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Dealing with stress by Elizabeth Rimmer from LawCare

Depression, anxiety and stress are now the leading cause of sickness absence at work costing the UK economy over £70bn per year. Lawyers were found to be the third most stressed profession in a Health & Safety Executive study. The legal profession absolutely needs to make a shift towards a culture that better supports good mental health and wellbeing.

 

At LawCare we know that life in the law can be challenging and sometimes things can get on top of you.  We’ve been supporting lawyers for 20 years and we’ve seen first hand the effects long hours, high billing targets, and a competitive work environment can have on lawyers, many of whom become stressed.

 

In addition to this we often see certain personality traits in lawyers: an analytical mind, impatience, extremely driven, perfectionism, a constant feeling a sense of urgency, and overly self-critical. These can all be very useful in the workplace but destructive in your private life. Often lawyers find it hard to admit they are having a difficult time and not coping for fear of showing weakness or losing face at work.

 

It is important that both firms and individuals take action to manage stress before it becomes too much to deal with. Stress is a normal response to a demanding work environment but chronic stress increases the risk of addictive and damaging behaviour, of developing anxiety, depression and other mental and physical health problems.

 

What can firms do to create a mentally healthy workplace

Depression, anxiety and stress are now the leading cause of sickness absence at work costing the UK economy over £70bn per year. Lawyers were found to be the third most stressed profession in a Health & Safety Executive study. The legal profession absolutely needs to make a shift towards a culture that better supports good mental health and wellbeing.

Senior managers need to take a leadership role on the issue of wellbeing. It is important to normalise discussions about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, senior leaders should talk about their own experiences and how they overcame difficult situations. For many people the way they are treated at work and the behaviour and role-modelling of their managers makes an enormous difference to how they feel about themselves and their work. Senior leaders need to do more to train, support and mentor junior lawyers and help build their resilience.

Some firms choose to nominate wellbeing champions or train staff in mental health first aid. These individuals are available to talk to staff about anything that is concerning them. It is crucial that these people are senior, visible people in the organisation who can correctly signpost staff in the direction of further support if needed. The value of providing emotional support to staff to individuals and to the business cannot be overstated.

Firms should also encourage staff to work healthy hours and keep track of their workloads as working long hours can lead to stress and reduce staff performance and morale. Staff should be urged to take all their holiday and discouraged from working at weekends. Evidence suggests that consistently working long hours will damage an individual’s health over time, as well as their home and social relationships. The legal profession needs to move with the times in offering more flexible working hours and arrangements.

 

Signs that you may be stressed

 

  • Trouble sleeping:  A vicious circle: worries about work lead to lack of sleep, which makes it difficult to perform well at work.
  • Physical changes: Headaches, skin complaints, frequent colds, aching muscles and digestive problems.
  • Drinking and smoking: Turning to drinking and smoking to cope with the demands of work.
  • Eating:  Comfort eating or skipping meals.
  • Mood swings: Feeling irritated and frustrated, angry one minute and feel fine the next.
  • Panic attacks: These can happen suddenly, for no clear reason. It can mean feeling sick, short of breath, shaking, sweating and experiencing a sense of unreality.

 

What to do if you are feeling stressed

 

  • Talking your problems through makes a real difference and provides reassurance you are not alone. Call the safe, free, independent and confidential LawCare helpline on 0800 279 8888 for support and advice, and visit www.lawcare.org.uk for tips on stress and wellbeing. LawCare also has a network of Peer Supporters, people who work in the legal profession who may have been through difficult times themselves and can offer one-to-one support, friendship and mentoring to helpline callers referred to them.
  • Talk informally to a trusted colleague or your supervisor if you feel they might be helpful. Refer to your diary notes of triggers for stress or aspects of work you are finding overwhelming.
  • If you feel you can’t talk to anyone at work talk to a friend or family about how you are feeling.
  • Make an appointment to see your GP.

 

 

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