Eighty-five per cent of lawyers reported experiencing anxiety in the workplace, according to The Survey of Wellness by Mertias Australia and New Zealand (2019).
Nearly 40 per cent of lawyers reported wanting to manage issues themselves as a barrier to seeking help, followed by feeling worried about asking for help and what others might think of them.
It is a stressful job and, as a result, many legal workplaces become stressful environments within which to work. It is so important that those of us who work in legal workplaces recognise signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety, and put strategies in place to effectively manage these.
Why is it important to manage stress?
If ignored, stress can develop into burnout. When in a state of fear and anxiety, our brains ignite a ‘fight or flight’ response to the perceived threat. Our brain aims to protect us by either fighting or fleeing the threat.
This is an evolutionary response to perceived threats, however, our bodies are not designed to sustain this state of fight or flight for prolonged periods of time. If we do maintain this state for long periods, we may begin to notice the following symptoms:
- Cynicism and hopelessness
You may begin to feel sceptical, angry and/or impatient. If you work in family law, for example, you may start to feel more impatient when hearing client stories. You may also be losing hope that things will ever change or be experiencing tiredness or fatigue most or all of the time.
- Avoiding the trigger
You might notice yourself avoiding aspects of your role to avoid feeling angry, tired, frustrated or hopeless. You might also avoid certain seminars, updates or phone calls that previously would not have bothered you.
- Emotionally numb
You may have once been motivated by your work, aiming to support people, engage in the industry and learn and develop in your role. This may have shifted so that you begin to question why you do the work you do; the work may seem relentless (like ground-hog day), resulting in feelings of aimlessness or apathy.
- Anxiety about the future
Previously you may have felt secure and sure of your career pathway. You may have felt confident in the industry and your choice to work within it. This may have shifted toward feeling unsure about the future. This is especially so if your work is undergoing constant change, systemically or internally. Without certainty as to when things will stop changing, you may start to feel unsafe about your own future and experience anxiety.
Eight tips for managing stress
If you are experiencing stress, here are some simple tips to help you:
- Keep your routines
During times of stress, maintaining your routines can bring comfort and predictability. Make sure to incorporate good sleep and eating practices and build movement and exercise into your routine as much as possible.
- Keep in touch with friends and family
Maintain your connections and relationships with friends and family.
- Focus on what you can control
Make achievable to-do lists and manage your work so that you are not working late into the evening or on weekends.
- Do things you enjoy
Make time to do the things you enjoy. Whether it’s gardening, taking a bath, going for a walk or spending time with friends, make sure you make time to enjoy what you love.
- Practice relaxing
Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to us all. Try mindfulness techniques and mediations to help you practise relaxing your body and clearing your mind.
- Get active
Try to incorporate physical activity into your routine as much as possible. Whether it’s going to the gym or walking the dog, try to get moving to boost your physical and mental wellbeing.
- Get support
Reach out and seek support from a professional. Talk to your GP about accessing a mental health care plan and contact Converge International. Speaking to a professional can help in many ways. Just talking about how you feel can help lift the burden. You can also gain practical tips, tools and strategies to better manage your stress.
- Reality check
Remember that you are only seeing a finite section of the population who require help, support and advice around a specific issue. If you work in family law, for example, you will generally see clients coming to you for family law advice most days of the week (if not every day). It is important to remember that these clients are only a small section of the population and not a reflection of the broader community who are not experiencing these issues.
Be proactive about your wellbeing and seek support if you are feeling stressed before you experience burnout. Simple strategies and techniques can support you to feel less anxious and more in control of your feelings and situation.
Mishelle Zara is a lawyer and registered mediator with a background in psychology, based in Queensland. Mishelle is currently a Strategic Partnerships Manager for Converge International, offering innovative solutions for workplaces.
Converge International is available to help you and your family. Via LawCare, as a Queensland Law Society member, you have access to seven EAP streams: EAP Assist, Money Assist, Career Assist, Conflict Assist, Lifestyle Assist and Manager Assist. Your family members also have access to Family Assist. You and your family members have access to six sessions per stream per annum. To access these services, please call LawCare on 1800 177 743 or go to LawCare – Queensland Law Society.