Lawyers today are facing stress and its awful side effects anxiety and depression at increasingly alarming rates. It seems that there is always a mountain of stuff “to do” and never enough time. All lawyers experience stress; it is a part of life and our profession. But we also control how we respond to the inevitable stress, which determines our health, well-being, and happiness.
If the standard way a lawyer deals with a long, stressful day is to grab a few drinks, then he is not really coping with but avoiding his woes. Lawyers frequently turn to compulsive behaviors to deal with stress whether its overindulging in eating, drinking, gambling, drugs, or work. A stressed out lawyer will often end up withdrawing from friends, families, and hobbies—actions that also make him prime candidates for depression. Avoiding stressful situations, phone calls, clients, or urgent work is a common way for lawyers to procrastinate in order to cope with stress and anxiety. It seems easier in the moment to suffer from the stressor rather than dealing with it. Unfortunately, in addition to increased stress this can lead to professionalism issues.
But the good news is that we as lawyers do not have to choose this failure when success is an option. We have the ability to immediately change our lives by making positive, healthy choices in the way we respond to stress and anxiety.
Instead of choosing a few cocktails to help wind down after a tough week, why not choose to hit the gym and allow the body to fight off stress and tension naturally? Instead of a hangover, you will be left with increased endorphins in the brain that will improve your mood and leave you better equipped to handle other stressors. Instead of working late into the night and using fast food and caffeine to provide energy, why not make eating healthy and getting adequate sleep a priority? You can find moments of peace during a hectic day through journaling, meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, or yoga. And finally, you can make the positive choice of developing a strong community of family and friends that will provide love and support when life becomes difficult and overwhelming.
We might not have a choice in the stressors we encounter as lawyers, but we can choose our response to the stress. Our health and happiness depends on it!
Ben Gibson serves as an elected representative for the Second Circuit on the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors and is current Chair of the Young Lawyers Division Quality of Life Committee.