards.

Another possibility is to set a point in time from which one no longer deals with problems - at some point worries, hardships and problems have to come to an end in order to give the mind an opportunity to recover. After this point, nothing strenuous is done, nothing is quickly looked up or quickly put together, neither for work nor for study - or even for leisure. When surfing the Internet, you tend to get stuck somewhere and suck more and more information into yourself and then again there is no peace. It is best to read or watch TV, but not documentaries, reports or news, but rather stories of all kinds, be it a film, series or book. Anything that distracts from reality and its pressing difficulties is permitted. This creates more distance and makes it easier to come down at the end of the day.

Sport and exercise are also good ways of throwing thoughts off their deadlocks. Diverse and sociable sports are preferable for such purposes, since lonely and monotonous processes give the thoughts more opportunity to fall back into their old pattern.

Constant tension and indigestion

Stress triggers a number of reactions that should make it easier for early humans to survive in borderline situations. This also includes an under-functioning of the digestive system, which was not needed during the struggle of prehistoric man with the saber-toothed tiger, who was so eager to try, and is therefore less supplied with blood, which is why these muscles move less. The survival mechanism from the distant past did not, however, provide for years of continuous psychological stress of the caliber of upcoming exams, and if the stress solidifies into a permanent state that no longer needs a special trigger, it can lead to significant digestive problems. The undersupplied digestion is sensitive and can no longer perform its assigned task as well. It is also more prone to inflammation and other disorders. Accordingly, constant stress often leads to digestive problems: from gastritis to constant nausea, diarrhea and vomiting to full-blown eating disorders. The latter usually have nothing to do with obsessive-compulsive disorder (see below), but arise because you can't bring anything down because of the sheer nervousness and nausea.

Constant muscle tension falls into the same category, which can also be beneficial in fight and flight situations. The muscles are supplied with more blood and are on the go in order to be able to react more quickly. The stomach in particular often becomes tense, as the digestive system is working at a reduced capacity anyway and you are better prepared for hits in this sensitive region. With constant stress, this original survival mechanism can also turn against you, lead to painful cramps and prevent relaxation.

Once again it is a matter of throwing body and mind out of the deeply buried paths and distracting them with something completely different. Sport and exercise, distraction and socializing are valuable aids that can be supplemented by relaxation and repression techniques. If it becomes too uncomfortable, you should seek professional help.

Addiction problems

Since law is a stressful and exhausting business, quite a few lawyers resort to various substances in order to be able to relax better or to perform better. The overflowing ashtrays in court buildings speak for themselves, and both cocaine and the somewhat weaker Ritalin, which is actually intended for the treatment of ADD and which has a similar effect on performance, are popular stimulants and performance drugs. Cocaine, in particular, has a devastating effect on the nervous system over time. To illustrate this, consider the careers of avid consumers like Charlie Sheen, for example. Marijuana is gradually becoming a widely accepted recreational drug, but it also carries some risks. Overly regular use has detrimental effects on the entire central nervous system and there is the possibility of flashbacks and other effects that make marijuana an incalculable risk, especially in traffic. Even worse are ecstasy and comparable so-called party drugs, whose effects on the central nervous system can be downright devastating. We probably don't need to say a word about catastrophic drugs like heroin, amphetamines or crystal meth ... just keep your hands off the stuff.

Alcohol abuse has increased significantly in recent years. Thanks to its relaxing and disinhibiting effects, it is quite suitable for seemingly detaching yourself from everything and sending the mind on vacation. However, despite its social acceptance and widespread use, alcohol can also lead to significant problems. Quite apart from possible alcohol poisoning, the mass death of brain cells with any intoxication and dangers to road traffic, the addiction potential should not be underestimated, so caution is advised here too. Alcoholism has been a widespread disease for centuries, and not without reason.

The dangers of drug addiction in any form are well known. However, the problem of addictions goes far beyond the mere abuse of drugs, but extends to almost all conceivable activities. In addition to the physical addiction potential of many drugs, the psychological addiction potential of activities such as placing bets should not be underestimated. Here the dependency arises rather through endogenous processes that make the mind dependent on the stimulation of the reward center in the brain by the addiction-charged activity. At the top of the list of these activities is, for example, gambling addiction. Almost every excessive behavior can develop addictive potential.

Obsessive-compulsive and eating disorders

High levels of stress, anxiety, and depression can also manifest in obsessive-compulsive disorder. The genesis and manifestations of such disorders are extremely diverse, but they mostly have something to do with so-called magical thinking, according to the logic of which carrying out an action or thinking a thought prevents undesired events or thoughts from occurring. This can then take on a life of its own and completely slip out of the control of the person concerned. The television detective Adrian Monk can serve as an example here, who is constantly plagued by a multitude of these and other mental disorders.

Similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, but of a different nature, are eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, in which the person's thoughts compulsively revolve around the subject of food. Due to the very complex problems and symptoms, both problems can only be briefly touched upon here. The former combines a disturbed self-perception and compulsive weight loss as well as an equally compulsive control of one's own body weight, the latter represents a combination of food cravings and actions to avoid weight gain, i.e. vomiting, purging, extreme diets, etc. Obsessive-compulsive and eating disorders definitely require medical treatment , because not only their symptoms can be extremely disturbing, but also always point to deep-seated problems that should be remedied or at least alleviated.

Anxiety disorders and depression

Test anxiety has often been written on this page. Fear of exams and exam situations is more or less normal, but with prolonged persistence and high stress it can develop into a mental disorder: anxiety disorder. This also plays a more important role in this course than in other courses due to the deliberately fueled fear of examinations and the special conditions of law studies.

anxiety is an important survival mechanism and a strong feeling. But it can also become independent or keep growing, so that it is felt almost constantly, is inappropriately intense or falls out of the blue on the person affected without a specific reason. The fears can have all possible triggers and have different effects. Often times they stop almost constantly and cover almost all other feelings. Some anxiety disorders have a well-defined core, while others extend unspecifically to all living conditions. Another form is panic disorder, in which the pent-up fear discharges into panic attacks, which usually occur for no apparent external reason. Such disorders often coincide with depression; a very ominous combination. Another effect can be that fear not only dampens and covers other emotions, but also feelings such as hunger, thirst, tiredness and exhaustion. If basic needs such as eating, drinking, sleeping and recreation are no longer met and this is not even noticed, this only increases the psychological pressure and exacerbates the problem.

Anxiety disorders need treatment. It should not be accepted that fear dominates the whole of life and slowly but surely eats up the person affected. In addition, the already existing and wanted fear of the exam threatens to become almost unbearable, so that passing the exam, quite apart from the considerable obstacles in preparation, threatens to be hindered by the paralyzing fear.

Short-term measures to alleviate long-term fears and panic attacks are to suppress obsessive thoughts through the exercises described, such as mental arithmetic, etc. In addition, one can counter the fear also changes of location and more pleasant activities. However, if the anxiety disorder has already developed too far, these measures alone will often not help and you should urgently seek treatment.

Also depressions are a regularly encountered phenomenon during severe stress. The constant stress, repeated setbacks or the fear of bad grades or failing ensure that negative feelings and unhelpful trains of thought can take on a life of their own and constantly depress the mood. As the duration progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to release the thoughts from the permanent low and one loses all driving force. In her Harry Potter series, Joanne K. Rowling described the constant feeling that prevails in depression very aptly - the feeling that afflicts people when a dementor approaches: as if one could never feel joy again. She probably knew what she was talking about, because that's what it feels like.

While almost everyone goes through a depressive episode at some point, this condition should not be taken lightly when it solidifies and worsens. Here, too, it is strongly recommended to go to the doctor. Depression not only makes learning and working more difficult, it also greatly diminishes the prospects for the exam.

Last but not least

The potential effects of long-term stress and exam anxiety reads terribly. But since I had to experience some of it first hand, all I can say is that they feel a lot worse once you've caught them. However, there is no point in panicking over it. Instead, it is important to repeatedly withdraw from stress and fear in the meantime and to fight them, to find support and to keep the psyche intact, so that one can go to work and the exam as undamaged as possible.

But no matter how bad it all reads and sounds a bit like scare tactics: I still think the warning is important because lawyers, with their often poorly managed training and the extreme stress potential, are more susceptible to such problems than other students. Whoever knows, can hope to avoid them - and can be helped and helped if they overtake him.

In any case, you should keep the ball flat, not push yourself too hard or drive yourself crazy. The more relaxed you can deal with all the stress and problems, the better.

Keep ears stiff, stay healthy!


Law Individuell informs you about studying law from the first semester to the second state examination. So read our useful articles on motivation in your studies, about the organization and structure of law studies, overcoming exam anxiety, why you should decide to study law and what you can do about learning problems. In addition, our articles deal with the topics of correct learning during studies, protection against overwork (burnout) and how to behave if you fail an exam. We also provide useful tips for preparing a written exam or term paper as well as preparation assistance for the oral exam.

You will also receive assistance in the preparation and preparation of the final, mock and intermediate examination exams (civil law, public law, criminal law) and the state examination (procedure, oral examination, the exams, the preparation, exams in civil law, examination schedule). We also inform you about crash courses to prepare for exams and the legal clerkship (the first day, Bavaria, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate).

Find out more about the tradition of revision courses, the history of the modern university, the civil service, the necessity of revision courses for exam preparation, the various forms of revision courses, the course of individual lessons and the benefits of supplementary legal private lessons.