Mental Health Awareness Day 2020 – A Lawyer’s view on workplace stress

As lawyers, we aim for perfection, not just for our clients but for our employers and ourselves. It is because of this conditioning that we feel we live in a world where we are constantly one step behind.

So let’s begin with the clichés; “don’t let people see your weakness”, “there is no place for emotions in the workplace”, “don’t make friends at work”. Those are just that: clichés. Do not confuse them with strength, tenacity, and professionalism.

Being a lawyer and supporting other lawyers is stressful, and without finding ways to deal with work that is stressful in nature, the daily stresses can begin to intensify, and eventually will creep into your personal and home life, and ultimately change your views on success, the profession, and more importantly, life in general.

Let’s be realistic. It is impossible to eliminate work related stress. But you can alter the way you deal with the anxiety and the way you react to it. You can either let anxiety and stress consume you and enter its vicious devouring circle, or you tame the beast that it is.

So, how?

Firstly, take off your armour. Dealing with stress is not showing weakness. Talk to the people who can help, talk to your colleagues – remember, they are just clichés.

Secondly, detox the stress as opposed to anaesthetising it. As I said before, there will always be work related stress.

Thirdly, since there is no such thing as a stress-free life, choose a good stress.

Easier said than done? Yes it is! But not impossible.

But how does one deal with stress?

  • It is scientifically proven that exercise reduces stress by pumping endorphins to your brain.
  • Many like to meditate.
  • Breathing exercises increase oxygen and blood flow.
  • Cut the caffeine. Coffee is a stimulant which increases your cortisol levels which is effectively a ‘stress’ hormone.
  • Some people like to read, and I don’t mean that lease, witness statement, or brief. Pick up that fiction or biography. Escape!

These are not new concepts. These are practices that have been around forever. We just forget the basics when we are consumed by the beast.

For me personally, I like to do Krav Maga and write, and here is something that I wrote after a friend told me about their recent experience of stress.

My left arm felt like it was weighted down with a ton of lead. My breathing like I had been winded with a blow to the solar plexus. My chest suddenly feeling like a drain blocked with a lump of custard. It has been several days of procrastination but also a quote referencing a river in Egypt reverberating through my head. Suddenly I find myself waiting to be healed, deserted but not abandoned. I am alone but not lonely. Between each of us is an empty seat so we can distance ourselves in a social setting. I finally get seen by a hero. We clapped every Thursday at 8 for them. How marvellous they have been. Wavelengths on graph paper spike up and down drawing strange mountains and valleys. Machines and sterile appendages connected to my arm. The red numbers tell our 8pm hero something was not quite right, but the claret taken hours earlier reveals it’s oh not so bad. Our hero says it’s a burdened camel. I conceded.

So I say this to all: Disregard the clichés. Your colleagues are your friends. Dialogue and vent. Find peace. Enjoy your families, abodes, and companions. For those burdened camels, manage the loads, or risk a broken back or being brought to your knees.