Lawyer’s Survival Guide: Coping with Burnout

As we said last week, although we try to keep our articles general and applicable to most people, we have taken a detour to look at some high stress jobs. We continue this week to examine burnout in the legal profession. Therapist Teyhou Smyth has some advice on how to practise law and still maintain your mental health. Please do reach out if you need to talk to someone.

What do you envision when you think of lawyer burnout?
Do you think of a frazzled, cranky and exhausted person who spends too much time at the office? A depressed person who no longer feels a sense of purpose in their work?

Burnout in the legal field can look like all of these things and more. Last week I wrote about Lawyers: Recognising Burnout Symptoms.

The good news is, burnout doesn’t have to last forever. There are solutions that can help get you back on track and feeling better about yourself and your work.

Steps for Getting Rid of Burnout in the Legal Field

Take an inventory of your time:

Try to be as objective as you can and consider the number of hours you spend at the office, with friends and family, and by yourself doing things you enjoy.

Are you spending too many hours at work? Sometimes lawyers end up completely wedded to their careers at the expense of every other aspect of life and this takes a toll.

Notice where your time is spent and make a promise to yourself to set more rigid boundaries around work hours so that you can have some time to recoup.

Find other sources of identity:

Our culture trains us to respond to personal questions about our lives with an answer about our career. When someone asks about you, is your first response “I’m a barrister”? Explore other areas of yourself in terms of identity.

Yes, you are a solicitor. What else are you? Are you a parent? An artist? A cyclist? Do you enjoy cooking, dancing, reading?

Incorporate these other interests into your life more consistently so that your sole identity isn’t related to your profession.

Take a holiday:

While this may seem overly simplistic, sometimes the most common- sense solutions seem impossible during a period of burnout. Lawyers with burnout symptoms may feel as if there is no time for a break; it may seem as if there is too much to do and that there are too many people relying on you.

Schedule holidays well in advance and set them regularly if possible to avoid getting into a procrastination mode in which you never get around to taking time off.

Make an agreement with yourself that you will disconnect from work during scheduled leave and let clients know that you will be unavailable during that time.

Meditation and relaxation techniques:

Learn some relaxation techniques and use them several times per day. Deep breathing techniques, imagery and meditation are all simple ways to reconnect with yourself in the moment and reduce stress.

Mindfulness techniques that use your five senses can be very beneficial as you work on stress reduction.

Professional life/work coaching:

Talking to a career or life coach can be a helpful way to reset priorities and examine the areas of your work that you enjoy as well as the parts that are negatively impacting you.

If it feels as though the burnout symptoms go a bit deeper and may encompass other areas of your life, consider talking to a therapist.

Life coaches and therapists are trained professionals who can sit with you objectively and explore your needs and interests.

Health check:

Schedule a visit with your doctor. If you are experiencing burnout symptoms, your health may also be impacted. Consider making your health as much of a priority as your career. After all, there are thousands of lawyers, but only one you.

It is important to identify and treat burnout symptoms before they worsen and begin to take over your life. More than other professions, lawyers are at risk for substance use disorders due to high stress and depressive symptoms.

One in five lawyers self-reports a history of alcohol abuse or other substances. These factors make it even more important to take care of your burnout symptoms and to restore balance and peace in your life.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content has been modified for the UK context.]

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