Although I firmly believe mental health is something we should talk about year-round, it’s been especially important to highlight as April’s observance of Stress Awareness Month gives way to May’s recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month. In a survey of Florida Bar members, we asked: “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, what are the most significant challenges/concerns you personally have faced as an attorney?” The number one response: stress.
Whether this survey result surprises you or not, it certainly indicates that stress is a large concern within our profession. We all know that we don’t need a designated month to remind us that we’re stressed, but I recognize the pressure you all are under and point to some realistic ways to mitigate it.
As attorneys, we spend a significant amount of time helping others. While that is undoubtedly rewarding, sometimes we can forget to focus on our own lives and stressors. One of the areas we may neglect to focus on is how to properly manage stress. We can never completely rid our lives of pressure and tension, but if we ignore it for too long, small moments of stress can add up and become something more serious. It’s imperative to take care of yourself in ways that work for you.
A continual quest for improvement seems to be built into the DNA of attorneys, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you are always trying to become a better version of yourself. Many self-help books will tell you to do more to help ease the strains in your life. They may tell you to get up at 5 a.m. to have more hours in the day, to begin scheduled exercise classes, or to start cooking fully organic meals.
However, I want to focus on how doing less may be the key to relieving tension. Waking up early and taking an exercise class is great — but if there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it’s that it is OK to slow down. Attorneys have busy agendas as it is. When you add work to existing family responsibilities and social obligations, attorneys have jam-packed schedules. As a result, penciling in a “stress-relieving activity” might feel more overwhelming than helpful.
Here are some things you can do to reduce the stressful feel of your schedule, rather than just adding another item to the list:
While cutting some things out of your life may help your anxiety levels to a certain extent, I recognize that certain emotions may need the help of a professional. In such a case, I heartily encourage you to use the resources available to Florida Bar members. One great resource is the Florida Lawyers Helpline, a free, confidential 24/7 lawyers helpline with professional counselors. The Mental Health and Wellness Center has a wealth of CLE videos, podcasts, meditations and self-assessments, studies and news articles, suggested reading, and places to find help.
Remember, you don’t always have to add things to your life to improve it — and you don’t have to feel guilty about reducing the load. Cutting back may be the key to easing your stress levels, which is something we all deserve.