Make mental health a priority amid the stressors of running a law firm

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There’s no sugarcoating it, 2020 has been a difficult year. COVID-19’s emergence and spread throughout the U.S. has tested Americans’ resolve in countless ways. Recent months have been dominated by uncertainty and fear – emotions that, especially when sustained, can negatively affect a person’s mental state and overall health and well-being. 

According to polling conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in March, 32% of U.S. adults reported that stress related to the coronavirus was negatively impacting their mental health – by mid-July, this number had jumped to 53%. Stress can permeate every facet of life and lead to sleep disturbances, substance abuse problems, and mental and physical health conditions.

The same trends are playing out in the legal profession, a field that can be especially trying. According to a Thomson Reuters Institute report that surveyed more than 400 law firms and analyzed the challenges they were facing, 78% of firms agree that work-life balance is an important measure of success, yet an extraordinary 64% say that their efforts in this area remained the same or somewhat worsened within the last 12 months.

This is especially apparent at smaller firms where less staff means more administrative responsibilities, such as marketing and business development, fall to practicing attorneys. Before the pandemic, the pressure was always on smaller firms to keep the phone ringing and now, as the economy wobbles, it’s intensifying. In fact, respondents to the report overwhelmingly said that the issue of acquiring new business was their most significant challenge. It’s a concern that can keep any attorney up at night.

October 10 is World Mental Health Day – a day dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues and supporting related efforts. This year, individuals and businesses are commemorating the day which has taken on new meaning for many, including attorneys at solo and small law firms who are not immune from experiencing the negative effects of these stressful times.

A whirlwind of change and uncertainty

As an attorney, think about how much your life has changed since the start of 2020. With the severity of the pandemic coming into focus in early spring, you were forced to move your practice to your living room and figure out how to get work done and meet clients’ needs 100% virtually. As legal consumers hit the pause button, you worried about how you were going to keep your practice and small business afloat. And concerns about the health and well-being of your family, friends, and loved ones only exacerbated your stress and anxiety. 

Since that time, you’ve managed – some days better than others – but it seems as though new and unexpected issues still crop up every day. While you may feel proud of how you’ve met and overcome these challenges, there’s no denying the mental fatigue you feel. It’s exhausting to think about the sheer volume of problem-solving muscles you’ve built and flexed.

Tune in and take stock

Against this very real and sobering backdrop, it’s important to pause and ask yourself, “how am I doing?” No, I mean how are you really doing? It’s easy to shrug off the question and believe that you’re fine. That other people are dealing with far worse situations, so you shouldn’t complain. But that doesn’t mean everything really is ok or that you feel fine – mentally or otherwise. If this type of rose-colored or denialism rhetoric is your go-to, look to your behaviors.

What activities and behaviors are you engaging in each day or week to manage your stress? If the number of virtual happy hours you’re attending far outnumber the walks or jogs you’ve taken, it may be time for a reset. It’s easy to fall into habits that don’t serve your best interests, especially during stressful times. It’s also easy to give in to negative ways of thinking when confronted with so much bad news. In short, it’s normal to not feel normal or ok right now, but it’s important to take action and find healthier ways to manage stress. 

Get help today

If you feel overwhelmed by life right now, you’re not alone. If you feel especially anxious, sad, angry, or hopeless – don’t remain silent. Reach out to family members, friends, or find a mental health professional in your area who you can talk to. Take care of yourself and make your mental health a priority.

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