The legal profession is notoriously known for its high-octane working environment in which clients expect immediate, top-quality advice. It’s therefore unsurprising that large numbers of lawyers struggle with stress, fatigue and depression.
Earlier this year, a Junior Lawyers Division Survey found that 82% of the junior lawyers they spoke to had experienced negative stress in the last month, with more than a quarter (26%) experiencing severe or extreme levels of stress. Worryingly, 38% of junior lawyers have experienced a mental health problem in the last month, an increase of 13% compared to 2017.
Key stress factors for junior lawyers included having a high workload, client demands or expectations and a lack of support or ineffective management. As many as 83% said they felt that their firm could do more to support stress at work.
While it’s true that there is a great deal to be done by employers to tackle this growing problem, there are a number of steps we can all take to better adapt to challenging situations at work and improve our mental wellbeing:
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Too often, we spend too long worrying about what’s gone wrong, rather than focusing on what’s worked out. Adjusting your perspective on things can be really helpful in reducing stress and improving your mindset. At the end of each day, reflect on what’s gone well reward yourself for your successes.
If something hasn’t gone your way, forgive yourself for any mistake you might have made and recognise that bad situations tend to be temporary. Tomorrow, make an effort to move on and focus on the tasks you’re good at.
Set realistic goals
Invest your time and energy on the things you can control and accept what you can’t change. Work out what you want to achieve, and each day, do something that helps you move towards these goals. Not only will this give you a greater sense of purpose, but you’ll waste less time worrying about tasks that simply aren’t your responsibility.
Take time out
Presenteeism is a major problem within the UK workforce more generally. According to a CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work report, the number of people working while ill has tripled since 2010, with as many as 86% of people reporting to have witnessed presenteeism taking place within their workplace.
For lawyers, however, who regularly work through their lunch hours or late into the evening, the problem is likely to be even more significant. While this ruthless attitude arguably demonstrates commitment to the profession, it’s ultimately harmful to an individual’s mental well-being, not to mention their productivity at work.
If you are feeling mentally or physically unwell, prioritise your self-care and allow yourself time off work to focus on getting better.
Even if you’re in good health, it’s important to take regular breaks at work, to avoid burnout. At lunchtime, get out of the office for a walk and a change of scenery. Switch off at weekends and the evening. If you have to check work emails at home, set a curfew (and stick to it) to give yourself some time to relax.
As sorority-sister-turned-lawyer Elle Woods famously once said: ‘Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.’ Taking time out of your day to go for a run, play five-a-side or do a workout class can do wonders for your mindset. Not only does exercise give you some ‘me-time’, but it will also help alleviate stress, ensure that you’re mentally and physically refreshed and boost your productivity.
Eat and sleep well
Looking after yourself by eating a healthy diet and making sure you get enough sleep are also important. Eating healthily can help improve your mood and provide your brain with essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, poor sleep is associated with physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Spend time with friends and family
Spending time with people we care about makes us feel happier and more secure in all aspects of our lives. Try to maintain a good work-life balance so can spend quality time spend with the people who matter most.
At work, make an effort to form relationships with your colleagues. The Harvard Business Review found that employees who have friends at work are happier, healthier and have higher levels of productivity and job satisfaction than those who don’t.
Develop coping strategies
Recognise what it is that makes you stressed or anxious at work and think about how you can deal with these triggers. For instance, if the prospect of an impending deadline is causing you to feel under pressure, organise your workload and plan ahead to give yourself enough time to complete the task at hand and meet that deadline.
On the other hand, if working on the same thing for too long makes you uneasy, make a concerted effort to take regular breaks. Go for a walk, or make a drink to give yourself some respite.
If you’re struggling on your own, it’s important to reach out and speak to someone you can trust about how you are feeling. Whether it’s a friend, family member or colleague you turn to, talking things through will help you realise you’re not alone. If you would prefer to speak to someone anonymously, mental health charity LawCare offers one-to-one peer support to legal professionals through their dedicated helpline (0800 279 6888).
If the problem is more serious, you should visit your GP who will be able to give you advice or point you in the direction of a specialist who can help.