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When it comes to lawyer stress, less is more

President of The Florida Bar Columns
Dori Foster-Morales

Dori Foster-Morales

Although I firmly believe mental health is something we should talk about year-round, it’s been especially important to highlight as April’s observance of Stress Awareness Month gives way to May’s recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month. In a survey of Florida Bar members, we asked: “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, what are the most significant challenges/concerns you personally have faced as an attorney?” The number one response: stress.

Whether this survey result surprises you or not, it certainly indicates that stress is a large concern within our profession. We all know that we don’t need a designated month to remind us that we’re stressed, but I recognize the pressure you all are under and point to some realistic ways to mitigate it.

As attorneys, we spend a significant amount of time helping others. While that is undoubtedly rewarding, sometimes we can forget to focus on our own lives and stressors. One of the areas we may neglect to focus on is how to properly manage stress. We can never completely rid our lives of pressure and tension, but if we ignore it for too long, small moments of stress can add up and become something more serious. It’s imperative to take care of yourself in ways that work for you.

A continual quest for improvement seems to be built into the DNA of attorneys, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you are always trying to become a better version of yourself. Many self-help books will tell you to do more to help ease the strains in your life. They may tell you to get up at 5 a.m. to have more hours in the day, to begin scheduled exercise classes, or to start cooking fully organic meals.

However, I want to focus on how doing less may be the key to relieving tension. Waking up early and taking an exercise class is great — but if there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it’s that it is OK to slow down. Attorneys have busy agendas as it is. When you add work to existing family responsibilities and social obligations, attorneys have jam-packed schedules. As a result, penciling in a “stress-relieving activity” might feel more overwhelming than helpful.

Here are some things you can do to reduce the stressful feel of your schedule, rather than just adding another item to the list:

  • Drink Less Caffeine: Although some coffee may be helpful, a large amount of caffeine intake can lead to feelings of anxiousness. Especially if you are having trouble sleeping at night, skipping that afternoon coffee may significantly help you fall and stay asleep, while also easing your anxiety.
  • Reduce Your Screen Time: This one is easier said than done, but reducing screen time is important because computers, phones, and other devices can highly affect your stress levels. Seeing certain notifications pop up on your phone may irritate you or heighten your anxiety. Beyond that, even just picking up your phone activates your sympathetic nervous system, essentially giving you a little jolt of adrenaline with every look. Turning off your phone at night or in the early morning takes no time out of your schedule, and it may significantly help your stress levels.
  • Focus on What’s Important to You: If you find yourself constantly overwhelmed by your schedule, think about what’s really important to you. What brings you joy? What are your priorities? You don’t always have to take on another endeavor. Consider cutting out activities that bring you more negative emotions than positive ones. Living a life that feels meaningful to you is the best way to ease the feelings of tension.

While cutting some things out of your life may help your anxiety levels to a certain extent, I recognize that certain emotions may need the help of a professional. In such a case, I heartily encourage you to use the resources available to Florida Bar members. One great resource is the Florida Lawyers Helpline, a free, confidential 24/7 lawyers helpline with professional counselors. The Mental Health and Wellness Center has a wealth of CLE videos, podcasts, meditations and self-assessments, studies and news articles, suggested reading, and places to find help.

Remember, you don’t always have to add things to your life to improve it — and you don’t have to feel guilty about reducing the load. Cutting back may be the key to easing your stress levels, which is something we all deserve.

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