Stress & The Legal Profession

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Karen Jackson discusses how stress affects the mind and body and considers ways for law firms to manage the issue on the law society website.

Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. It isn’t big or clever to be stressed or busy all the time, but our culture seems to view being overwhelmed as a badge of honour. It carries kudos. Pulling an all-nighter is applauded and, in some large firms, actively encouraged. It is perceived as a macho way to work and it is nonsensical. This is the core of the stress problem in law firms.

Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) stress and mental ill-health are now the top reasons for long-term sickness. They rank above cancer, strokes, heart attacks and musculoskeletal injuries. Stress happens throughout the profession from the students who are stressed about exams and training contracts, through to the junior lawyers who have been thrown into the deep end, all the way through to the associates wanting partnership and even the partners themselves. Even my secretary is stressed. End of financial year, billable hours and appraisal time just adds to the stress levels at this time of year.

So how should we manage stress?

A personal life is important to balance out the stress of long days and the billable hour. How you use this personal time can go a long way to improving your stress levels and mental health.

1) Exercise. You may feel like you don’t have time for it (or the energy for it) but if you can hit the gym or go for a run, do it. Even on a busy schedule try and walk to/from work (or get off the bus early) or better yet sneak in 20 minutes at lunch to help improve your focus and energy levels.

2) Sleep. Try not to delay sleep at night in an attempt to reclaim some of your personal hours. Sleep when you feel tired. Make sure you get your full seven (or eight) hours sleep each night. Sleepless nights are bad for you health, your productivity, your focus and your work. It might even cost you your partnership. Build and keep up good sleeping patterns & habits (even if it does just seem like wishful thinking).

3) Keep Work At Work.  Make your home a place of relaxation from work. If you have to work extra hours on the weekend, try to do it in the office. If you work from home, have a designated place for “working”.

4) Eat Properly Eat proper meals and ration your caffeine consumption.