Legal practitioners tend to have a profound passion for their work. While that passion and drive can be a great thing for their livelihoods, their clients and the moral landscape of their communities, it can also lead to unhealthy amounts of stress.
In fact, the job of a lawyer actually tends to be one of the most stressful jobs around. Why exactly is that?
For one, legal practitioners can work long hours and will sometimes, due to client obligations, take work home with them.
Secondly, they are tasked with helping their clients through stressful situations, such as divorce, lawsuits and bankruptcy. That is a lot of responsibility, and a practitioner who cares deeply for their clients will feel some of this stress.
Lastly, they are expected to use their mental faculties to the fullest, day in and day out. They constantly partake in cognitively demanding work: thinking, reading, planning.
These long hours coupled with mental strain can lead to hair-pulling moments of stress. So, in this article, we will go over some of the best ways for you to manage stress to make sure your fulfilling work doesn’t become an obligation, or worse, a burden.
Signs You Might be Over-stressed
The first step in managing stress is recognizing and accepting that you are stressed. Pretending that the heart palpitations and mood swings are just parts of your genetic makeup won’t get you anywhere.
Here are some common signs that you might be over-stressed, according to Healthline.
- Increased headache frequency
- Decreased energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Frequent sickness
- Digestive problems
Stress Management Tips for Legal Practitioners
Once you can acknowledge that stress is an issue, you can employ some of the following tactics to help diminish it. And, keep in mind, many of your legal practitioner peers are going through the same quest for less stress.
Over the course of the last two decades, meditation has established itself in Western Culture as a highly effective stress management strategy.
Although the scientific benefits are well-known, the vast majority of people still find it difficult to implement meditation into their lives. That is because there is still a lot of mystification around the practice, due to its roots in Eastern spirituality.
But, you don’t need to subscribe to any doctrine or set out with the goal to reach nirvana. Instead, take it slow and follow these simple steps to reap the calming benefits of meditation.
The main steps to meditate:
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Focus on your breath.
- When your attention wanders, return it to your breath.
- Repeat until your timer sounds.
As for when to do it, that is up to you. A lot of people include it in their morning routines to start the day in a positive, centered state of mind.
But, you can also use meditation as a sort of “take-as-you-need pill”. If you are stressed about a client meeting, meditate before. If you recently received bad news about your case, take a meditation break.
Experiment with what works best for you, and enjoy the 10 minutes of respite and presence you have during meditation. If you have a hard time getting started, consider looking up guided meditations on YouTube or other places that can help you get in the right frame of mind.
During a good workout, it can feel like you are literally sweating out your feelings of stress. After, you feel like the frustrations and worries of the day are less important and more manageable.
That is because physical activity increases the production of endorphins, your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters.
Alongside the physical benefits, there are also emotional benefits. Exercise can also serve as a good time to think through the day’s problems, which helps you cope and makes the problems seem less severe.
Of course, finding time to exercise is usually the main challenge for legal practitioners.
If your day is busy, try to at least go for a walk during lunchtime. You can make this even more stress-relieving by doing it with a friend, especially one who is a good listener or who knows how to make you laugh.
According to research by the Journal of Neuroscience, laughter with a friend increases endorphin output, which reduces stress.
Take a Vacation
Time away from work is essential to maintaining lower stress levels.
A study released last year by the American Psychological Association found that vacations reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety.
For a couple of weeks, instead of working in the office, you are relaxing on a tropical beach or exploring the streets of an old city.
Unfortunately, lawyers tend to take fewer vacation days than professionals in other fields. Finding time can be tricky when you are trying to remain available to clients and meet court deadlines.
But, if you are feeling overstressed, it is important to make vacation time a priority. Talk to your manager or trusted partner if things are out of hand. And, when you take the time off, try your best to avoid spending time working from your vacation spot.
It can be difficult to attain, but a true separation is necessary to reap the stress-relieving benefits that will ensure you come back even more helpful to your clients than you were before you left.
Spend Time in Nature
The bubbling of a creak. The breeze through the leaves. Nature has long been a sanctuary for those looking for relief from a stressful week. And, the effectiveness of this practice is now backed by science.
Harvard’s research suggests that time in nature can improve your mood and help you reduce stress. While scientists aren’t exactly clear on how nature accomplishes this, they have some ideas.
A lot of the time, your stress can cause something called negative rumination:
“When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts,” says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge.
Fortunately, when you are immersed in a natural setting, this rumination declines. In a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of 2 groups of people that took different walking paths. The first group spent 90 minutes walking through an urban setting. The second group walked through a natural environment.
The researchers found that the “nature walkers” had less activity in their prefrontal cortex: the part of your brain active during bouts of repetitive negative thoughts. So, if you live close to a park or the woods, try walking there instead of around the block.
Dealing with The New Stressors of Remote Work
While remote work has removed some serious stressors, such as long commutes, it has also added some new ones to the mix.
For example, when working from home, legal practitioners might struggle to separate their work lives from their home lives.
The workday used to have a definite end. When you arrived home, work was over. But now, since your office is located right next to your bedroom (or bed), you can easily hop back onto the laptop and scroll through your emails at 8 pm, a time you would usually use for relaxation.
This blurred line between work and leisure time can lead to burnout.
So, to re-insert that hard line between work and play and get the most out of your relaxation time, try implementing a “shutdown ritual”.
This ritual, coined by Georgetown Professor Cal Newport, is a set of steps you take at the end of your workday to signal to your mind that the workday is done. It is up to you which actions you include in the ritual, but here is an example.
Shutdown Ritual Example
- Reflect on the workday: This gives your mind a chance to think through what happened during the day so that you aren’t thinking about it while talking to your spouse or watching a movie.
- Update (or look over) tomorrow’s calendar: When you update your calendar, you create peace of mind, since you know you won’t forget any important tasks.
- Close the laptop, and say a “magic word”: Newport says, “schedule shutdown, complete,” to end the process, and signal to his subconscious mind that leisure time has begun.
Use Technology to Increase Your Leisure Time
Sometimes, as a legal practitioner, you just have too much work on your hands. And it can be hard to find the time to focus on your mental health.
This need for more time is leading to a serious embrace of technological change across the industry, especially in smaller and mid-size firms.
Lawyers have found that, with the right legal technologies in place, they can reduce the number of hours spent on repetitive administrative tasks (tasks which tend to be quite stress-inducing).
For example, routine document drafting can be the source of a lot of headaches for legal practitioners. So, to reduce the time spent on this task, lawyers are using document automation software like Lawyaw.
And remember, if you take the steps to automate your busy work, make sure to use your newfound time to focus on your well-being. Sometimes we need to serve ourselves as well as we serve our clients.