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Beating Burnout: Stopping it Before It Starts

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Beating Burnout: Stopping it Before It Starts

This program will consider how to manage stress and how to recognize signs of burnout in ourselves and others on our legal team. We will also examine the differences between burnout and depression, look at some strategies for using stress for good, e.g., to regain focus to advise clients and anticipate future challenges, and some maladaptive strategies for coping with stress and how that impacts upon our duties of competence, diligence and communication with clients. Lastly, we will learn about proven techniques to calm the mind to ensure the skill and mental and emotional ability to perform legal services for clients facing a range of uncertainty and new challenges, and provide resources on where and when to seek help for these issues.

Presenters

Tracy Kepler
Risk Control Consulting Director, Lawyers’ Professional Liability Program
CNA

Transcript

Tracy Kepler - Welcome to the program, Beating Burnout: Stopping it before it starts. My name is Tracy Kepler and I'll be with you for the next hour, speaking on this topic.

 

 During our time together, we will consider how to manage stress and how to recognize the signs of burnout in ourselves and others on our legal team. We will also examine the differences between burnout and depression, look at some strategies for using stress for good, in other words, to regain focus, to advise clients and anticipate future challenges. We will also consider some maladaptive strategies for coping with stress and how that impacts upon our duties of competence, diligence, and communication with clients. Lastly, we will learn about some proven techniques to calm the mind in order to ensure the skill and mental and emotion ability to perform legal services for clients facing a range of uncertainty and new challenges, and look at some resources on where and when to seek help for these issues.

 

The best way to start is to set the stage with some recent data on the health and wellbeing of the legal profession, and to get a feel for where the legal profession currently stands in relation to the substantial challenges presented by burnout in the profession. In 2020, a study was completed by ALM Intelligence and Law.com. It had 3,800 participating attorneys, and more than 50% were at law firms of 500 lawyers or more.

 

An overwhelming majority of legal professionals or 74% felt that the profession has had a negative impact on their mental health and that their work environments contributed negatively to their wellbeing. 44% said that they used alcohol to deal with stress, 64% said that they suffered from anxiety, with 31% feeling they were depressed, 18% admitted to contemplating suicide during their career, which is two times higher than the general population. Questions were asked about what about their job negatively impacts their mental wellbeing. Answers ranged from a feeling of always having to be on, not being able to disconnect from work, billable hour pressures, lack of sleep and client demands. Only 36% said they use all of their vacation time. And even when they do take vacation, they cannot disconnect or feel that there is an expectation that they respond to emails and calls or face negative repercussions. 35% said that they don't feel safe at work discussing their mental health. And 62% knew a colleague who was depressed and 50% knew a colleague with an alcohol problem. The study also talked about feelings around taking leave. 65% felt that they could not take an extended leave from employments to tend to mental health issues. And 78% felt that an extended leave in order to take care of their mental health would hurt their career trajectory. 77% were fearful of what their colleagues would think. And 56% even said they had too much work to take an extended leave.

 

In 2021, the World Health Organization published a study on working hours, the results and implications on the legal profession and the kinds of hours they were working was startling. The study concluded that working 55 or more hours per week is associated within an approximately 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working a 35 to 40 hour work week. Long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and heart disease in 2016, which was a 29% increase in 2000. Working long hours is responsible for about one third of the total estimated work related burden of disease. It is the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden, and it's not getting any better. The number of people working long hours is increasing and currently stands at 9% generally. I would love to know the percentage for the legal profession. This trend puts even more people at risk of work related disability and early death.

 

Another legal study was just published in May of 2021. It's called "Stress, drink, leave, "An examination of gender-specific risk factors "for mental health problems "and attrition among licensed attorneys". This study looked at 3,300 attorneys in the district of Columbia and California. Roughly half of the lawyers are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, with approximately 30% falling in the mild range and just under 20% falling in the moderate to severe range. Over half of the lawyers screened positive for risky drinking and 30% screened for high risk hazardous drinking, interpreted as alcohol use or possible dependence. Women are experiencing meaningfully worse mental health than men and drinking more hazardously. And one in four women is contemplating leaving the legal profession due specifically to mental health problems, burnout or stress. Despite 30% of attorneys screening positive for disordered drinking, only 2% report ever having received an alcohol use disorder diagnosis. This disparity clearly suggests an extreme level of under diagnosis and treatment for a widespread problem, possibly owing to pervasive denial, stigma, and a professional culture that normalizes heavy drinking and uses alcohol as a stress coping mechanism. The study looked at predictors of moderate to severe stress among men and women. For women, the factors in order of decreasing relevance, were high work over commitment, increased COVID stress, high effort-reward imbalance, younger age, low possibility of promotion, high work-family conflict, and high alcohol permissiveness. For men, high work over commitment was at the top, but younger age was second. And there were similarities between the two as we looked at the rest of the factors. The study also looked at predictors of leaving due to mental health, burnout, or stress. For women, high work-family conflict was the biggest predictor, followed by younger age, high work overcommitment and high stress. For men, high stress was the leading predictor followed on down the line.

 

In the first quarter of 2021, Bloomberg Law conducted a satisfaction and wellbeing survey. One of the questions asked was how has your overall wellbeing changed over the past quarter? 13% said significantly worsened and 36% said slightly worsened. The effects of the pandemic at that time had largely negative impacts, and the top work related issues experienced were disrupted sleep and anxiety. The survey also asked which work related issues had respondents experienced in the past quarter. 67% said disrupted sleep, 63% anxiety, 31% issues in personal relationships, 29% had physical health issues, also depression and 8% drug and alcohol issues. Further, respondents of the survey said that they experienced burnout 50% of the time. The survey also asked about challenges that attorneys were facing. 67% experienced trouble disconnecting from work, increased tasks and responsibilities at work, trouble focusing on work tasks, new personal responsibilities, like childcare, financial instability, and job security. Nearly one half of the attorneys said that their wellbeing had worsened over the past quarter. The survey also asked about whether firms were seen as better prepared to address wellbeing. The question asked was how prepared is the legal profession versus their own firm to address wellbeing? A good thing coming out or data coming out was that many respondents stated that their firm was very or somewhat prepared.

 

A similar Bloomberg study of in-house and private practice lawyers was completed at the end of the last quarter in 2021. Surveyed lawyers said that they experienced burnout in their jobs 52% of the time, the highest level since Bloomberg Law began taking the quarterly survey in 2020. The percentage of time that lawyers experienced burnout was 44% in the third quarter, 47% in the fourth quarter. Other survey findings included 46% saying their wellbeing had worsened in the fourth quarter of 2021, compared with 34% in the third quarter and 30 in the second. Lawyers who reported a decline in wellbeing also had an average job satisfaction score of 4.1 on a 10 point scale. Among lawyers who reported a decline in wellbeing, 83% reported disrupted sleep compared to 55% of those with unchanged wellbeing and 62% with improved wellbeing, 81% reported anxiety, 47% reported personal relationship issues, depression, as well as other declines in wellbeing. Among those who reported a decline in wellbeing, 79% identified the challenges that they faced as an inability to disconnect from work. They also said that they faced a heavier workload or professional responsibilities, had trouble focusing on work tasks.

 

Another study that came out in 2021 was by the International Bar Association. The IBA completed a global project aimed at addressing the mental wellbeing of legal professionals around the world. The project consisted of two global surveys, one for individual lawyers, the other for law firms and other legal institutions, including bar associations, law societies, and in-house legal departments. Respondents were asked to state how frequently they have felt the following categories over the past two weeks. The questions were, I have felt cheerful and in good spirits, I have felt calm and relaxed, I have felt active and vigorous, I woke up feeling refresh and rested, and my daily life has been filled with all things that interest me. Happily, approximately half of all respondents have felt this way at least half of the time. However, younger respondents, especially those aged 25 to 35, have typically felt more negatively than older respondents. In addition, female, ethnic minority lawyers, and those with disabilities also generally reported more negative feelings. The survey found that refresh and rested, calm and relaxed had the lowest scoring. They also looked at the impact of work on mental wellbeing. The results showed that 35% said it had a negative or extremely negative impact. The negative impacts were that the workplace was stressful, full of intense work and time commitments, poor work-life balance, and high pressure. Further 15% of the respondents who believe work has a positive impact on their mental health still had a negative comment in the open answer section of the question.

 

The IBA survey also asked about workplace stressors in the past 12 months. Some of the leading factors were competing demands, target pressure, long hours, inability to take breaks, workload control and unrealistic time pressures. Another question posed was whether the respondents experienced health issues. Fatigue, disrupted sleep, and anxiety were experienced by over half of the respondents. In fact, the average lawyer experienced three of the nine health concerns listed on the slide in the past year. So in addition to the study data, who are we and what do we face? And more importantly, how does that impact upon our mental health and our propensity for burnout? While true that the studies reflect that a majority of lawyers and law students do not have a mental health issue or experience burnout, that certainly doesn't mean that they're thriving. Many lawyers experience a profound ambivalence about their work, and that is unsustainable over the long haul.

 

Looking at the structure in the legal profession that perpetuates unhealthy behaviors, we are a conflict-driven and adversarial profession. You have to be emotionally detached to get through your caseload. And we suffer from perfectionism, imposter syndrome and excessive self-reliance. All of these traits may be great for a successful legal career, but they're not so great in our personal lives and for the effect they have on our mental health. We also place high expectations and accountability on ourselves. And we have a lack of life-work integration and high stress levels. In our workplaces, we have devices. Technology is fabulous. The ability to work any time outside the traditional nine to five and connect at any time in any place at the touch of a button is freeing. But the flip side is that the expectations that come with that freedom impact upon our life-work integration. You must always be there to answer that call, respond to that email, file that brief. Billing structure is another place. Billing billable hour and revenue generation are two key metrics in how law firms compensate attorneys. Billable hour targets are important for everyone concerned.

 

However, a 2015 study reflected that those lawyers with higher billable requirements cited less internal motivation, satisfaction and increased level of alcohol abuse. And lastly, client expectations, sometimes they're unrealistic, they want it now, they experience a range of emotion, unhappy, sad, mad, frustrated, and they vent it all on us. And over time, like other professions, we develop compassion fatigue as a result of managing all those emotions and solving all the problems. There is also a certain emotional dissonance. We encounter stress from the workload, yet we are expected to appear and be completely unaffected by it. Oftentimes we have a lack of support, lack of autonomy, lack of meaningful work or professional growth. And lawyers are trained to deal with and solve problems. It's incredibly hard for the lawyer to seek help since by doing so, he, she, or they may feel like they're admitting failure. Complicating this problem is the tendency of the lawyers' peers to indulge in what I call a conspiracy of silence or enabling and lightening the normal stresses of our profession.

 

Lastly, we think sometimes that if we seek help, it may make us appear weak or have an impact upon our reputation in the community. We face the stigma and no one can know. We often have a skewed definition of success. We're on that hamster wheel chasing something that's not really in our best interest. We're the problem solvers, people come to us to solve their problems, so we should be able to handle any issue on our own. And perfectionism enters our world where perfect is the enemy of good. We don't sleep, we wake up tired, struggling to get to work. And we often feel like we're working harder and accomplishing less, ruminating thoughts, procrastination, we experience atypical illnesses, aches, and pains. And we really do lose the separation between personal and professional life. Sometimes denial overrides and we believe we're under control or that we can just push through the stress, anxiety or burnout. But burnout is real, and it's more serious than just being tired at the end of a hectic day. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an occupational hazard, a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

 

The WHO outlines several signs of burnout, including feelings of exhaustion, pulling away mentally from a job and work related cynicism. While anyone in any profession can absolutely experience burnout, lawyers are particularly prone to suffering from it and to suffering the consequences. As we're talking about burnout, I think it's important to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and how the two differ. Burnout is contextual, it is job related and situational, whereas depression is general and context free. Some of the core features of burnout are extreme emotional and physical exhaustion, depersonalization and decreased sense of accomplishment where your job performance may be impaired. Whereas depression is you're in a persistently depressed mood and you have a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities. You experience fatigue and functional impairments. Both burnout and depression share some common features, this exhaustion, feeling unhappy and reduced performance. Typically with burnout, it is a preoccupation with work and your self-esteem is generally preserved. How does the cost of burnout at the workplace affect us?

 

Well, taking a look, let's look at the financial bottom line. Another way that these issues are hurting the profession is in the pocketbook. You can see some of the statistics from the costs of absenteeism, presenteeism, lost productivity, turnover rates, all as a result of mental health issues, burnout, stress, and anxiety. It's evident that lawyer wellbeing can and does contribute to organizational success for law firms and corporations. You can see some of the data with regards to how much money is lost due to turnover and how much a law firm or a corporation spends per associate who leaves the employ. What is the cost to burnout to you in individually? One way is to look at raised impairment and stress levels correlating to an increase in neglect of client cases, resulting in involvement in a disciplinary proceeding or a legal malpractice matter. Looking at the levels of stress and burnout as the pressure rises and the stress levels rise, the ability to function to adequately and competently represent clients decreases. And somewhere on that downward trajectory comes a bar discipline grievance or a legal malpractice complaint. And lastly, what is the cost of burnout to those you love? You're exhausted all the time. You've lost joy for the things you used to love. You're not present. If you're putting in long hours at the law firm and constantly buried in your phone when you're not at work, chances are you're not carrying your own weight at home. Relationships aren't easy, but a mutually supportive dynamic is very important to a successful union. While the support will rarely ever be equally balanced at any single point in time, when it's consistently tipped to one side, it can cause resentment to build and create a rift in the relationship. Put yourself in your partner's shoes. Would you wanna be responsible for everything that's required in childcare, in the housework when your partner is chronically absent, whether physically or mentally or both?

 

If your answer is no, which it probably is, then it's probably not what your partner wants either, especially if they have their own job to worry about. It's also some of the unsavory effects that come into play with that, with burnout, anger, irritability, depression, pessimism. That's not exactly the type of person most of us would want to come home with and pursue the relationship with. So that's a lot of negatives. How do we get to the resilience, the hope, the flourishing, the thriving? How can we not only deal with the stress, beat back burnout, but succeed and flourish in our careers and our profession? Well, I think we have to step back a moment and look at wellbeing and how we define it. And to do so, we need to take a look at other prominent wellbeing definitions in social science research. They all seem to emphasize that wellbeing is not limited to an absence of illness, feeling happy all the time or intra-individual processes. Context matters, for example, the World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of this disease or infirmity. It defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Social science research also emphasizes that wellbeing is not defined solely by an absence of dysfunction, but nor is it limited to feeling happy or filled with positive emotions. The concept of wellbeing in social science research is multidimensional and includes engagement in interesting activities, having close relationships and a sense of belonging, developing confidence through mastery, achieving goals that matter to us, meaning and purpose, a sense of autonomy and control, self acceptance, and personal growth. This multidimensional approach underscores that a positive state of wellbeing is not synonymous with feeling happy or experiencing positive emotions. It is much, much broader.

 

Another common theme in social science research is that wellbeing is not just intrapersonal process. Context powerfully influences it. Consistent with this view, a study of worldwide survey data found that five factors constitute the key elements of wellbeing, career, social relationships, community, health, and finances. What well being is not, well, it's not all about drinking kale smoothies or keeping a yoga mat under your desk or swearing off alcohol forever. Of course, wellness can mean doing those things, but your recipe for success may low look far different. You may have to try a number of different strategies and practices until you find the ones you like. What matters is discovering the path that works for you. The cure to burnout is not going to be a fad or a quick fix, but a practical, multi-tooled approach that helps you grow over time. It's also about resilience, and resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. It's your ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life's downturns. Resilience is not a trampoline where you're down one moment and up the next. It's more like climbing a mountain without a trail map. It takes time, strength and help from people around you, and you'll likely experience setbacks along the way. But eventually you reach the top and you look back at how far you've come. Being resilient doesn't mean that people don't experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Some people equate resilience with mental toughness, but demonstrating resilience includes working through emotional pain and suffering. Resilience is important because it gives people the strength needed to process and overcome stress and hardship. Those lacking resilience may get easily overwhelmed and may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Resilient people tap into their strengths and support systems to overcome challenges and work through problems.

 

In August 2017, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being published its report, "The Path to Lawyer Well-Being, "Practical Recommendations for Positive Change". Part of this report and recommendation developed a definition for wellbeing. That definition was a continuous process whereby lawyers seek to thrive in each of the following areas, emotional health, occupational pursuits, creative or intellectual endeavors, a sense of spirituality or greater purpose in life, and physical health and social connections with others. Lawyer wellbeing is a part of a lawyer's ethical duty of competence. It includes lawyers' ability to make healthy, positive work-life choices, to assure not only a quality of life within their families and communities, but also to help them make responsible decisions for their clients. It includes maintaining their own long-term wellbeing. The task force chose the term wellbeing based on the view that the terms health or wellness connote only physical health or the absence of illness. This task force approach the definition lawyer wellbeing embraces the multidimensional concept of mental health and the importance of context to complete health. So how does stress fit into our wellbeing? I once heard a lawyer say that if you're not stressed out, you're not doing it right. While that might be a bit of an overexaggeration, it is true that as a lawyer, you're going to have some stress in your life, and it's not just the stress, but how you deal with it that can make all the difference. The place to start is to recognize the symptoms of stress and how they may show themselves in several areas of your life.

 

First let's look at emotionally, becoming easily agitated, frustrated, or moody, feeling overwhelmed, like you're losing control, or you need to take control, low self-esteem, loneliness, feeling worthless, which in turn comes to avoidance or isolation. Physically, well, you have low energy, sometimes headaches, insomnia, atypical aches, and pains and tense muscles. Sometimes it upsets your stomach and your digestion, dry mouth, and people grinding their teeth in their sleep. We also see cognitive stress where there's a constant worrying, ruminating, not being able to get past an idea or thought, or the other way, racing thoughts coming from all different directions, sometimes forgetfulness and disorganization, an inability to focus, poor judgment and being pessimistic or only seeing the negative side. We also see stress affecting our behavior, where we see changes in appetites, procrastination and avoiding responsibilities, increased use of alcohol and drugs, and sometimes exhibiting new nervous behaviors, fidgeting, pacing, nail biting.

 

So we know what to look for, but what can happen to us when we think we can just push through it or we don't pay attention to the signs and symptoms? What are the consequences of long-term stress? Well, certainly physical, short term, we all have this fight or flight mechanism, increased heart rates, our breathing quickens, our muscles tightened, blood pressure rises. But if we have that fight or flight all the time and over the long term, it can lead to depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, obesity and eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions, skin and hair problems, gastrointestinal issues, and the like.

 

Virginia Satir, an American author and psychotherapist who was recognized for her approach to family therapy, once said that, "Problems are not the problem, "coping is the problem." Many of us see the signs and think we can handle it ourselves, and we start using harmful coping mechanisms, which actually serve to make the symptoms worse rather than improving them. What are the kinds of things we do? Well, we numb the effects of stress through self medication. We try escape, maladaptive daydreaming, procrastination, self harm, binge eating, blaming and self blaming, just totally disengaging or risk taking behavior, even anxious avoidance. Does attorney stress have any relationship to the rules of professional conduct? Well, we know that lawyer wellbeing influences ethics, malpractice and professionalism. Many of the rules of professional conduct require competence, diligence and communication. And these aspects are critical to protecting clients. In fact, as suggested by D.B. Marlowe in his paper, "Alcoholism, Symptoms, Causes and Treatments" published in Stress Management For Lawyers, data shows that 40 to 70% of all disciplinary proceedings and malpractice claims against lawyers involved substance use disorders or depression, or often both.

 

 In addition, looking at data taken from the ABA's Standing Committee on Lawyers' Professional Liability, we can see the kinds of errors that lead to malpractice complaints, administrative, substantive, client relations, or intentional wrongs. Broken down even further, the errors in the administrative category come from failure to calendar, clerical error, procrastination, or failure to document or lost file. We also know that the most common disciplinary violations stem from poor attorney-client relations, failure to communicate, neglecting a case or fee disputes, which often lead to a legal malpractice case.

 

All of these things involve Rule 1.1, competence. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. Lawyers who are impaired due to stress, anxiety or burnout create an extraordinary risk of harm to their clients and the public, adversely affecting not only their own wellbeing, but their ability to serve clients capably, competently and responsibly. Recognizing the importance of wellbeing, states such as Vermont, Virginia and California have added comments or changed the black letter law to reflect the importance of a lawyer's mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Having these types of comments to the rules is critically important to informing lawyers of the nexus between maintaining their wellbeing and their duty of maintaining competence. With regards to Rules 1.3, diligence, and 1.4, competence, we have seen how some of the stress symptoms and maladaptive coping mechanisms lead to isolation, procrastination, lack of communication, all conduct that can lead to a violation of the rules around attorney diligence and communication.

 

 And lastly, termination or withdrawal under Rule 1.16. That rule talks about a lawyer shall not represent a client where the presentation has commenced if the lawyer's physical or mental condition materially impairs the lawyer's ability to represent the client. So stress is a given. Are there ways that we can use stress for good? There are actually some surprising benefits to moderate stress. As we talked about, the stress response is designed to help us react when something potentially threatening happens. But there's a difference between distress and use stress. Distress is stress that negatively affects you and use stress is stress that has a positive impact or a positive effect on you. Use stress is what energizes us and motivates us to change. Unlike distress, use stress motivates us to work hard, to improve our performance and to reach our goals, even in the face of challenges. In the body and the brain, both use stress and distress involve the activation of this flight or fight response. The difference is that in use stress, the energy provided is proportionate to what is needed in the situation, while in distress, the energy is excessive or unusable. Whether a person experiences distress or distress in a situation mainly depends on their perception of themselves and the stressor.

 

When a person feels confident in their ability to overcome the stressor, they are more likely to experience positive stress. This positive assessment of the stressor helps them channel the energy provided by the fight or flight response in ways that help them work towards a solution. Moderate, short-lived stress can improve alertness, performance and boost memory. It strengthens the connection between neurons, improving memory and attention span and helps you become more productive. It actually can help you dodge a cold and boost your immunity. Moderate stress stimulates the production of interleukins and gives the immune system a quick boost to protect against illness. It also builds resiliency and encourages growth. It forces you to problem solve, build confidence and skills for future experiences, face fears, and begin to feel less threatened and more in control. Using stress to face your fears or challenges can also help you work through experiences instead of avoiding them. After facing a fear, you will feel more equipped to handle it in the future since you've already experienced it. Moderate stress enhances motivation. With deadlines, it helps us focus and pay attention. And it promotes bonding, it helps to build interpersonal relationships. Social connection is one of the most protective factors against physical and mental health problems. When people feel loved and understood by another person, they feel less alone and less isolated. Support groups and talking to friends about stressors build compassion, which turns into positive hormones. By opening up to one another, people feel better because they can relate to each other's struggles and validate their feelings, creating positivity out of a negative experience. And it's also part of a meaningful life. Things we are proud of and bring a sense of accomplishment are hard and stressful. But if we wipe out the stress, we may also wipe out some of the meaning.

 

So what are some strategies to make stress beneficial rather than harmful? Well, I think the first is optimism and a positive attitude. Is your glass half empty or half full? How you answer this age-old question about positive thinking may reflect your outlook on life, your attitude toward yourself and whether you're optimistic or pessimistic. And it may even your health and ability to cope with stress. Indeed, some studies show that personality traits such as optimism and pessimism can affect many areas of your health and wellbeing. The positive thinking that usually comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management. You can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The process is simple, but it does take time and practice. You're creating a new habit, after all. Here are some ways to think and behave in a more positive and optimistic way.

 

First, identify areas to change. If you wanna become more optimistic and engage in more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you usually think negatively about. The legal workplace, perhaps. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way. Think of a positive thought to manage your stress instead of a negative one. Check yourself, periodically through the day, stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them. Be open to humor, give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed. And follow a healthy lifestyle. Aim to exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week. You can break it up into five or 10 minute chunks of time during the day, because exercise can positive affect mood and reduce stress. Following a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body also helps, as does getting enough sleep and learning techniques to manage stress. Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways. And lastly, practice positive self talk. Start by following one simple rule. Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. Self compassion, be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you. Think about the things you're thankful for in your life. Grit and resilience is certainly another aspect. But let's look at some ways to combat the burnout and employ some of the stress reduction techniques we've looked at.

 

Certainly this is not an exhaustive list. These are just a few ways to get started, to focus on wellbeing and to beat back burnout. Strive to thrive. The goal with wellbeing is to figure out a set of habit-building practices you can implement in your own life, things that work for you. Your approach to wellbeing should be a holistic one. That is to say wellbeing isn't about making one giant change and suddenly transforming your life. It's about continually working to improve a number of different aspects in your life so you can build a more sustainable lifestyle and career. And while there's no one wellbeing strategy that works for everyone, most will include some of the wellbeing elements we're gonna talk about. The first one is gratitude. Well, why gratitude? Certainly it makes us healthier. Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude report fewer health complaints, exercise more, feel better about their lives, sleep more and feel more connected to others.

 

How does gratitude work physically? Well, it boosts production of dopamine similar to taking the antidepressant Wellbutrin. It also boosts production of serotonin similar to taking an antidepressant like Prozac. And even if you can't find something to be grateful for, it still works, it's the searching that counts. There are all kind of ways to work a gratitude practice in your life. You can journal, appreciative art, a gratitude photo collage, writing a gratitude letter, or even a gratitude jar where you invite coworkers to drop notes of gratitude in a jar that are then read aloud a couple times a week. Meditation and mindfulness is another way to improve wellbeing and resilience and combat stress and burnout. It can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit your emotional wellbeing and your overall health. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace. And best of all, anyone can practice it. It's simple and inexpensive, and it doesn't require any special equipment. You can practice it wherever you are, whether you're out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor's office, or even perhaps in the middle of a difficult business meeting. And the best thing is is that the benefits don't end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and may help you manage symptoms of certain medical conditions. And certainly it helps you reduce the effects of stress. Some of the emotional benefits are gaining a new perspective on stressful situations, building skills to manage your stress, focusing on the present and stopping those ruminating thoughts, increasing imagination and creativity. And don't let the thought of meditating the, in quotes, right way, add to your stress.

 

As I said, there's no one right way to do it. And you can make meditation as formal or informal as you like, however it suits your lifestyle and situation. Breathing deeply is one way to start. And it's a technique that's good for beginners because it's a natural function. Just focus on your breathing deeply and slowly. And when your attention wanders, gently return your focus back to your breathing. Scan your body, when you're using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body, become aware of sensations, tension, warmth, relaxation. You can repeat a mantra or you can even walk and meditate. Or read and reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on their meaning. And lastly, focus on love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on an image, feelings of love, compassion, gratitude. You can close your eyes, use your imagination, or even look at the image.

 

Mindfulness is similar. It's pretty straightforward. It suggests that your mind is fully attending to what's happening, what you're doing, to the space you're moving through. It may seem trivial except for the annoying fact that we so often veer from the matter at hand. Our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body and pretty soon, we're engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or a client who's demanding or fretting about the future. And that makes us anxious, stressful. You wanna be present. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it's not something you have to conjure up. You just have to learn how to access it. You can do it seated, walking, standing, moving meditation, whatever you need, and it's short pauses we insert into our everyday life. It's not obscure or exotic, it's familiar to us. It's something we already do. And it's not a special added thing or another task that we have to do. It's we already have the capacity to be present and we don't need to change. We just need to work it into our daily routine. Anybody can do it. And it's also a new way of living. It brings awareness and caring into everything we do and it cuts down on needless stress. Even a little bit makes it better. It also sparks innovation, as we deal with our worlds and our clients' increasing complexity and uncertainty, mindfulness can lead us to an effective, resilient, low cost response to seemingly intransigent problems.

 

Some other basic stress management strategies, be intentional, put a plan in place for change, try not to think I should be able to do this by myself and don't should on yourself. Remember it is okay not to be okay. Practice some self-compassion. We do need to learn to focus on others, but not at the expense of self. We're gonna go the extra mile to understand the fear, frustration, and angers of others as they work their way through the legal system. But we often don't put that same effort into taking care of ourselves. The other thing to think about is sleep. It makes you live longer, enhances your memory, makes you more creative, look more attractive, keeps you slim, lowers food cravings, protects you from certain illnesses. Most importantly, it helps our stress levels. Attorneys run low on it and lack of sleep contributes to our stress. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult requires between seven to nine hours of sleep per night and getting too little sleep has been linked to various adverse mental, emotional, and physical side effects. The American Bar Association reports that attorneys are the most sleep deprived group of professionals. And over time, the effects of sleep deprivation compound, affecting a lawyer's ability to concentrate, reason and make sound decisions, all skills that are going to be essential when practicing laws. Without sleep, your mind isn't as sharp and focused. And for attorneys, poor sleep habits are often born in law school, all night cram sessions. And when you pass the bar, it really doesn't seem to change. And before you know it, you're a partner in a law firm who hasn't enjoyed consistent or quality sleep in years. And whether you realize it or not, you are paying the price. Some things to do is turn off your screens and turn off the television and your cell phone at least one hour before bed. Develop some decompression rituals. And go to bed earlier, aim to get at least seven hours of sleep.

 

Another thing to think about is skipping the nightcap. According to the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol actually interferes with your body's normal chemical production and affects your ability to sleep soundly and to stay asleep. Another thing that can help reduce stress is goal setting, setting realistic goals for yourself. Stephen Covey once said that the key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. You can prioritize your day. How many items are critical and must be done? Create a plan that's gonna work with your schedule, and then schedule your priorities. Don't have 10 things on your to-do list. Focus on three or four. Some other quick stress busters, pause, lean back literally, give your eyes a rest for a couple minutes. Deep breaths, being mindful, stretching. They've said sitting is the new smoking. Get up, walk around, even go outside. Humor we've talked about. Varying your routine, don't get trapped in a rut. Ask for, accept supports and help. Some other ways to set boundaries and disconnect, not charging your phone at your bedside. Don't keep your phone with you during meals. Read a book or a magazine rather than looking at your screen.

 

There's a great article called "No More FOMO, "Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression". The other thing with screen is really to set boundaries, checking emails at a specific time of day, using an away message when on vacation as opposed to constantly checking email, monitoring your use. You can monitor how often you're on the screens, checking your screen time on the iPhone, which is very scary. Some other quick stress busters, exercise, right? Movement is medicine, healthy diets, taking time for family and friends and recognizing that sometimes, "No," can be a complete sentence. Some other resources for you, if you need help, reach out to a LAP, a Lawyers' Assistance Program. They can assist you in all sorts of ways. And it really is a broad brush approach. They help to reduce or minimize the potential harm from stress, anxiety, substance use disorders, mental health issues. They're there to help you and have a whole bunch of resources. In addition, they provide confidential help. It's also important if you need to get medical treatments to relieve the symptoms, get that professional help when you need it, and then to get back on track. There are also a whole bunch of apps that you can use, some wellbeing technology, meditation apps, treadmill desks, Fitbits, Pips that will give you feedback about your stress levels.

 

Some other resources are to take a look at the Well-Being Toolkit for the legal profession, published by the American Bar Association and available on the Institute For Well-Being In Law's website, a lot of great information on how to increase your wellbeing and and decrease your stress. Another great resource is the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs, as well, as I said, the Institute For Well-Being In Law. And the last thing that I want to say and leave with you with this in closing is to remember that sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to relax. With that, I will say thank you for listening and be well.

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On demand
1h 1m 04s

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