Exciting and worthwhile careers carry a level of unwanted stress – the legal profession is no different. The background of long hours, detailed work, time pressure and ultimate professional accountability for actions (and inactions) result in a need for lawyers to manage high levels of stress. Lawyers, like others are susceptible to using unhealthy ‘stress control’ techniques including alcohol, drug and nicotine misuse, poor diet and a plethora of unhealthy psychological and social practices. There is, however, thankfully, no reliable or replicated evidence that there is a higher incidence of unmanageable stress amongst lawyers than the other high pressure professions. So . On that reassuring note, the key question is how can lawyers start 2009 with ‘active steps to combat their stress?
Our confidence, wellbeing and ultimately our work satisfaction is significantly affected by our beliefs and behaviour. Most stress management centres on thinking’, ‘setting small targets’ and being ‘action orientated’. Legal executives are well placed to confidently learn and practice up-to-date stress management techniques.
In the normal practice of law in the UK, the many reasons for possible stress include the following: –
- Time, paper and people management. Most legal work is time constrained with difficult deadlines. Inherent in this, is the need to manage larger volumes of paper and deal with many and varied personalities.
- Work / leisure imbalance. The dilemma of whether long hours equates to success is a perennial one. Excessive long hours result in little or no leisure time.
- Problem driven nature of work. Clients typically present with their ‘problems’ often involving trauma, loss of independence, negative financial consequences. The lawyer is expected to help both legally and emotionally.
- Adversarial process. The lawyer deals with conflict both personal and professional . At times, the adversarial process adds chaos to the lawyer’s life.
- Liability and personal/professional accountability. The lawyer takes responsibility for the advice and services he/she provides. This accountability is a source of stress.
Our motivation to tackle unwanted stress can increase if we are more aware of how much better being relaxed feels.
The benefits of improved stress control are: –
- Regular calmness and well-being Improved physical health.
- Extra energy and motivation.
- Resistance to infection.
- Increased concentration and attention at work and home.
- Better communication and relationships with colleagues.
- Success with work and life goals.
Before tackling our •top ten tips’ for stress reduction, stop and ask yourself when in the last week have you felt particularly stressed? Use the list below as an aid:-
|Too much to do at work
|An interview with a client
|An argument with a colleague
|A difficult journey
|Feeling you’ve done something badly
|Fear of not being able to cope
|Feeling lonely professionally
Knowing when and why you get stressed is important so you can see where some improvement can be made. Attempts to reduce stress are most effective when ones approach is practical and immediate. In other words, using strategies, which are active, put into practice now (today) and small enough to do relatively easily and quickly. In other words •Active Steps’ (AS)
Practical stress reduction tips fall into four categories covering the key areas of everyday life – thinking, lifestyle, communication and behaviour.
( T ) Thinking to reduce stress
Increasing positive, logical and mindful thinking results in greater calmness.
Step 1 Think positively
Be more confident about your own ability to get your next task done . Say to yourself ‘T can do it’ regularly.
Focus on the positives. Remember to focus on the positives today, even (and especially) if you are feeling a little down or stressed. Think of some of the good things about you and what you have done today. Remind yourself by thinking to yourself ‘focus on the positives’ regularly.
Recognise your success. Regularly take some time today to recognise your successes, especially the small things.
Watch your negative thoughts today. Monitor your thinking for nay negative thoughts you may be having. Challenge them and change them to more positive productive ones.
Step 2 Think logically
Be specific don’t exaggerate. Talk about specific actions that people do and aspects of situations rather than whole people and wholes situations. Think regularly to yourself be specific don’t exaggerated.
Make positive predictions, don’t catastrophise. Make positive predictions about your day today, both in your thoughts and when speaking to people.
Fell good about yourself. Use walking through any doorway today as a trigger for you to think positive thoughts about yourself keep your head up, breather in and think a good person’. Get into the habit of saying positive things to yourself regularly.
( L ) Lifestyle to reduce stress
Everyday areas of nutrition, health, exercise and managing home/work balance and environments also contribute to reduced stress.
Step 3 Practice mindfulness
Focus on your breathing. Regularly throughout today, stop, sit comfortably and focus on your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply to allow you to relax. You can do this wherever and whenever you are .
Appreciate your senses. Be more aware of, and enjoy each of your senses regularly today. What can you see, feel, hear, taste and smell now?
Be more mindful everyday. Throughout today, stay in the moment. Be more aware of the little things that make you happy and enjoy them.
Step 4 Get active
Visualise enjoying the benefits of getting active every time you go for a walk or do any other form of exercise.
Enjoy regular exercise. Take some form of planned exercise today whether it’s a workout at home, a run in the park, a session at the gym or a bit of team sport.
Set your goals and think positively about being active.
Step 5 Create a calm office
De-clutter your office today.
Set a 30 minute period aside to do this. Put some of your favourite music on as you go and plan to do something fun after you have finished.
Buy some greenery for your office.
Create as calm a office environment as possible.
Step 6 Balance your lifestyle
Balance out the time you, work and play. Leave work at work. Spend time relaxing and being active at home.
Get into good sleeping patterns, make sure you relax before bed.
Experiment with a new hobby, activity or journey.
(C) Communication to reduce stress
It feels good to talk to people and to give and receive positivity and warmth. Positive comments help others help you.
Step 7 Communicate Clearly
Make initial corrections today whenever you can, smile and say hello to people.
Share an interest. Think what you have in common with your Colleagues. Think about mutual interests.
Make your 50% contribution worthwhile. Try and make your Input into conversations as close to 50% as possible.
Step 8 Exchange positivity and warmth
Seek support. Call someone if you feel stressed, angry or upset today.
Help reassure others. Help any colleagues today to feel better. Share ideas at work.
Resolve differences. Take the first step today to resolve any recent or past differences you may have with someone (or someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while).
Spread positivity and warmth today. Call a colleague today to say hello and see how they are using your positive communications skills.
( B ) Behaviour to reduce stress
Getting better organised and relaxing more often can be beneficial.
Step 9 Relax more
You can relax already. Feel confident that you are good at relaxing and put your current ability to relax into practice more often today at work.
Use instant relaxation to relax you frequently today. You can do it wherever you are using the word ‘relax’ and taking a slow deep breath.
Practice systematic relaxation. Make time to try IQ-minute relaxation method today. Where and when will youdo it?
Let go of unproductive anger. If you feel yourself getting angry today, tell yourself to “stop” and think logically about why you feel angry.
Step 10 Organise your time, paper and ‘systems’
Every week, spend a few minutes tidying your office (visible desk and shelves, and invisible drawers and cupboards.)
Prepare more for the week ahead – keep a job/task list and allocate time for urgent and non-urgent tasks.
Allow yourself to resist tasks or deadlines that are unrealistic.
In general, prioritise getting calmer from now on. Make an agreement with yourself now by saying: 1 will
- Think positively
- Think logically
- Practice Mindfulness
- Get Active
- Create a calm office
- Balance your lifestyle
- Communicate clearer with friends, family and even strangers
- Be warmer and more positive to people
- Relax more
- Organise time, papers and work into systems
In conclusion, focus on your strengths and what you can do in the present and future at work. Think positively and expect success. Positivity is infectious – it spreads between us helping all of us feel more confident at work. These active steps are practical and action – orientated. Using ‘Active Steps’, you can feel less stressful now, step-by-step. Watch how your momentum to feel calmer builds up gradually using your i T L C B’ approach. The calming actions are what make the difference to a busy lawyer.
These ideas work, so try them out today!
Dr. Hugh Koch is a Clinical Psychologist who recently published ‘Active Steps to Reducing Stress’ with his son James, also a Psychologist.