If you’ve made it to this article, you might be one of the majority of lawyers who face stress because of your profession.
Fortunately, the legal profession is actively addressing ways to minimise the severe stress experienced by many in the profession due to traditional work culture and extensive working hours.
By stress, I am referring to more than just everyday hassle – I am talking about the anxiety and depression lawyers experience at a higher rate than any other profession.
The statistics surrounding this situation are both alarming and unacceptable:
- A 2006 study found lawyers were more likely to suffer depression and substance abuse than the general population.
- A 2009 study of Australian law students, solicitors and barristers found that 60% experienced moderate to high levels of distress.
- A 2014 study found that lawyers are three to fives times more likely to experience depression, anxiety and stress than the general population.
- And no doubt because of the above, 30% of Australian lawyers recently revealed they’re waiting for the right time to leave their positions.
So if you’re feeling stressed, you should know you’re not alone, nor unusual.
One major contributor to stress in the legal profession is the huge amount of non-billable administration which is often underestimated by management. A 6.5-hour billable day can often lead to an extremely unhealthy 12-hour working day.
Obviously, in a perfect world, we would try and facilitate a better work environment. However, this article is designed to help you realistically fight stress – right now, and through the following weeks or months.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from the stress you experience in everyday life.
Resilience stems from your ability to maintain control and a positive attitude during stressful situations. It is about introducing new behaviours and self awareness into your everyday life. The ultimate aim of resilience is to thrive, not buckle, in your professional environment.
You don’t really discover how resilient you are until times are tough. But in truth, resilience tactics can (and should) be applied to the everyday pressures you experience in the workplace.
Ultimately, resilience is a habit. And like any habit, it’s not something that will happen overnight or without experience. It’s something you’ll need to develop and practice to help manage your mental health in the face of pressures.
So how do you build ‘resilience’ habits? The following are a good foundation:
- Focus on the positive, not the negative. Look at what is going well, rather than what isn’t working. And, as hard as it may be, try to avoid comparing yourself to others.
- Make your health priority number one. Try to make some ‘me time’ in your weekly schedule. Whether it’s hobbies, sport, relaxation or even just going for a walk – anything that gets your mind off work and brings about positive emotions. Activities that involve your family are a bonus.
- Stop focussing on the dollar value of everything you do. You are more than the money you bring into your organisation. Focus on the results you are able to create for others.
- Start to build up your support network – this means offering help just as much as you’d ask for it.
- Avoid competitive behaviour, especially when it leads to extra stress. Identify people who build you up, not put you down.
- Be thankful and grateful for everything you have. Appreciation is a great thing to muster. It won’t happen overnight, but try to focus on gratitude as soon as you wake up and keep at it until you go to bed at night.
Practice these resilience techniques for one month and track your results. What do you notice about how you are feeling? Remember: it’s all in your mindset and your attitude. Shifting the focus from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘how will I grow today?’ will enable you to become a stronger, more resilient individual.
One important thing to remember is that you will be going against certain mindsets and thought patterns that have been built up over a lifetime. It will be very easy to put this in the too hard basket – but unless you break through the way you currently think, you won’t see any real change.
Change within the workplace will be slow. Don’t wait for it. Start making your own changes now. Your health and wellbeing depends on it.
If you ever feel like stress is getting too much for you, there are a range of free resources at your disposal – whether you just need someone to talk to or want to consider professional help. Visit BeyondBlue’s list of national help lines to see what’s right for you.
In addition to Executive Coaching, Athena Coaching designs and facilitates tailored programs, specialising in leadership development, peak performance and gender diversity. One such program was a Finalist in 2015 Australian Law Awards ‘Corporate Program of the Year’ category. For more information, visit Athena Coaching or her LinkedIn Profile.