Mental Health Tips for Lawyers | Martindale-Avvo

Mental Health for Lawyers: Risks and Prevention Strategies

The legal profession is experiencing a serious mental health crisis. A recent survey revealed that 70% of lawyers reported feeling exhausted, while 65% felt mentally and physically overwhelmed. 

Stress and overwhelm are antithetical to a thriving law career — and they’re bad for your health, too. Here’s what you can do about it.

Preventing Burnout and Protecting Mental Health

According to lawyers in the Healthcare study, some law firms have attempted to address the systemic drivers of stress. Unfortunately, attorneys generally rate these attempts as “highly ineffective.”

Lawyers still carry the load of managing their mental and emotional health. Fortunately, thanks to more open public discussions around mental health, lawyers and other professionals have more resources than ever.

Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is more than just a self-care buzzword. According to a study review from Monash University in Australia, it recently topped the list of the most effective techniques for fighting stress and burnout.

Mindfulness is bringing your awareness into the present without judgment or distraction. It’s a practice you can adopt in “bite-sized” bits throughout the day, allowing you to reduce fatigue and anxiety without adding more to your schedule.

Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as taking one minute between tasks to focus on your breath. If you have a few more minutes, you can quickly walk around the block, focusing on what you can see and hear.

Getting Active

In September of 2023, the British Journal of Sports Medicine released a large-scale study on the effects of exercise. Researchers found that engaging in physical activity improves mental health and reduces symptoms like depression, anxiety, and general distress.

As lead study author Ben Singh told reporters from the University of California, Berkeley, exercise affects the mind and emotions on multiple levels. It releases endorphins, improves sleep, and reduces the effects of stress.

Looking for the most efficient stress-fighting exercise plan? The data points to high-intensity exercise, four to five times per week. The “sweet spot” is about 2.5 hours per week, which you can break into five half-hour or four 40-minute sessions.

Spending Time Outdoors

Being in nature is another science-backed “treatment” for stress and burnout. In 2023, The Lancet Planetary Health published an extensive review of “nature prescriptions” — people whose providers recommended spending time in natural settings. Those recommendations significantly reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even high blood pressure.

Skipping this recommendation can be tempting, especially for time-pressed lawyers. You might even calculate how long it takes to get to the park, walk the perimeter, and drive back to the office.

If that’s the case, it’s time to think flexibly about how you can get outside. Maybe you can’t walk every day, but you can combine your “nature prescription” with something else in your routine. You might take your lunch outside one day a week or move your Saturday workout to a local outdoor track.

Choosing Healthier Comfort Foods

Stress drives many people to crave fatty and sugary “comfort foods,” like the donuts that might already be in your firm’s breakroom. Unfortunately, recent research suggests those foods may negatively affect your stress, mood, and thinking ability. It may even lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

Fortunately, the same team has identified healthier choices for stress eating. A compound in cocoa may regulate your blood flow during stressful events, helping you to feel calmer faster.

In other words, chocolate may be good for stress — depending on how it’s processed. The USDA publishes a detailed guide to help informed stress eaters make healthier choices. The starter list includes berries, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes. 

Prioritizing Sleep

Ironically, sleep is the first thing many lawyers sacrifice when working on an important case or struggling to get in those billable hours. Work stress can keep you awake even when you try to sleep, especially if you feel overloaded.

When work threatens to steal your sleep, try these sleep hygiene tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • Turn off all screens and relax for 30 minutes before bed.
  • Write down any lingering worries, then put the paper aside for later.
  • Don’t work in bed. Reserve your bed for sleep.
  • Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. Do something soothing until you’re sleepy.

If your sleep problems become chronic, talk to your doctor. 

Cultivating Meaningful Connections

Social connection is another anti-stress strategy that people easily dismiss. A happy hour feels like an easy “extra” to cut when deadlines pile up. 

While it’s true that being a lawyer is demanding, and sometimes you have to make sacrifices, be careful not to cut out all of your social time. Interpersonal connection is essential for reducing tension and cultivating emotional well-being, especially when stress is high.

Instead of thinking about social time as something you can do when work ends, make time for it. Schedule something with a friend or family member over the weekend. If you feel tired and drained, ask them to visit you at home and do something relaxing. There’s always time for personal support.

The Benefits of Psychotherapy

Therapy is an essential tool for managing mental health symptoms, from everyday stressors to all levels of mental illness, including problematic substance use. For some attorneys, it can be a lifeline. 

Unfortunately, many attorneys avoid seeking help due to a perceived stigma. They worry that the news will get out and embarrass them or compromise their professional futures.

According to attorney wellness advocate Chase Andersen, the national conversation around mental health is helping to reduce that fear. Professionals like Andersen continue to promote the benefits of therapy, but lawyers still need to take the leap.

In the end, you’re the only one who can prioritize your mental health. It’s the best way to sustain a demanding and often stressful career.

Stress Management Is Career Management

It’s important for attorneys not to classify mental well-being as optional. A stressed lawyer can’t do their best work for their clients. They’re prone to burnout, which can hurt a career much more than a few days off. 

Take the time to take care of yourself mentally. If you can’t find the time, look for partnerships and automation opportunities like Martindale-Avvo. We’ll help you market more efficiently so you feel less stressed, more empowered, and ready to take on the world.

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