Pandemic or not, the legal industry is fast-paced and stressful. Long hours (whether from home or an office), difficult situations, constant deadlines, and a boatload of uncertainty right now all add up to intense professional demands.
It’s not a new problem. But it’s a big problem.
Maybe you’ve seen the 2017 report by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being? It found that out of almost 13,000 practicing lawyers, approximately 28% struggled with depression, 19% with anxiety, and 23% with stress. Those are significant numbers.
While self-care alone won’t fundamentally change the legal industry, it’s an important protective measure.
Healthy, supportive relationships are foundational for everyone, regardless of profession. In fact, they’re even more important when you work long, hard hours because they help reinforce your life outside of work.
They also provide a safe place to discuss your feelings about work, stressors you’re facing, and concerns you may have. While it’s important to not make that the focus of your relationships, the legal industry doesn’t always foster an environment where colleagues can safely share these feelings. Both professional relationships and personal ones are critical, creating a sense of trust where you can safely discuss what you’re dealing with and have outlets for conversation that isn’t related to work.
It’s been hard to sustain friendships during the pandemic, but it’s more important than ever to stay connected to our loved ones. If you’re living in an area with low COVID-19 transmission, there is still time to enjoy socially distanced summer activities with friends in the great outdoors. Hikes, tennis, bike rides, kayaking, or even masked walks can be a good way to catch up while staying safe.
If you’re in one of the hotspots around the country, though, we encourage you to continue to stay safe and stay in touch with friends remotely. Zoom parties, remote karaoke, virtual book clubs, these can all be ways to stay engaged with your friend group.
Social gaming is also a fun outlet to explore. Apps like Words with Friends saw a major uptick in downloads this spring.
Connecting with family
To connect more with your family, start small. Set aside 20 minutes each day where you – and everyone else – turn off the TV, your computer, your phones, even your smartwatch, and do…nothing in particular. Just spend time together. Throw birdseed outside with your toddler. Teach your 7-year old how to make Rice Krispie treats. Doodle with your teenage daughter.
For such a short window of time, you’ll notice your stress level decreasing, but just as importantly, you’ll realize that you’ve done something good with, and for, your family.
Supporting your community
Regardless of where you live, the United States is going through a truly challenging period in our history. From economic difficulties to social justice issues, our neighbors and our communities are in dire need of support. While there may be restrictions or social distancing requirements surrounding volunteer activities, finding a way to give back right now can be a truly fulfilling experience.
Volunteering has a whole host of benefits beyond improving your community. It boosts self-esteem, boosts your emotional state, and even boosts your lifespan. And for those who are struggling with burnout, it can renew your sense of purpose.
To find both remote and in-person volunteer opportunities in your community, visit VolunteerMatch.
Nurture your interests
You need to take time for things that are just for you. Your family, friends, and work are important, but you exist independently of all of them. If you had to choose a way to spend an afternoon, alone, no work, what would you do? (Assuming that you had caught up on sleep.)
Hobbies and interests are more than just for fun. They’re important for aging well. Studies have shown that practicing new tasks – like those learned in a hobby – is key to maintaining neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to adapt over time.
The great thing about this is that you don’t need to pressure yourself to be good at something – just the act of practicing and learning a new hobby is sufficient.
Take care of yourself
No wellness-centered article would be complete without talking about the importance of caring for your physical self. But it bears repeating because it’s sometimes really hard to do. Long hours make sleep difficult. Being groggy in the morning makes a giant cup of coffee more appealing than a balanced breakfast – but that caffeine crash later in the day means it’s hard to motivate yourself to exercise in the afternoon.
So make sure you’re prioritizing the following:
- 30 minutes of exercise a day
- 7-8 hours of sleep a night
- 3 balanced meals a day
If this seems like a tall order, start small. Aim for a 10-minute walk break at lunch. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier. Nosh on a (healthy) granola bar for breakfast.
Signs that you’re burning out
Thinking about ways to keep balance is all well(ness) and good, it’s also helpful to know when you’re teetering on the edge of burning out. There are three main indicators of burnout.
- Chronic exhaustion
- Feeling ineffective
And if you’re struggling, remember that there is always help. Lawyerswithdepression.com has a useful list of resources for lawyers. It’s essential to take steps to preserve your wellbeing so you can not just thrive in your legal career, but so you have a fulfilling life.