Take a moment and think about our lives as legal professionals. Think about the speed at which we are required to get things done, not only in the office where deadlines loom, but at home: taking care of our kids, our aging parents, our spouses, our friends, and family.
Emails clog our inboxes. Texts fill our smartphones. Multi-tasking is a survival skill. Living in this 24/7 news cycle, we have instant access to anything anytime from anywhere. Modern life is full of many choices with much opportunity.
The price we pay is increased pressure. We suffer sensory overload, a common by-product of all of the “benefits” of living in our modern era.
How we deal with quieting the constant chatter and relieving the pressure is not always healthy. The most comprehensive survey done in more than 25 years was recently conducted on more than 12,000 American lawyers. Funded by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association, the survey found that more than 20 percent of America’s licensed attorneys drink at levels that are considered “hazardous, harmful, and potentially alcohol-dependent” — three times the rate of problem drinking among the general public. On one measure based solely on the quantity and frequency of alcohol use, lawyers had double the rate of problem drinking than doctors, another stressful profession.
Michael J. Cohen, executive director of Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., (which receives about 600 hotline calls a year from Florida lawyers dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues) said the most surprising statistics from that survey is that younger lawyers under age 30 had the highest problem-drinking rates (31.9 percent) and junior associates at law firms (31.1 percent).
Patrick Krill, the study’s lead author, a former lawyer, and director of the Legal Professionals Program at Hazelden Betty Ford, told The Washington Post that lawyers tend to “prioritize success and accomplishment over things like balance, personal well-being, and health. You put them through a training (law school) where they are taught to work harder, play harder, and assume the role of a tough, capable, and aggressive professional without personal weaknesses or deficiencies.”
Therefore, Krill said, heavy drinking and lack of balance become normalized. But it’s so self-destructive, as drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and the suicide rate in our profession are at all-time highs.
That is why The Florida Bar decided to focus on a few positive ways to cope with the demands of our busy personal and professional lives in this special Journal issue on mindfulness. It is designed to serve as a guide to help you manage stress and find healthy ways to cope. To get started, in the articles that follow, there are simple instructions about pausing for a few minutes each day and concentrating on just your breathing, as you empty your mind of clutter and find your center.
I have practiced Aikido, a Japanese martial art that aims to redirect and unify life energy to reach a harmonious spirit. In order to redirect energy, one of the many practices is being grounded. The same is practiced in yoga.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or require physical prowess. I meditate on airplanes. I take breaks during the day to focus on breathing, to being centered, to simply quiet my mind. It helps me cope with the nonstop pressure. It’s all about finding a moment or two or three of calm in a chaotic world.
As legal professionals, we are the ones who must be steady, centered, and calm, in order to help our clients who are going through difficult times.
I invite you to explore this issue of the Journal with an open mind that, hopefully, will help lead you to a calm and centered mind and a happier and healthier life.
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