Meeting deadlines, responding to client demands, managing conflicting priorities, satisfying billing goals, and maintaining high professional standards are inherent to law practice. These stressors contribute to high rates of depression, chemical dependency, behavioral addictions, and other stress-induced conditions among lawyers. Chronic stress can further lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke and other life-threatening diseases.
Stress avoidance, however, is impractical in the modern world and impossible in the legal field. The good news is that stress, in and of itself, is not necessarily harmful and can be very valuable. With simple stress-relief tools and self-care practices, you can learn to channel stress effectively, benefit from its positive aspects, and reduce the negative impact on your health and well-being.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to a demanding situation, such as:
- working on a high-stakes case
- working on a boring case
- having to beat various deadlines
- responding to a professional ethics complaint
- resolving an interpersonal conflict
- answering to an unreasonable client
- financial worries
- getting fired or being laid off
Stress induces a “fight or flight” response where your heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and adrenaline gets pumped into the blood. Non-essential functions like digestion, cell repair and reproduction either cease or operate at a much-reduced level, allowing more energy to be diverted to the fight or flight response. Within a very short time, the body burns the adrenaline and other chemicals and returns to a normal, non-threatened, state.
In most cases, a judge, lawyer, or law student who experiences stress will not be able to run away or fight the source of the stress. Ongoing, psychological factors, instead of life-or-death situations, also tend to be the main triggers of stress. Because the stress-response system was not really designed for these situations, adrenaline and other chemicals are left unburned in the body. If left unchecked, stress can cause the body to experience systemic breakdown in the digestive, circulatory, pulmonary, and immune systems, resulting in major health problems.
When is stress good for you?
Short-term stress is a natural and welcome response to a real demand or imagined threat. It can enhance creativity, heighten productivity, increase resilience, improve memory retention, sharpen focus, and boost energy. When kept in check, stress helps you perform at your optimum levels.
When is stress bad for you?
When stress becomes chronic, it becomes difficult for the body to return to a balanced state. Long-term stress can lead to fatigue, loss of efficiency, decreased productivity, higher rates of depression, anxiety and burnout, physical illness, and life-threatening diseases.
What are the signs of chronic stress?
Pay attention to the warning signs of stress so it does not impair your overall health and wellness. Mastering stress begins with recognizing the physical, mental and behavioral symptoms, which include:
- Frequent colds
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach upset
- Inability to sleep or insomnia
- Lack of concentration
- Various aches and pains
- Marital dissatisfaction and discord
- Family conflicts
- Career dissatisfaction
- Mental or physical breakdown
- Abuse of alcohol or other drugs
- Increased involvement with gambling, sex or other addictive activities
Sand Creek, LCL’s counseling partner, has a website with many articles on stress and stress management in a variety of personal and professional areas. Click on “employees” and enter the password LCL1.