Finding the Silver Lining – Attorney Self-care Strategies
Many Lawyer’s Lead Lives of Quiet Desperation
Even in the best of times, attorneys are prone to anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Over the last several years, attorneys have taken the lead among all professionals in these categories and many lead lives of quiet desperation as they struggle to cope with the increasing demands of clients, the need to produce a perfect work product and growing competition in the marketplace.
According to Dr. Deborah Day, Psy.D, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Family Mediator in Winter Park, Florida, the additional stress forced upon attorneys dealing with the impact of Covid 19 has brought many to the breaking point.
Attorneys in every stage and age of life are contemplating a future filled with unknowns and asking themselves if their firm, their job and their bank accounts will survive. Given that this pandemic has the potential to devastate many small businesses, these are legitimate concerns.
Unfortunately, Dr. Day says, she’s noticed an alarming trend: these concerns are “leaking” into conversations with clients as attorneys allow themselves to speculate about their uncertain future. While she wants attorneys to communicate authentically, she warns this is not an appropriate outlet to process fears. Anxious attorneys should avoid dwelling on their fears when talking with clients.
Instead, Dr. Day suggests, attorneys should acknowledge it’s a difficult time but reassure clients that they remain focused on their work despite the challenging environment. Then they should find someone they can confide in appropriately – be it a colleague or a counselor. This way, attorneys can give voice to their deepest fears without alarming their clients.
The next most important thing they can do, according to Dr. Day, is to put an emphasis on taking good care of themselves. She advocates that attorneys recommit to basic, healthy habits to help cope with this unprecedented time.
…attorneys should acknowledge it’s a difficult time but reassure clients that they remain focused on their work despite the challenging environment.
Establish and Maintain a Healthy Routine
One fundamental way to create a feeling of calm, according to Dr. Day, is to establish a routine that closely resembles a normal schedule — especially for attorneys who are working from home. Adhering to a routine provides needed familiarity and structure for the brain.
While adhering to the familiar in daily routines is good, sticking to normally high expectations is not. She advises that attorneys shift their expectations of how productive they (and their teams) can be. While some personalities find working from home allows them to be ultra-productive, others (working parents, especially) feel distracted and unfocused. Plan accordingly.
She also emphasizes that every healthy routine must include a good night’s sleep, while acknowledging that eight to nine hours of sleep is a struggle for many, even under normal circumstances. She believes working parents who work late into the evening because they are parenting all day, must give themselves permission to sleep in if their schedule allows.
…every healthy routine must include a good night’s sleep
Eat Healthy Snacks and Meals
When working at home, it is tempting to eat mindlessly. The refrigerator and the food in it represent comfort and can be a temporary stress reducer that can lead to carb crashes and unhealthy weight gain. She believes it’s critical to resist this tendency by keeping healthy food on hand for snacks and meals.
…keep healthy food on hand for snacks and meals.
Stressing the importance of movement, she says attorneys must find ways to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine that they find enjoyable and that get them breathing deeply, such as jogging, virtual workouts, aerobics, or yoga. Recognizing the importance of exercise as a coping strategy, one law firm holds conference call meetings and requires each team member to walk while they talk. This initiative helps to keep the team engaged and actively moving.
“Another important way to counter anxiety is to express gratitude,” says Dr. Day. “Thank your team at every opportunity. Reach out and call your clients to see that they are okay.” To do this, anxious attorneys will have to put aside the worst-case scenarios they’re worried about and see what’s working well right now. And perhaps that’s where the silver lining of the crisis will show up. They’re going to see the team member who’s really stepping up, the innovative ways they’ve been able to conduct intake meetings and the creative new ways they’ve learned to communicate with clients.
Ultimately, she believes, lawyers who can process their fears with an appropriate person, stick to healthy habits while working virtually and challenge themselves to express gratitude will be the ones who survive this crisis with their mental and physical health intact.
Another important way to counter anxiety is to express gratitude.