Among the chaos that is COVID-19, the practice of law has shifted from a professional office environment to at-home counseling. The change in the legal industry undoubtedly brings tension and uncertainty as lawyers grapple with maintaining a sense of normalcy during a global pandemic. When faced with new challenges resulting from the crisis mitigation efforts, we must continuously adapt to maintain our physical and mental health in highly limited circumstances.
While we’re hunkered down at home and attempting to manage our work and care for our families, now, more than ever, is the time that we must consider the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I appreciate that my company, Legal Innovators, places high importance on mental health and has shared resources and best practices for a positive state of wellbeing.
In this post, I'll share my perspective as a junior lawyer including the things that have worked well for me in terms of managing stress during these unprecedented times as well as several of my favorite resources and best practices.
The legal industry is an intense, client-centered industry, which means we often put clients before ourselves. While many attorneys feel pressure to continue their normal work-life balance in a completely new environment, it is imperative to take a step back and accept the “new normal” as much as possible.
A clear line of open communication is more important than ever during this time. That means communicating the right message, with empathy, to not only those senior to us, but also our clients. Lawyers are problem-solvers, but now many problems cannot be solved until several uncertainties relinquish. Fear, worry and extreme stress are widespread, yet lawyers are generally expected to perform on unemotional terms and frequently hold the same expectations for those around them. When communicating with clients about the disruptive force of COVID-19, we need to act with empathy, compassion, and clarity. In addition to acknowledging the emotional component of this crisis, we need to remember to talk openly about available resources to help cope, even though this may require operating outside of comfort zones for many individuals and organizations. Above all, it is critical to remain flexible and open-minded while navigating under such uncertainty.
In light of this new reality, law firms must understand and directly acknowledge the emotional impact this crisis continues to impart on its employees. Adhering to business-as-usual expectations for behavior runs the risk of alienating employees and diminishing their culture in the future. When there is a conflict between the employee emotions and those required by their normal workplace, negative results often occur. Such negative results include reduced job satisfaction, burnout, poor self-esteem, depression and alienation. As much as we prefer a structured schedule, it is imperative to accept the current social climate and operate under these circumstances with open communication, flexibility and healthy practices.
Here are some of the things you can do to support yourself and others around you:
- Take breaks from watching, or reading news stories, including social media.
- Relax. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. I do this guided meditation every morning. Get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs. Studies show that eight hours of sleep is recommended to decrease the likelihood of contracting other viruses.
- Eat well. Cook healthy, well-balanced meals; stay hydrated and have healthy snack options near your workspace.
- Exercise regularly. Break up your day by doing 15 minutes of exercise between zoom meetings or calls. Stand when possible at your desk and try to walk around your living space when making calls. If you enjoy classes, Peloton offers free sessions for 90 days and Rumble offers boxing classes online for free.
- Make your mental health a priority. Try to do other activities you enjoy like coloring, puzzles, baking, or reading. I enjoy this free legal coloring book. Studies show that coloring can lead to a meditative state and relieve anxiety. Or download the Calm app and set a reminder once every two hours to take a 10-minute meditation break. Mental Health America offers COVID-19 information and resources, The American Bar Association provides several resources on coping with anxiety, self-care, and meditations, and National Institutes of Health has a wellness toolkit to help you be your “healthiest self”.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and feelings. Additionally, check in on those around you. Zoom happy hours and friend group check-ins have proved to be a source of stress relief and joy for many during this time. Need to talk to a mental healthcare professional? Try Ginger or Talkspace, apps that are affordable and convenient ways to improve your mental health, matching you with a licensed therapist.
- Keep a journal and write your feelings down. If you do not have access to a journal, or prefer keeping documents electronic, a few of my favorite journaling apps are Momento and Moodnotes .
- Give thanks and gratitude. A Harvard study shows that giving thanks can make you happier, while acknowledging the good things in life improves your mood and strengthens relationships.
These are just a few of my go-to tips and resources. How are you focusing on your wellbeing and wellness as a legal professional? Email me at email@example.com or share your thoughts with our community on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.