Caring for clients’ needs and keeping up with a full work schedule can take a heavy toll on an attorney’s mental and physical health. In fact, the rate of depression among attorneys is nearly four times higher than that of the general population. With the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary on World Health Day April 7, now is a great time to prioritize your well-being. A stressful lifestyle can put you at risk for mental health issues and substance abuse, which are likely to negatively impact your practice and lead to malpractice lawsuits and professional disciplinary actions. Keep reading to learn effective ways to maintain your health.
Mental Health Challenges of the Legal Profession
What is it about the legal profession that leads to such a high rate of depression? Some of the traits that lead someone to become an attorney can also make one susceptible to depression—two of which are perfectionism and compassion for others. Attorneys who feel like they must always succeed or who have a deep emotional investment in their clients’ welfare are especially likely to struggle. In addition to depression, feelings of failure could lead to impostor syndrome, which is the belief that you do not belong in your position.
Attorneys who work long hours with few breaks may experience burnout; an attorney suffering from burnout may not be able to provide the best service to clients. While it may seem counterintuitive, taking time off can increase productivity. Here are some signs that you may be at risk for burnout:
- Continuously working long hours
- Maintaining high stress levels
- Lacking work-life balance
- Lacking control over your daily schedule
- Lacking control over your calendar
Attorneys can also find themselves at risk for addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling. This can be a result of factors such as difficult cases, long hours, and a lack of self-care.
Tips for Improving Your Mental Health
The best way to improve your mental health is to make a conscious effort to take care of yourself. Fortunately, you can improve your level of self-care in several ways. Start by setting boundaries, whether they are physical boundaries or those relating to your time. This will allow you to feel present when you are working and when you are not. Scheduling downtime is another effective habit, whether it is general time away from work or a relaxing activity. Give yourself permission to say no to appointments and functions that you do not need to attend. Trying to please everyone never works, and you certainly will not please yourself if you try. Also, stay connected to your peers in the legal community, as you will benefit from the people who understand the unique challenges you face as an attorney.
Work-life balance is possible, and it is essential to your mental and physical health. Some helpful tips include
- taking control of your calendar;
- scheduling tasks such as meetings, returning phone calls and emails, or handling marketing at the time of day when you can best complete them; and
- using time- and labor-saving technological tools.
If you feel that you are in the midst of a mental health crisis, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You would seek medical advice if something felt wrong with your body, so you should do the same for your mind.
Physical Health Challenges of Being an Attorney
The legal profession can be physically challenging because it can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. A lack of exercise is a major cause of disability and even death according to the WHO. The WHO reports that 60 percent of people around the world lead a sedentary lifestyle, which shows how difficult it can be to prioritize physical activity. While it may be challenging to find time to exercise while maintaining a busy legal practice, even moderate exercise for twenty to thirty minutes at a time can give your physical health a tremendous boost.
Tips for Improving Your Physical Health
Another way to improve your physical health is to get enough sleep. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep every night. You can revitalize your sleep routine by maintaining a consistent bedtime and following the 10-3-2-1-0 rule of sleep, which looks like this:
- Cut out caffeine ten hours before bed
- Do not drink alcohol or eat three hours before bed
- Finish your work two hours before bed
- Turn off all screens one hour before bed
- Hit the snooze button zero times, as it can disrupt REM sleep
Failing to get enough sleep does more than just make you lethargic. It puts you at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Making time for exercise during a busy work week is challenging, but not impossible. Here are some ways to make sure physical activity does not slip through the cracks:
- Keep your workout clothes handy in the car or at the office
- Literally “run” your errands
- Schedule workouts twice a week during lunchtime
- Combine exercise with your kids’ activities (e.g., running laps around the track during soccer practice)
Skipping weekday exercise in favor of cramming it all in on the weekends may be tempting—but it can be problematic for two reasons. First, your body is more susceptible to injury when you exercise after periods of inactivity. Second, if your schedule is so busy that you cannot find time to exercise during the week, your weekends may also get busy trying to fit in everything that got postponed during the week, so working out may be forgotten entirely.
Improving your diet is another way to revitalize your physical health. Your busy schedule may include grabbing Starbucks for breakfast and fast food on the way home—which may be convenient, but may not be the healthiest choice or provide complete nutrition. Many Americans fail to get the recommended amounts of the following in their diets:
- Vitamin D and calcium (salmon, mushrooms, whole-grain cereal)
- Fiber (oatmeal, beans, raw vegetables)
- Potassium (bananas, orange juice, spinach)
You could be missing vital nutrients, so make sure you are getting a balanced diet for optimal health.
Balancing Your Work and Life
Work-life balance is difficult to define, but it can be painfully obvious when you do not have it. One way to achieve work-life balance is to take regular breaks throughout the day. Do not consider breaks to be wasted time, as they will empower you to be more productive when you are working. Breaks can make you more productive in the following ways:
- Boost creativity
- Reduce stress
- Improve memory
- Lighten your mood
The prevalence of technology and the rise of remote working has blurred the lines between work and home life. For that reason, make sure you set boundaries if you work from home. Simply working from a dedicated space in your home will allow you to leave work behind at the end of the day, even if you are just walking to the kitchen. Just because you can always stay connected to work through technology does not mean that you should.
Changing your routine and adjusting your boundaries may not be easy. Scientists have discovered that starting a new habit takes at least sixty-six days. However, the benefits of prioritizing your physical and mental health are likely to make all of this effort worthwhile. Plan today to take active steps to preserve your health, and the rewards will include a long and productive life, in and out of the office.
WealthCounsel is passionate about the mental health of its members and of the greater community of legal practitioners across the nation. As a company created by lawyers for lawyers, we make it our priority to alleviate daily stresses that our members face. To do this, we offer multiple forms of support—from continuing legal education and practice development, to providing intelligent drafting software and connectivity with a nationwide professional network of estate and business planning attorneys. Want to learn how we can support you and your practice? Click here.