Don’t regress under stress — or if you do, learn how to rebound in a healthy way. Developing resiliency is important in any profession. Any professional — make that any person — needs to learn resiliency. Why target attorneys? Their profession has one of the highest rates of depression and suicide of all professions. You might find that surprising. I found it shocking. I treat a number of attorneys, and I consult with a number of attorneys on their cases. While I know that they tolerate much abuse from clients, opposing attorneys, and the public, I didn’t realize the extent of depression present in their profession. When I see them as clients, I see the toll that this takes on the attorney and on their relationships with their friends and families. They might abuse alcohol, have affairs, or simply burn-out.
I began to ask, “What contributes to the lack of resiliency in attorneys?” The following is supposition. Not enough research has been completed in this area. What attorneys have told me and what I have viewed is that attorneys often have difficulty becoming aware of how much stress they undergo. They become desensitized to the amount of stress they experience.
Daily they deal with
– changing legislature,
– unhappy clients,
– detailed paperwork where one mistake might have disastrous consequences,
– need for billable hours,
– need to find new clients,
– pleasing managing partners, supervisors, and associates
– asked to practice in areas where they might be unfamiliar,
– threats from clients and, clients’ relatives,
So, perhaps the question is, “What keeps attorneys in the legal profession?” Attrition is high in the profession. Note the number of books either written on how to retain attorneys in the profession or how to help attorneys transition to new careers available in bookstores and libraries.
Attorneys also experience a stigma from their colleagues and others if they admit to being so stressed out that they are seeking help form an outside party, such as a therapist. I found out about a site for attorneys who are depressed, from a client who happened to be an attorney. This client, who had suffered with depression for years, disclosed that he couldn’t tell anyone about it for fear of it affecting his practice success. He greatly admired the creator of the site, Daniel T. Lukasik, Esquire for his courageous act of talking about depression.
How can you develop resiliency so that you don’t experience a depressive episode or an anxiety disorder? First, you must develop an awareness of signs of stress. The following are symptoms of stress:
· fatigue · sleep changes · irritability · apathy · loss of focus · tenseness · physical symptoms, such as pains, including headaches, that have no physical cause · less desire for socializing than usual · feeling overwhelmed
These are but a few. If you notice that over a period of time you are increasingly disenchanted – even discouraged – by the idea of going through the day at the office, then you might be experiencing stress. Chronic stress is not only implicated in emotional disorders but also physical illnesses. Stress can change our physiological chemistry which in turn compromises your immune system. In short, you get sick.
Once you recognize one or two symptoms of stress, you have time to decide how you want to alleviate the symptoms due to stress. Adding exercise, meditation, healthy eating, direct time with loved ones and building in boundaries with your career are all ways that you can start building a peaceful life. What if time is a factor in adding more activities? Learning to priortize your activities so that you get the most cost/energy effective schedule is another way of reducing stress. If you are taking good care of yourself, then you have less stress and more available energy to tackle other activities. Remember the instructions on the plane? First you put the oxygen mask over your face, then over the face of your child or loved one. If you can’t breathe, you can’t help others.
More difficult, but necessary to building resiliency is changing your mindset. Developing optimism is crucial to healthy resiliency. While this sounds simple, changing patterns of behavior is not easy. If attempts at changing one or two patterns don’t alleviate the symptoms, then, then seeking an unbiased third party, such as a life coach or therapist, might help you discover what is preventing you from making these changes. If you are already experiencing more than one or two symptoms of stress, then you might want to consider a consultation with a therapist. Trying to change established patterns of behavior when highly stressed can be demoralizing because you don’t have the physical and emotional resources to do so. Would you expect your car to start if it didn’t have oil, gas, an engine, etc.? You would call for help to get your car started, right? If you are stressed or depressed or anxious, ask for help from your spiritual advisor, a coach, a physician or a therapist today.