To say that being a lawyer is a high-stress occupation is a gross understatement. From ensuring you’re up to date on the latest legal and procedural changes to responding quickly to clients’ requests and demands, you face constant pressure to do and achieve at the highest level. What’s more, in today’s “always on” culture, there’s never an excuse to not meet a deadline or respond to a client’s inquiry.
Compounding the stressors attorneys face is the fact that many of the duties and responsibilities associated with practicing law are completely outside of your control. And, professionally, your value is inherently tied to how many hours you bill.
Given the demands associated with practicing law, it’s easy to get caught up in the hectic pace and endless lists of to-dos. However, it’s important to consider the toll chronic stress takes on your physical and mental health. According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, attorneys experience rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse that are consistently higher than the national average.
If you’re an attorney who is feeling the ill-effects of too much work-related stress, it’s time to pause and reflect on ways you can make your well-being a priority.
Changing your personal paradigm
To be a truly content and high-functioning human being and attorney, you need to take care of yourself – mind, body, and soul. While things like eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep often top the list of personal health must-dos, there are numerous other extremely beneficial practices you may want to consider incorporating into your life.
Pause and check in – The demands of work can create tunnel vision and, before you know it, you’re floundering and feeling overwhelmed. On a daily basis, take time to be still and evaluate how you feel, both physically and mentally. Do you feel calm and connected to the work you’re doing or is your heart racing and thoughts scattered? One of the easiest, and more effective, ways to quiet the mind and physical sensations associated with stress is to focus on your breath. According to Harvard Medical School, shifting your focus and paying attention to your breathing elicits a natural relaxation response in your body. Practicing deep breathing techniques even for a few minutes each day can reduce your heartrate, lower your blood pressure, and promote overall feelings of tranquility.
Reclaim your time – Attorneys are notorious for putting in long hours at the office. However, even if you don’t routinely work 80-hour weeks, when your thoughts are consumed by work-related matters and not focused on family, friends and enjoying life, something needs to shift. Setting boundaries and establishing clear lines between your professional and personal lives will not only provide time to focus on the people and things that matter outside of work, but also ensures you have the physical, emotional and mental capacity, and stamina to step up when you’re handling a complex matter or preparing for trial.
Ask for help – Historically, the hallmarks of the legal profession require attorneys to be intelligent, confident, and highly competent. By nature, most attorneys are competitive, trend towards perfectionism, and struggle to admit when they don’t know something or need help. These personality traits can lead an attorney to push beyond their limits and eventually suffer burnout. Being brave enough to be vulnerable and admit when you don’t have all the answers can be extremely liberating. Doing so may also help you see the obstacles you face in a new light and allow you to come up with solutions that benefit both you and your firm.
Today, many law firms realize they cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the human side of their attorneys. The stakes, from both a human and business perspective, are simply too high. To attract and retain top talent and compete for new business, firms must seek out new and innovative solutions to provide clients with the value and answers they need. Learn more about how you can start bringing a more balanced approach to your firm.