While stress management may sound like the impossible dream, many lawyers are able to find a balance between their legal careers and their personal lives without experiencing stratospheric levels of stress and anxiety.
Many external conditions are making it harder and harder to experience calm and peace of mind, such as the rocky economy and trying to keep up with rapidly advancing technology (thank goodness for the Lawyerist to help with that!) With all of these changes on top of our already busy professions and lives, the need for effective ways to deal with stress are increasingly important.
It’s a given that the life of a lawyer will have a significant degree of stress, but we can use healthy habits and behaviors to make the stress bearable and help us enjoy our lives a bit more.
Here are a few ideas for dealing with the stress you may encounter, and I invite you to share your tips as well.
Know what’s really important
Sometimes I have to remind my clients and the law students I work with that, in the end, it isn’t about “having it all.” It’s about “having what matters.” It’s not just a cute saying; it’s really true. You must figure out your own values and priorities. What is really, really important to you? It doesn’t matter what other people think is important. They can live their lives, and you get to live yours.
When we know what is most important to us and make decisions that reflect those values, we are generally happier and more fulfilled. We don’t feel as conflicted. For example, if you know that your highest priority is your partner or family, you can make decisions in line with that value. Or maybe building your career is the most important thing in your life right now. That’s okay. Don’t feel guilty about that because you feel like that shouldn’t be your goal. Figure out what matters to you, and make decisions from that knowledge.
Stay connected with the important people in your life
It may sound obvious, but oftentimes our family and friends are the ones who can help us decompress the best. They know us. They know what we enjoy. They know how to make us laugh. Be sure to take time to spend with those you care about and love. For many of us (depending on our life circumstances), our family is a high priority in our life, but our work is also consuming.
Take time to talk to your partner, family, and friends about what you are doing. Share what is bothering you. Ask them for what you need. Make time to spend with them, even if that means putting it into your calendar and treating it with the same respect as you would a client meeting. Don’t cancel or postpone, but show others that you value them by the time you give. When your relationships are humming along nicely, your stress level is more likely to stay in check.
You aren’t an adversary 24/7
Sometimes we get so caught up in being zealous advocates and adversaries that we get caught-up in a very negative, cynical, hostile state of mind. Remember that you don’t have to internalize all of that competitive and condemning behavior that surrounds you all day long. It is incredibly difficult to have any peace of mind at all if you are constantly worried about who is “out to get you” and plotting your next adversarial move. Be a good lawyer. Do your best for your clients. But don’t let it affect you, your mood, or your world perspective.
Keep tabs on how you use technology
When we are constantly connected to technology, our stress level never has a chance to drop back to normal. We always feel “on-call” or that someone may need us at any moment. When we have our smart phone in our pocket or in our purse, the temptation to check it often distracts us from the important people or situations in front of us.
We all manage our technology differently, but be aware of how having it on constantly around you can raise your stress levels. If that is the case for you, try turning off the phone, the computer, or whatever other technology is eating away at you. You control the technology, not the other way around.
Manage client expectations as much as you can
We all want to serve our clients as best we can, but we also need to be upfront with them about boundaries that we try to keep around our personal time. Be clear with your clients as to when you are available and when you are “unplugged.” Be consistent. If you tell them you don’t respond to email over the weekend, think twice about responding to that quick email question they send you at 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. It only takes one time to create an expectation that you respond to weekend contact.
Granted, there are some clients and some situations that we can’t control and we need to be hyper-responsive all of the time. Hopefully, that is not how your practice always is, but do what you need to do for your clients. But also remember: clients are often more understanding than you expect. They will let you know if something needs immediate attention. Don’t assume that everything must be responded to immediately when you are “off the clock.” Focus on whatever you are doing in your down time, and then get back to your clients as soon as you possibly can.