Mental Health and Wellness for Lawyers
If I had to guess, I’d say you probably don’t know too many lazy lawyers. More likely, none. That’s because the profession lends itself to people who are Type A personalities. You know the type, ambitious, competitive, impatient, always needing to be in control, maybe even aggressive. Can you relate? Do you see yourself in this description?
Other common traits of people with a Type A personality include risk of heart attack and stroke, coronary disease, anxiety, and other stress-related illnesses.
Yet there are many jobs that are stressful. What makes practicing law different? Why is it that lawyers experience a higher level of stress, and stress related illnesses, than many other people?
Depending on the kind of law you practice, there can be a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Responsibility that involves other people and their futures.
Divorce lawyers have to negotiate the best outcome for their clients that will allow them to live the same or similar lifestyle they were living before splitting up. Most importantly there’s the children to think about. The divorce lawyer is not only responsible for their client yet they have to think about their client’s children and what happens to them. That’s a lot of pressure.
How about criminal lawyers? It doesn’t matter if your client is guilty or innocent, they’re still entitled to the best defense they can get. If they’re found guilty, your representation can make a difference in how long they spend in jail. The pressure to get it right is high.
Personal injury lawyers? How well they represent their clients can make a difference in the settlement their client receives. That settlement can make a difference in how well they heal from their injuries and how long it takes. That’s some significant pressure.
Estate lawyers have to ensure they’re providing their clients with the best advice for how to manage and divide their estates. Real estate attorneys are responsible for representing their clients in large financial deals.
The bottom line is this . . . it doesn’t matter what kind of law you practice, how long you’ve been practicing and how many clients you represent, you hold someone else’s life, future, and/or finances in your hands. That’s stress!
With all that responsibility and stress comes yet another factor. The law isn’t always black and white. There is a lot of gray area for you to manage, understand, and work through, all in the best interest of your client.
On top of that, your clients don’t usually have a full understanding of the law so they’re depending on you to do the right thing for them. Often, when they don’t understand your reasoning, you may find yourself meeting with resistance from your own clients. The people you are fighting for are fighting you. That adds an entirely new level of stress to your already stressful situation.
No, being a lawyer isn’t easy. It’s not a job for someone who’s lazy and wants to take a lot of time off. Being a lawyer means a lot of late nights and early mornings in the office, cancelled plans, working weekends, and probably more coffee than you’d like to admit to.
All of this stress, as we’ve already mentioned, can lead to a variety of stress related illnesses like anxiety, heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, insomnia, and depression. It can even lead to obesity if you’re an emotional eater. Some of these illnesses come after working in the profession for years, yet there are other stress-causing ailments that can be more immediate and on-going. Things like muscles aches and strains, low immunity system (causing you to get a cold at a drop of a hat), headaches, eye strain, dizziness, and fatigue.
The stress can even lead to the ultimate mental health issue, suicide.
So how do you deal with it all? How do you let go of the stress and find your place of Zen? How do you relieve the pressure so that you can live healthier?
Would it surprise you to know that reducing your stress will help you be a BETTER lawyer? Yes! It’s true. Reducing your stress levels will help you be more focused, organized, productive, and empathetic. All things that will make you better at what you do.
If you’re ready to reduce your stress so that you can improve both your mental and physical wellbeing and be a better lawyer, here’s where you need to start:
Let Go of Perfectionism
Lawyers take perfectionism to the extreme, am I right? You are paid to do someone else’s worrying, you are expected to predict the outcome of a future event, and you are expected to know what unseen and unplanned actions will pop up. It makes it hard NOT to be a perfectionist.
Perfectionism is weighing on your mental and physical health. No one can foresee all the future has to hold. You need to let go of those reigns, even just a little, and allow yourself some space to be human.
Perfectionism leads to obsessive thoughts, feelings of inadequacy, sleep deprivation, difficulty focusing, fatigue, heart palpitations, and anxiety. Is it worth it? No!
Use Stress-Reducing Methods
Maybe you’ve heard of stress-reducing methods like meditation and mindfulness and decided that you were just too busy. If you’re too busy to give it a try, then you need it more than anyone else. Slowing down, even for a few moments, will help you reduce your immediate stress levels.
Just seven minutes of mediation per day is enough to begin to see changes in your physical and mental wellbeing. Keep in mind, that’s seven minutes a day over time, not seven minutes for just one day.
Meditation reduces anxiety and depression, improves focus, clarity, and productivity, improves sleep, increases your immune system, lowers blood pressure, and improves your overall health. With all of those benefits, you really aren’t able to afford not to do it.
Meditating doesn’t require a lot of work, special clothes, or a trip to Bali. The only requirement is to sit still, eyes closed, and mind blank for a few minutes. I know, the clearing your mind thing can be difficult. Just imagine your mind is a non-stick skillet and everything that comes in, slides right back out.
If you’re not sure how to do it, or need some help clearing your mind, there are a variety of meditation apps and YouTube videos to help you out. Start with just two minutes in the morning before you leave for the office. Follow it up with another three minutes in the middle of the day to help reduce the stress of the day. And finally, two more minutes before bed to clear your mind so you can sleep better. Once you develop the habit, increase the amount of time you meditate each time by one minute until you’re up to 20-30 minutes per day. This will help you receive the best results long-term.
When you don’t have the time to mediate, let go of the future and allow yourself to be present in the moment. Stress is often caused by worrying about things we don’t even know will happen. Let go of that stress by taking your focus off the future and bringing it into the moment you’re currently in. Notice the smells, the sounds, and the activities happening right around you.
Being mindfully present can be important both in and out of the office. Doing the dishes, cooking dinner, sitting in traffic are all moments to be present with what’s happening around you.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help you make better decisions, see opportunities, be a better lawyer. It’s a win-win, you can be a better lawyer AND be less stressed out.
Sometimes it’s hard for people in powerful, stressful, positions to seek help from others. Just like your clients know when they need your help, you need to know when you need help from someone else. You are not able to do everything alone. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Seeking help is a sign of strength. You know you can’t conquer your stress and health issues on your own so you’re reaching out to someone more knowledgeable to help you be a better you. Which in turn, makes you better for your clients.
There are a variety of ways to seek help. Sign up for a meditation retreat, speak to a counselor or therapist, join a support group, read books, or take a workshop. Find one that works for you.
You may find it beneficial to hire a coach; someone who understands what you’re dealing with because they’ve been there, and they’ve overcome, so now they can show you the path. I can tell you from experience coaching has helped me discover so many things in my life. Working with someone one-on-one can help you see how and why you’re holding on to stress, how it’s affecting your health and your work, and help you find ways to deal with it that you can stick with.
In the high-stress world of practicing law, finding a way to reduce stress is both beneficial and necessary for your mental and physical health and wellbeing. Don’t take your health for granted. Taking care of your own needs will allow you to help others.
I look forward to helping you reduce your stress call for a FREE consultation so that we can discuss how the horses and I can help you implement a stress-free environment. Call us at 970-682-4405.