In a stressful profession, we all feel some level of anxiety from time to time. However, it can become overwhelming. While there is stigma in the legal profession for seeking help on any mental health issue, much less has been written about anxiety so the person experiencing it may feel more isolated and less willing to reach out.
Anxiety may be experienced in a number of ways. Someone who worries excessively over a period of time may be experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension. This may occur even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. Some of the symptoms are irritability, inability to concentrate, fatigue and muscle tension. The worry or concern may be about family issues, career issues, financial or job security and others. The person experiencing general anxiety will have a greatly reduced quality of life.
Anxiety can also occur as a phobia which is a reaction triggered by a specific situation or event. For some legal professionals it will manifest as a social phobia related to performing or being evaluated. Symptoms will include heart pounding, sweating or blushing and this can have a devastating effect on one’s career. People experiencing phobias often isolate and are prone to depression.
Another form of anxiety is panic attacks. These may strike without warning, at any time. They are characterized by a sense of impending doom and loss of control along with the physical symptoms that can be triggered by a phobia. The attacks are generally short-lived but those who have had one are at greater risk of having another.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a form of anxiety characterized by persistent, upsetting thoughts (obsessions) and use rituals (compulsions) to control the anxiety these thoughts produce. When this becomes a problem, it’s because the rituals end up controlling them.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety that develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. Symptoms include loss of trust, hyper-vigilance and isolation. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.
Learning from Anxiety
The experience of anxiety is unpleasant, but ultimately it is there to help us. From the beginning of time, our brain has been alert to potential threats. When one is identified (ranging from true danger to an angry opposing counsel), we react. This “flight or fight” response may trigger physical symptoms listed above along with others like sweaty palms, hyper-alertness, rapid heart rate. A little bit of anxiety can help us perform better. But if it starts to affect your ability to perform and threatens to impede your professional or personal growth, there’s a problem. It’s time to get help.
Treatment for Anxiety
Medications can be a first line strategy to reduce symptoms but they won’t change the underlying causes. Appropriate therapy, available in both individual and group settings, is critical to returning to a better life. LCL’s counseling partner, Sand Creek, can provide an initial evaluation and appropriate referrals at no cost to you.
- National Institute of Mental Health information
- Lawyers and Anxiety: Three Case Studies
- Wisconsin Lawyer Assistance Program’s Study on Compassion Fatigue
- North Carolina Lawyer Assistance Program’s Article on Lawyers and Anxiety
- American Psychological Association
- National Alliance on Mental Illness and Minnesota NAMI
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Help Yourself. Help Others.