Updated: Apr 3
Whilst I was reading “Rainy Day Friends” by Jill Shanks on my way to work this morning, I stumbled across a quote which bought a smile to my face and got me thinking….
Now I’m not specifically comparing lawyers to cucumbers… but as lawyers we are a conscientious bunch and therefore perhaps it is not surprising that we are also an anxious bunch.
In a report published by the HSE in 2018, 37% of professionals were reported as suffering from anxiety and among those 34.6% cited doubting their own abilities as the cause of their anxiety. Something to which I can personally relate. Together with a report from Law Care that 45% of calls received relate to stress and anxiety figures found following a survey carried out by the Junior Lawyers Division that 82% of respondents either regularly or occasionally felt stressed in the month prior to the survey, 26% of those reporting feeling severely or extremely stressed. It is clear from this that anxiety amongst the profession is somewhat an elephant in the room that can no longer be ignored.
That said, the legal profession is certainly waking up to this and employers are beginning to take action to implement Wellbeing Strategies to help support employees. Looking after our mental health is something we all ought to be prioritising and taking responsibility for our own wellbeing is key in tackling mental health within the profession.
The Oxford Dictionary provides two definitions of anxiety the first is “a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome” and the second is “strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen”.
A little anxiety in itself is not always a bad thing. However prolonged and persistent anxiety can lead to greater health problems. The key to managing anxiety is to learn to recognise it, symptoms will vary from person to person but common symptoms include; restlessness, a sense of dread, feeling constantly "on edge", difficulty concentrating ,irritability, dizziness, tiredness, a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat, muscle aches and tension, trembling or shaking, dry mouth, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, stomach ache, feeling sick, headache and difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Luckily, there are ways to manage anxiety and strategies which can be implemented to assist. This list is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list but rather it is intended to provide some ideas to help you take control of your anxiety rather than letting your anxiety control you.
1. Develop self-awareness.
Self-awareness is an important step in learning how to manage anxiety. After all no one knows you better than you know yourself. So grab yourself a cup of tea and take a few minutes to sit down and really explore your anxiety. Ask yourself:-
What are my early signs that anxiety is beginning to manifest itself?
For example; you may begin to doubt your capabilities and negative self-talk may start to creep in. Perhaps you start working longer hours or the boundaries between work and home life become blurred or maybe you start to withdraw yourself from social activities, struggle to switch off, stop eating a balance diet, stop exercising or generally stop looking after yourself.
By knowing how to recognise your early signs, you are better place to take action take action before things escalate.
2. Consider other factors which may trigger your anxiety.
After identifying the early signs, ask yourself whether there are any particular things that trigger your anxiety? If so, are you able to identify why? For example is it your perception of a situation or anticipation of an event. Are you afraid of being judged? Do you worry about whether you are doing a good job?
If for example the cause of your anxiety is your internal critic having their say then perhaps you need to make some further time to consider and challenge these thoughts a little deeper. When challenging thoughts it can be useful to write them down and then take some time to look at the evidence. This can be difficult when you are in a state of anxiousness. However, being able to identify and write them down gives you the opportunity to come back to them later when you are in a calmer frame of mind.
3. Take pre-emptive action
This can be done in a number of ways. For me, I have personally found that self-doubt is a common trigger for me. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why these thoughts tend to creep in. However, when they do I become overwhelmed by the desire of wanting to do “a good job”. I suppose it is no surprise bearing in mind that I have already mentioned lawyers are conscientious bunch who want to do the best we can for our clients, employers, colleagues, friends and family and tend to have high expectations of ourselves.
Therefore one thing I have implemented is to keep a record the positive feedback I have received from clients, colleagues, friends and family so I can look back at this when I beginning to notice self-doubting beliefs.
4. Create an “Anxiety Protocol”.
Consider the ways in which you can assist yourself to nip anxiety in the bud. Prepare a protocol to put into action when you start noticing your early signs. For example:-
If you are the sort of person who starts working unnecessary long hours when you are feeling anxious, set boundaries for yourself in advance. Of course there are periods of time when longer hours are required but if you are starting to do this when there are no impeding deadlines or you have been doing this for a prolonged period then perhaps you need to set yourself some boundaries. For example you may make an agreement with yourself to get to work earlier or work later one or two days a week but the other three days you will leave on time unless there is an urgent task to do.
Consciously make time to schedule self-care and make a list of things you can do to look after yourself. For example plan an evening routine you can follow both generally and in particularly during times when you feel anxious. This could be making time to sit down and get lost in a good book, time to have a long shower or bath without rushing, time to go for a walk or time to cook a new recipe in the evening and then sit down and enjoy it. It could include making a commitment to get to bed a little earlier and wind-down thirty minutes before.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being within the present moment. It allows the mind some quiet time away from racing thoughts to recuperate. Over the years, mindfulness has exploded in its popularity and there are easily accessible apps to guide you such as the Calm App or Headspace.
6. Find your people and talk to them
Sometimes just speaking to someone and letting them know how you feel can provide great relief. Not only can these people provide an ear to just listen they may also be able to provide you with ideas and support to help you through your period of anxiety.
6. Consider seeking help from a medical professional
People tend to have no issue in seeking medical help when they have a physical problem, however, when it comes to emotional difficulties it seems that people are more reluctant to seek the help from their GP. Again, GPs are there to listen, provide guidance and can sign post to other support available. For example it may be that a period of medication or a course of cognitive behavioural therapy may assist in overcoming a period of anxiety. Therefore there should be no shame in talking about or seeking help around mental health.
After all “the human body is 90% water, so basically we’re all just cucumbers with anxiety".
I hope you have found this article helpful. If you have any suggestions on how professionals can manage their anxiety or look after themselves please feel free to leave a comment.
The Juggling Lawyer