Throughout August, National Wellness Month focuses on self-care, managing stress, and promoting healthy routines. If there is one profession that should pause for a moment and concentrate on wellness, it’s the legal profession.
Attorney wellness is a growing conversation and it’s no surprise why. Attorneys have highly stressful jobs and are at higher risk for health issues. Several studies have been conducted to determine attorney’s health and well-being. Alarming data has recently been released giving insight into the stress, anxiety, drinking, and depression in the legal profession.
Why Attorneys Are at Risk
Attorneys face difficult situations in their work: stress, frequent deadlines, extreme focus on technical details, long hours (often without overtime pay), heavy workloads, and more negative aspects of being an attorney. A recent study found that because attorneys are highly educated professionals they should also be highly resilient to stress; however, attorney’s resilience does not hold up under the stressors set by legal careers. In fact, attorney burnout is a growing problem as attorneys must work harder for less due to reductions in salaries and benefits.
As attorney wellness is becoming more and more of a priority, it needs to be acknowledged that attorney wellness does not just mean physical health. Physical health is only one part of health and wellness, and while it is often the most focused on, other components such as mental and social health need to be considered as well.
Stress’ Impact on The Body
When we look at attorney wellness, attorney stressors are a key factor in attorney burnout or poor health. Stress inhibits one’s ability to do their work efficiently and can often lead to serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. Having stress can also cause high blood pressure which is the leading cause of death in America for both men and women. Furthermore, attorney stress can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety which is also a large problem in the legal field.
Defining Attorney Wellness
In simple terms, wellness may include a variety of initiatives that can vary from day to day. There is no one approach to wellness that suits everyone, and it is important that each individual explore what wellness looks like in their own life.
For our purposes, attorney wellness encompasses anything that:
- Improves work-life balance
- Helps manage stress better
- Fosters a more positive mindset
- Promotes habits of consistent self-care
Approaches to Attorney Wellness
The goal with wellness is to figure out a set of habit-building practices that can be implemented within the current lifestyle —things that work with current routines and schedules.
Things to consider should include:
Being at a job that keeps high-level, ambitious professionals constantly on their toes can lead to difficulties when it comes to eating healthy. Attorneys are often busy, eating fast food and grabbing a coffee on the way out the door. This can lead to poor nutrition that in turn leads to anxiety and depression; however, attorney wellness means making healthy choices when it comes to one’s diet.
Some ways this may be accomplished include:
Making lunch ahead of time every morning so the attorney doesn’t have to think about food until after work. Use leftovers for dinner when too busy to eat freshly cooked food.
Think about what current eating habits can be changed such as learning to meal prep, subscribing to a meal delivery service, and making sure that healthy foods are stored at the front of the refrigerator and pantry shelves.
Learning about what kinds of foods are healthiest, and which foods and eating habits aren’t currently working, is also important.
Exercise and Personal Care
When it comes to exercise and personal care, the trick, is to find activities that are enjoyable (or you at least don’t hate) doing. Include things that can be done for weeks, months, years without getting bored or giving up.
“Exercise,” could be as simple as taking a 30-minute walk three to five times a week, doing yoga —or it could mean running a marathon.
Taking walks throughout the day (instead of sitting at a desk) can help improve attorney wellness by relieving stress while also helping attorneys meet any exercise goal they may have set.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Mental health is important for attorneys as they battle the daily stress of working with clients, long hours, and other job-related demands. Studies reveal that poor mental health is attributed to other risk behaviors like alcohol misuse and other substance abuse.
Ways to maintain positive mental health include:
- Getting professional help if you need it
- Connecting with others
- Staying positive
- Getting physically active
- Helping others
- Getting enough sleep
- Developing coping skills
The social component of attorney wellness is also important. Positive relationships, both in and out of the office are key and contribute to overall health. Studies show that people who have a stronger social network tend to live longer and have better physical health than their counterparts.
Making time for social activities should take priority and can be creative, in a way that supports current schedules are routines. Making a walking date with a friend or planning to have a quick work-day lunch are all great ways to maintain those social relationships. Leaders in law firms can also support the social health of their employees by planning firm-wide luncheons or after-work activities.
Attorney wellness deserves attention from both individuals and law firms. Attorney wellness should take precedence in taking time to learn about what kinds of routines attorneys can put into place now that will pay off in better health later on and lead to a high quality of work-life balance without sacrificing one’s health in the process.
You can start your own journey to wellness by accessing the Mass Tort Institute’s Well-Being in Law mini-course for FREE at the Mass Tort Academy. Continuing education is essential to professional growth, and Mass Tort Academy offers certification programs and classes for attorneys, paralegals, and other paraprofessionals, such as legal assistants, case workers, and intake specialists.
Written by Kelley Tenny
About the Author
Kelley Tenny is the Director of Operations at The Mass Tort Institute. She also serves as a health educator and California State University Long Beach. Her background includes health and wellness with a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. Kelley is passionate about up-leveling the education available and supporting the health and wellness of those working in the mass tort industry.