Attorneys are at exceptional risk of burnout, a serious issue that can have severe personal, professional, and physical consequences. The pressures and demands of this field result in lawyers being at a significantly higher risk for depression, anxiety, substance dependency, and suicide. The high-pressure competition that starts in law school often only intensifies when attorneys begin to practice law in a high-stakes all culture. This work environment amplifies traits like perfectionism, pessimism, and a need to succeed at all costs, and attorneys notoriously work very long hours in high-stress situations. In turn, lawyers’ intense focus on the job often results in little sleep, poor attention to diet and exercise, and no time for work/life balance. By not leaving any time for healthy stress management techniques, attorneys often ignore or fail to recognize the warning signs of burnout. Avoiding attorney burnout requires that you both recognize the symptoms and develop a stress management regimen that works for you. Below you’ll find tips to help you in both areas.
Recognizing Symptoms of Burnout
While everyone handles stress in different ways, there are some common symptoms for those suffering from career burnout. You may be at risk of burnout if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Extreme fatigue
- Inability to focus on easy or difficult tasks
- Increased cynicism
- Feelings of isolation
- Heart palpitations and trouble breathing
- Heightened anxiety or panic attacks
- Self-medicating with alcohol or other substances
- A sense of inefficacy in your personal and professional life
Tips to Avoid Burnout
Although burnout is a serious issue among attorneys, fortunately, there are steps you can take to manage your stress and find renewed satisfaction in your job and your work/life balance. While there is no one-size-fits-all cure, here are a few helpful tips for avoiding attorney burnout:
Tip 1: Meditation. The ABA recommends meditation as an excellent strategy to disengage from the daily stress and anxiety of practicing law. Meditation helps you focus on the present and develop mindfulness in your daily activities. There are many meditation practices available to help you, and some require only a few minutes each day. Even taking the simple step to mindfully pause and breathe before answering emails or returning phone calls can help reduce stress.
Tip 2: Make time for your health. Healthy diet and exercise are not only important for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. Make more intentional food choices when you’re working long hours by incorporating healthy snacks, and select lunch choices that keep you focused instead of feeling groggy. Additionally, build time into your day to get at least 20-30 minutes of exercise. Humans can generally only focus for 90 minutes at a time, so building in an exercise break, even if it’s just a walk around your building, can help alleviate stress. Getting sufficient sleep is also essential to managing stress and maintaining your physical and mental health.
Tip 3: Learn to say no. Avoid becoming overburdened by setting realistic, consistent boundaries for yourself. Know your limits and say “no” to extra projects which may overwhelm you. Drop overly difficult clients. Build in time for regular vacations away from work. Saying no will help you create a better work/life balance. It may also give you needed time away to develop anxiety-reducing interests and hobbies that bring you satisfaction outside of the workplace.
Tip 4: Build a support system. Learn to express your feelings and concerns within a healthy support system. Nurture friendships with those who are able to listen and empathize about the stress of your job. Connect with support groups and networks through your State Bar. Talk with a therapist about coping mechanisms for anxiety and stress. Open communication about the pressure you’re facing goes a long way in helping you decompress and manage job-related stress.
Tip 5: Know that you have choices. While the strategies above are helpful in managing stress, they may not always be the cure for your particular situation. Avoid becoming a victim of the inherent perfectionism and pessimism in the field by understanding that you are never trapped in your current job. Ask yourself what you really want out of your career. The answer may mean making a significant change, like moving to a smaller firm, creating your own practice, working for a corporation, or teaching. While this may sound daunting, understanding that you have options can help increase your work satisfaction and overall happiness.
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