People in helping professions don’t always take the time to care for themselves. Practicing law is stressful. Meeting client needs, satisfying billing goals, managing constantly shifting priorities, and maintaining the high standards expected of those practicing law can be exhausting. 

The good news is that stress is not inherently negative. With the right self-care practices and support, you can learn to channel stress effectively and reduce its harmful impact on physical and mental health. 

Lawyers and Mental Health

Lawyers are by no means underqualified for handling stress. Getting through law school and passing the bar exam is enough to show they can handle stressful situations. However, some recent studies have shown that many lawyers struggle with issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. 

A report on lawyer well-being conducted by the National Task Force, a group of entities associated with the American Bar Association, showed that:

  • 38% of lawyers are problem drinkers
  • 28% of lawyers struggle with depression
  • 19% of lawyers are living with anxiety

The New York State Bar Association Task Force on Attorney Wellness released a report in 2021 indicating that more than 70% of the judiciary and solo practitioners admit they did not consider seeking help from a mental health professional in the last three years. 

Stigma may be the main reason lawyers avoid seeking help. The fear of what a mental health diagnosis might do to an individual’s career may prevent them from getting care that could potentially save their lives. 

Which Areas of Practice Are Most Stressful?

Which lawyers are the most stressed? That’s difficult to say. An individual’s good stress management practices have a greater impact on their health than their specific job does. 

The culture promoted within a law practice also makes a big difference. An environment that places profits over all else, including the well-being of staff, can be stressful — no matter what type of law is practiced. 

Some areas of law are considered less stressful. Estate planning, intellectual property law, and real estate law are among the more low-stress specialties. Estate planners are rarely, if ever, called on in the middle of the night to deal with an estate planning emergency.

The size of a lawyer’s firm, not their specialty, may be more of an indicator of stress. One study suggests that lawyers working for mid-sized firms experience the least stress. Lawyers in smaller firms may have to take on extra administrative and office duties due to a lack of resources, and large firms are notorious for expecting employees to be available 24/7.

Signs of Chronic Stress

Stress is that feeling that gets you out of bed in the morning when the alarm goes off. Occasional stress is a normal part of life and won’t harm your health. Chronic stress is different. Chronic stress is stress that you feel day after day. It’s something you can’t seem to get out from under, regardless of how well-organized you try to be. 

Stress releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. While these hormones could be helpful if you were facing off with a fellow sharp attorney in a career-making case, the constant release of these two substances can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Other symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Tension headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Stress eating (or not eating)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sleep changes
  • Back and shoulder pain
  • Trouble focusing
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of sex drive

The complications of chronic stress may include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Hypertension
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Alcohol or substance use disorder
  • Increased risk of upper respiratory infection
  • Type 2 diabetes

If you are experiencing the symptoms or complications of chronic stress, don’t go it alone. Health issues like depression and high blood pressure don’t magically get better. Without treatment, they will most likely get worse and potentially become life-threatening conditions. 

Chronic Stress and Substance Use

There is a two-way relationship between substance use and stress. People may use alcohol and other substances to deal with high-stress levels, but becoming dependent or addicted to a substance creates more stress. 

Alcohol can be an especially dangerous substance for highly stressed people like attorneys. The fact that it is socially accepted and widely used among people in the judiciary system lays a foundation for potential abuse. Going out for a drink after a long day, celebrating a legal win, or consoling yourself after a loss are common. 

The first serving or two of alcohol may help you forget your troubles, but alcohol is a depressant. With continued use, it can actually worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. Long-term use could lead to an alcohol use disorder, which could threaten your career even more than seeking treatment for depression in the first place. 

Managing Chronic Stress

You can continue to work at a high-pressure job without compromising your mental or physical health. The first step is to make basic self-care a priority. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and practice good sleep habits. Other suggestions for naturally lowering stress levels include:

  • Take time for yourself, practice favorite hobbies, or listen to music
  • Spend time with friends who are not connected to your law firm
  • Practice mindfulness habits, such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises
  • Keep a gratitude journal 
  • Find ways to volunteer in your community

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to relieve stress symptoms, you may need the support of a mental health professional. Attending group or individual therapy can help you learn new coping skills. If you are already struggling with anxiety or depression, medications may be necessary. 

Don’t Let Stigma Stop You

No job is worth sacrificing your physical or mental health. If job-related chronic stress is threatening your physical or mental health, consider speaking with your doctor or a mental health professional today. As an attorney, you understand better than others that the law is on your side. 

You cannot be fired or forced to take leave because you sought treatment for a mental health condition. With the right support and lifestyle changes, you can lower your stress levels and get back to enjoying the career you worked so hard to be successful at. 

If your firm could benefit from virtual support staffing, book a Discovery Call today


Comments are closed