How to Cope With Stress and Combat Addiction in the Legal Industry
Stress and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand, and this issue is finally being recognized in the legal industry. According to the Report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being released in August 2017, there are five central themes that need to be addressed in order to better the mental - and ultimately physical - well-being of the profession:
- Reducing the level of toxicity in the profession;
- Eliminating the stigma of needing and getting help;
- Remembering that well-being is an “indispensable part” of the duty of competence;
- Educating lawyers, judges, and law students about their well-being; and
- Changing how the law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated.
The industry is slowly but surely making changes, from the ABA’s 2018 passage of the Measure on Substance Abuse, to more states adding substance abuse continuing education requirements, to firms nationwide signing the pledge to advance well-being in the industry. In addition, wonderful organizations like Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers are here to help attorneys in any way they can. Tune in to Laurie Besden’s most recent program to learn her story and more about what you can do if someone you know needs help. It’s never too early to take preventive measures - and to take care of yourself. Here are some ways you can start:
Boost Your Endorphins. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), more than two-thirds of people say they experience stress or anxiety on a daily basis, but only 14% of people regularly exercise to cope with it. Aside from the obvious physical benefits of working out, the ADAA even notes that exercise is “vital for maintaining mental fitness.” Due to the endorphins and other neurotransmitters involved in exercise, hitting the gym, your yoga mat, or even the stairs can relax you. It can even improve your relationships - a 2017 study from the Journal of Applied Psychology even found that people who get adequate exercise are less likely to bring their work stress “home with them.” Here, study participants who exercised the most were less likely to take their stress out on their loved ones.
Sleep. There are also big health benefits for this one. Sleep keeps your heart healthy, can help lower your chances of getting certain cancers, and makes you more alert. Losing sleep also impacts your immunity, as less cytokines (a protein that targets infection and inflammation) are produced. Additionally, lack of sleep and stress can become a circle that’s hard to break, wherein stress prohibits sleep and the loss of sleep causes more stress because it undermines your productivity.
Read for Fun. This is not a drill! Turns out, reading for fun came out as the number one way to cut down on stress. A study by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex found that it cut stress by 68% - in just six minutes of reading. Essentially, this may work to alleviate stress because reading completely occupies the human mind and pulls you away from external stresses, resulting in the ease of tension on the heart and other muscles. So put down the legal work on your commute, evenings, or weekends, and pick up some fiction.
Don’t Do it Alone. There is no shame in seeking help when things get tough - and even when they aren’t. Regular therapy sessions can provide an outlet for you to feel heard, alleviating internal pressures to avoid problems from building in the first place. Therapy also helps you to “navigate your feelings, build better behaviors, and relate to your thoughts differently.” There are many options making therapy more accessible therapy, including apps like TalkSpace, that allow you to text or call a licensed therapist if you’re too busy to get to a traditional in-office session.