Wellbeing in the School of Law
It is important to look after your physical and mental wellbeing during your studies. The University offers a range of resources and support to assist you with this.
Emma Jones, Director of Student Wellbeing
Why your wellbeing is important
Studying at university can be interesting, exciting and enjoyable. However, it can also bring a range of challenges, from moving to a new city to learning new (and sometimes tricky) concepts. There is a large amount of evidence that being at university can impact upon your wellbeing. Conversely, your wellbeing can also impact upon your university experience.
How can the School of Law help support my wellbeing?
The School of Law offer a range of activities relating to wellbeing, from drop-in sessions and ‘Stress Less for Assessment Success’ sessions to social activities and informal chats. There is a wellbeing toolkit on the CLASS course page and other events and activities will be publicised throughout the year via email.
If you have a wellbeing concern, your first port of call should be your Personal and Academic Tutor. If you do not know who that is, or are unable to contact them, please email email@example.com. Your Personal and Academic Tutor can listen to your concern and provide support, as well as signposting you to other useful resources.
You may also come across our Student Wellbeing Ambassadors. They are not there to act as counsellors but they can signpost you to further support and give some tips on issues such as studying in healthy ways or meeting new people. They also run the School of Law’s Instagram page @lawsheffield.
How can The University of Sheffield help support my wellbeing?
A good start point is to visit the online Student Services Information Desk (known as ‘SSiD’). Its ‘Support Services’ menu offers a range of options to assist with different issues, from bereavement to home sickness.
If you want to speak to someone who has specific expertise in supporting students with wellbeing concerns you can get in touch with the Student Wellbeing Service. As well as offering online resources and group sessions, its webpage has a link to book a one-to-one confidential online appointment with a Student Wellbeing Advisor. You will normally be able to speak to an Advisor within two weeks.
If you have specific concerns about your mental health you may also want to consider contacting the Student Access to Mental Health Support Service (known as SAMHS). Its webpage has a link to book a confidential triage appointment. You may then be referred to further counselling.
Can I obtain support for an existing disability?
If you have a specific disability (including mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression) which may affect your learning, you should notify the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service (known as DDSS). Where appropriate the DDSS will be able to put a Learning Support Plan in place outlining the impact your disability is likely to have on your learning, and steps that can be taken to ensure you’re supported. This will be shared with relevant members of staff in the School of Law, but they will keep the information confidential.
Studying Law and/or Criminology
Below are a series of resources specifically aimed at helping you during your studies.
When studying law or criminology it is likely that at some point or points you will come across materials which you find distressing and upsetting. This could be when studying a particular topic, reading a case judgment with difficult facts, or when conducting research and discussions on challenging issues. Although dealing with such material can be challenging, it can form an important part of your studies. It can demonstrate real-life applications of the law, help you think about the role of law in society and social justice and even motivate you to want to take action, for example, by campaigning for law reform or undertaking pro bono work.
Most people will find material on issues such as violence, injustice and human suffering upsetting. There may also be some materials which particularly affect you. For example, because of a similar personal experience you, your family or friends have had. When faced with such material, people may experience feelings of sadness, anger, powerlessness or shock, or be reminded of their own painful or traumatic experiences. Some may find the content exacerbates symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Learning about yourself and your emotional responses to such material is a study skill: the skill of emotional resilience. You may already have some skills in this from your experience in life and work that you can draw on. You can also develop your emotional resilience, just as you can develop your essay writing or note taking skills. Here are some strategies you can use to help you deal with difficult material:
- Accept that emotional responses are normal and natural. Traditionally, there has been a tendency, particularly within law, to assume that it is in some way ‘wrong’ or ‘weak’ to have an emotional response to your studies. However, the reality is, everyone has some form of emotional response, including academics and lawyers, as this quote from a senior solicitor illustrates:
‘‘there are moments sometimes where you do build a particular rapport with a client or the story is particularly touching or poignant, where, you know, you do find yourself kind of having to hold back the tears sometimes’.
Rather than trying to ignore or suppress your response, a much healthier approach is to ask yourself what emotions you are feeling and why. You might already have a way in which you check in with yourself and how you are feeling. Useful ways can include mindfulness techniques, keeping a journal, talking to friends or family or even using your social media status or emojis on your phone to record your feelings.
Understanding what material affects you in which ways is the starting point for putting in place strategies to deal with it in future.
- Develop your coping strategies. If you know particular topics (such as sexual assault or knife crime) will be difficult for you, you can take steps to prepare. Modules will usually include ‘sensitive content warnings’ when introducing material that may be difficult. You could also speak to your module tutor or the module convenor to get their advice on what issues may arise. Once you are aware of these, you can make a study plan to ensure you look after yourself. This may include planning more time to study a topic, studying in chunks and taking regular breaks, planning an activity before or after study to help clear your head and scheduling a chat with family or friends.
Some people find it easier to engage with distressing topics if they have particular comforts or supports in their study environment. If you are studying at home, this might include playing upbeat music while studying, eating comfort food, keeping your hands occupied with a task or hobby, or having a pillow or something comforting to hold.
If you are conducting independent study on campus, you may find it helpful to visit the garden room, a space in the Information Commons set aside for students to relax in.
If you are in a lecture, you may want to consider sitting near the exit, so that you can take a few minutes out if it becomes overwhelming. If you are in a seminar, workshop or tutorial you could also speak to your tutor in advance to let them know you may need a break.
It’s also a good idea to stay away from the news or anything distressing after you’ve finished your study session, and instead find something relaxing or uplifting to do. This could be going for a walk or to the gym, taking part in a creative hobby or watching a comedy on Netflix. The important thing is to be gentle with yourself and look after your mental health.
- Ask for help. If you find that you are very distressed, or the material has exacerbated your mental health condition, you should seek further help. Some signs that you might need to take care of yourself or seek help include:
- changed or disturbed sleep
- finding you cannot stop thinking about a topic or case
- feeling the urge to behave in a way that may be harmful to yourself
- finding yourself tearful, moody or upset even a few days after you have finished studying the material
- having unexpected or intrusive thoughts about a topic or case, even after a few days have passed
A useful place to start is making an appointment to speak to a Wellbeing Advisor from the Student Wellbeing Service.
(adapted from Open University guidance was originally created by Ruth Wall for social sciences students, in partnership with Anne Alvaer and Julia Downes and with input from Kate Lister. It was adapted for a broader audience by Kate Lister, with input from Julia Downes, Ruth Wall, Anne Alvaer and the Cross-Faculty Accessibility Working group (CFAWG.))
This video on ‘Studying Law Well’ features Dr Emma Jones and includes some top tips for studying law.
This video on ‘Studying Well Online’ features Dr Emma Jones and includes some top tips for studying online.
This piece on ‘how to listen to online lectures’ was written by Alishah Andari, Student Wellbeing Ambassador 2021/22 during the lockdown period.
My final year at University has not been what I anticipated to say the least. I remember in first year getting lost in the Diamond looking for the lecture theatre; in my second year being so confused as to why I had a law lecture in the Medical School; going to Falafel King afterwards with my friends and sitting in Weston Park spilling mint sauce everywhere. Now I wake up 5 minutes before my 9am, sit in bed and listen to my online lecture. Alone.
Sleeping in the same place you have your lectures; having lunch in the same place you attend your workshops and showering next to the desk you do your pre reading, does make it difficult to concentrate.
We are quite lucky this year that many of our lectures have been reduced to 20-minute bitesize sessions to aid with concentration, but sometimes even that isn’t enough.
I find one way to aid concertation is discipline and a routine. I recently invested in a whiteboard where I set out my plans for the week. I try to stick to this as best I can and even schedule some time to relax and give my eyes a break from staring at a laptop all day. This has been so useful in giving my brain a break and giving me time to recharge, which has helped with my concentration.
Another thing I find useful is change up my scene. Why not work in your bedroom one day, the kitchen the next day your garden the day after? Staring at the same desk everyday can really be difficult, so changing your scenery may motivate you to actually sit down and listen to your lecture.
Finally, a healthy lifestyle is really important. We all know having a good night’s sleep is so important to concentration. But so is a healthy diet and doing a little bit of exercise. So maybe challenge yourself not to use Deliveroo this week, or start an Instagram account where you can share pictures of your daily walk. Getting out and about, moving and being healthy does wonders to our concentration levels all of which will motivate you to focus.
This piece was written by Alishah Andari, Student Wellbeing Ambassador 2021/22 during the lockdown period.
I know what you’re thinking. How could I possibly think about myself and my hobbies in the midst of a global pandemic, where my entire life has been forced online? I would even go as far as to say many of us have probably forgotten what we enjoy because we have spent so much time alone, indoors and unable to do what we love. Well, this is exactly why I am writing this today.
It’s so hard in the middle of all this bad news and uncertainty to remember to do things we love and focus on ourselves. At a time where so many of us are grateful to simply be healthy, we shouldn’t forget to live not just survive. Doing things, we love is crucial not only to our mental health and wellbeing, but also general productivity and our physical health.
Hobbies come in different shapes and forms. Some people love exercising; cooking; reading a book and others enjoy more creative things. I am a Pisces so naturally my ambitions lie with things more creative.
Over the Christmas period I found myself burning out. The stress of exams, applications and cold weather was really taking a toll on my mental health. On top of this being isolated from my friends and spending all day everyday in my room was making me more and more miserable. I realised I needed to do something to force myself out of this slump I had fallen into. As I mentioned I’m quite creative, and I love making things. I’m also a little bit of a fashionista, and I am quite in touch with the latest trends. I decided to combine this and do something good for myself and others by starting a fundraising initiative where I made jewellery at home and donated all proceeds to a small Charity who aim to combat FGM in the UK.
This was incredibly helpful not just for me but for the people the charity was helping. The sheer pride every time I got a sale; the lovely messages I would share with the charity over Instagram DM’s, were nothing short of uplifting. It made me realise that I need to put some time aside for myself and fall in love with things I enjoy again. The world is already so miserable, I don’t need to add to that misery but I can add a little glimmer of joy and fun to my life by doing things I love, and it was certainly a bonus that I was helping victims of abuse in the process.
So, what is your excuse? Why have you not baked that cake? Or gone on that run? Or read that book? What is stopping you beside yourself?
This piece was written by Alishah Andari, Student Wellbeing Ambassador 2021/22 during the lockdown period.
One thing I realised when I was living in Sheffield, was how long I would go without hearing the sound of my own voice. I think my record was 4 days. As someone who normally does not have an off button, to go nearly an entire working week without saying a word, was far from normal. I’m not much of a texter or someone who jumps on a phone call, but I knew that was something I had to change.
My friends and I decided to schedule regular Zoom calls which I would force myself to get dressed up for and attend. After each Zoom session, I would feel a lot lighter and happier. I couldn’t see my friends in real life but this was the next best thing.
Like I said, I’m not much of a texter, but I forced myself to text friends who I naturally lost touch with to see how they were doing. Hearing their progress, did warm my heart and made me feel less alone.
There is no secret weapon or formula to combat loneliness. Unfortunately, it is the reality of so many people today. But if you really are struggling to cope, the answer lies with you and only you. Nobody can make you feel less lonely other than yourself. If you don’t schedule that Zoom call, nobody will. If you don’t attend that Virtual ‘Give it a Go’, nobody will. Loneliness is not something that goes with time, it’s something you as a person have to combat. So, if you are serious about not wanting to feel alone any longer, get dressed up, make a cup of tea and Facetime your friends, I’m sure they’re feeling just as isolated as you are.
If your friends are busy, find a hobby or learn a new skill. Immersing yourself in something you enjoy does make you feel like your part of a community. Have a look on the Facebook pages of different societies to see what virtual events they are hosting. Who knows, you may even make a new friend.