Lawyer blog: stress-reduction for lawyers - PART 1
What is the status of your new year resolution fulfilment? Are you already thinking of new resolutions for Chinese New Year? Maybe you were aspiring to spend more time with family or to do more for yourself. We often realise that we have lost sight of our healthy routines and neglected our hobbies. Many of us are having difficulty 'switching off' during holidays and on vacation. Some find it hard to take a break even for a shorter period of time and to get their minds off work.
The lawyers I work with are either working in-house in a legal department and compliance related services, or for law firms and consultancies. Many of them feel being at the "bottom of the totem pole" or "the last in the food chain". They are usually not masters of their own time and schedule. When it comes to planning a vacation, they report to be at the mercy of their business or external clients. This can lead to frequent re-scheduling or cancelations, much to the disappointment of themselves and their close ones.
As a lawyer you are expected by internal or external clients to be at their beck and call. These expectations often contrast with your smartness and ability to work self-contained, based on your higher intelligence, training and education. You somehow sense that you deserve better, but often find yourself stuck in deadlines and overwhelmed with requests which all claim to be urgent and of course important: Business strikes a deal after a long day or days of negotiations and in the following late night hours you find yourself compiling, verifying and proofing the documents for asap delivery. Not to mention your being on permanent standby while negotiations last well into the night.
Overworked, overwhelmed or overlooked lawyers will sooner or later develop physiological and psychological health issues. The consequences of stress and dissatisfaction can lead to impairments and cognitive-emotional deterioration. If you suffer from physiological and behavioural features of stress and dissatisfaction, you might find yourself sleep-deprived, reverting to unhealthy habits like eating and drinking, withdrawing from friends, family and co-workers, seeking low-hanging distractions (i.e. video gaming, social media, ...) and developing physical expressions of tenseness, huffiness or fatigue.
When you develop cognitive or emotional symptoms, most commonly you will experience mood swings, feel depressed or anxious and often carry a certain weight of grumpiness or frustration. Sometimes you might feel burned out, hopeless or emotionally numb. Furthermore, your memory, interpretation and perception can suffer significantly and with it the nuts and bolts of your profession: your judgement.
In order to gain back your strength and confidence I typically work with clients to develop hands-on changes in their behaviour and they get things done in a less stressful, and more rewarding way.
Let's reflect on one simple question: How do you spend your time?
Make a daily pie-chart for every day of a typical week. Now superimpose all charts of one week and aggregate them into one. Your result might look something like my drawing here.
What do you see?
You typically go to bed later than you want to. You are chronically sleep deprived. You lose the grip on your day by checking email first thing in the morning and thereby let others set your agenda. You arrive at the office later than planned - carrying stress into the office. You eat alone and thereby miss out on pleasurable and meaningful social connections. Your day ends with chores after you had an unpleasant exchange with your spouse, because you both were once again too tired and too resentful to celebrate life.
In order to change this, you need to analyse each item and also define the missing parts in your chart overall. Clearly, what is missing here is socialising with people you like and feel connected to, physical exercise and time for hobbies. Getting 'hammered' (drunk) on Friday nights is not a hobby.
"Overworked, overwhelmed or overlooked lawyers will sooner or later develop physiological and psychological health issues."
Moreover, you need to understand that less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis is not enough to perform and stay healthy. Your morning routine is most efficient if it includes the planning of the day and an element of self-awareness and reflection like meditation, workout, spiritual ritual or simply waking up without electronics. Furthermore, keep the end of day in mind. Whatever you feel is important to your relationship - make it your priority! Like sex for example. Or just cuddling. Many people get caught up in all kinds of things and what's important becomes last in the queue. Only to then be skipped due to laziness or fatigue.
Ask yourself again: Where and with whom did I spend my time with?