How do you cope with on-the-job stress?
Editor's note: If you're struggling with substance abuse, chemical dependency, addiction or mental health issues, contact the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP). Through OLAP, judges, attorneys, and law students receive confidential advice about individual problems; help in arranging and implementing formal interventions; help in deciding between outpatient, inpatient, and other treatment programs; and monitoring and aftercare services.
When I was a young lawyer, I learned quickly that my greatest adversary was not opposing counsel. To become a successful lawyer, I needed to address the stressors knocking at my door and learn to develop strategies beyond fight or flight. For many lawyers just starting out, law school loans may be the first stressful problem, as today's six-figure debt is often the norm. For young lawyers, that debt goes hand-in-hand with a highly competitive job market. Repaying loans and finding a job is not a running start for dream fulfillment. Working long hours, keeping up with technology and dealing with the nature of the job are constant stressors in lawyers' lives. We need to recognize these stressors and find the correct balance to help us relieve stress.
How do we cope?
What stresses one of us may not be as unnerving for another and what method we use to tame the beast someone else finds ineffectual. But solid footing for our individual journey rests on some basic reality checks. When you don't know manage stress properly, it can lead to depression, anxiety, poor health and/or substance abuse problems.
Be aware of your emotional pulse. Are you constantly stressed? Do you live with anxiety but search for joy? Do you feel an imbalance between work, life and play? Pay attention to your answers and make changes that may include that time off in Hawaii.
Focus on what is truly important. Your mental health is serious business and a professional obligation. Helping others means helping yourself first. Let go of the insignificant. Set realistic goals. Acknowledge your weakness, learn from mistakes and reward challenges met. Be grateful for what you have and can do. A colleague once said she gets out of bed only after naming aloud five things for which she is grateful, no matter how small. Doing so protects the person she really is.
Set boundaries. Clients want you to feel as intensely about a problem as they do. A colleague becomes too demanding of your time. Sometimes it is hard to see where others leave off and you begin. Learning to set limits with others is a daily task. Give yourself permission to say, "No."
Rely on social supports. Our friends, family, and colleagues help us see situations from a different perspective if we only ask. They also provide the emotional support when we feel overwhelmed. Setting boundaries, however, does not mean isolating ourselves from people we need in our lives.
Seek professional help. Depression hurts. Anxiety and job dissatisfaction leads to burnout. Unaddressed feelings can lead to alcohol and drug dependence. If life cannot be balanced, ask for professional help. As professionals, we make a difference in our clients' lives. As professionals, mental health experts can make a difference in ours.
Contact the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) at (800) 348-4343 or ohiolap.org. On a daily basis, OLAP works one-on-one with law students, lawyers, and judges whose sustained stress impairs their decision-making abilities. When a person is referred to OLAP, a clinician will assess the lawyer and develop a program based on his or her needs.
As lawyers, we have a commitment to be of sound mind when we work with our clients. Make sure you take advantage of some of the tips mentioned, be aware of your stress levels, and seek help when you need it.