We all know that being a lawyer can be a pretty stressful job. You deal with challenging situations on a regular basis and operate in a high pressured environment.
In addition, the demands of your personal life can equate to having a second job. If you are a mother, the job description for your additional role could read something like this:
“Fragile, cute, needy infant requires a caring, patient, intuitive, adaptable, resilient, strong, kind parent with the ability to:
- Perform whilst sleep deprived;
- Forward plan;
- Keep calm under pressure;
- Carry multiple things at once
- Do so much more as time goes on
Hours: 24/7, 365 days a year.
Remuneration: Unconditional love and joy beyond measure
Holiday entitlement: Nil
To apply: (1) convince your other half that you are ready to have your world flipped upside down and (2) commence following the instructions explained during the ‘birds and the bees’ talk!”
Joking aside, we all have to deal with stress to varying degrees and a large proportion of lawyers go through life feeling very stressed and anxious.
In 2013, The Law Society interviewed 2,226 solicitors about stress at work and, shockingly, more than 95 per cent said their stress was extreme or severe.
You can’t escape stress. But, you can manage and react to it differently.
Teflon vs Velcro
A well known study conducted by Pennsylvania State University examined people’s reactions to stressful events and the state of their health a decade later.
It concluded that there are two types of people: Teflon and Velcro.
The study involved phone interviews with 2,000 people over an eight day period, isolating a particular stressful event during the interval, and assessing how they responded and handled the stressful moment. The researchers also took saliva samples to measure the level of the hormone, cortisol, which would indicate the “degree of stress.”
The researchers correlated the responses of the participants to general patterns of behaviour in stressful situations, and then looked at the health of each of the individuals ten years later.
Researchers categorised people who suffered and persisted with unresolved emotions, as Velcro people – the negative emotions continued to stick long after the event, without a good resolution.
Participants categorized as Teflon people managed to either resolve the stressful situation or “just let it go and move on.” The study found that Velcro individuals had higher rates of chronic health issues a decade after the phone interviews, compared to the Teflon group.
Become a Teflon person
If you are a Velcro person, one way you can change the way you respond to stress is by focusing on the positives. Our brains are trained to pick out, focus on and remember the negative things that happen. Especially as analytical, critical lawyers. If we focus on the positives more than the negatives, we will find it easier to let go of stressful experiences.
It is a good idea to establish which stress management techniques work for you, so you can apply them quickly when a stressful situation arises.
Here are 10 tips for dealing with stress:
- When you feel yourself becoming stressed, find somewhere quiet and do some relaxation exercises, meditate or pray.
- Write down what is causing you to feel stressed and why. Consider how you can tackle the cause.
- Make sure you take a break in the middle of the day. Avoid eating lunch at your desk because you are too busy. Go for a walk or meet someone for lunch.
- Have at least one full day each week away from your work routine and try to do something pleasant.
- Take regular exercise – if not daily, then 20 minutes, three times a week.
- If you don’t have capacity, say no to taking on additional projects or tasks.
- Avoid relying on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or other stimulants to help you through a period of stress.
- Don’t set unrealistic goals and deadlines for yourself.
- Don’t dwell on the past or fret about the future – concentrate on what is happening now.
- Keep things in perspective and assess what is actually happening. Avoid creating mountains out of molehills.
When it comes to managing stress, there is no one size fits all answer. Everyone ought to identify the stress management techniques that work best for them.
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