The practice of law is not for everyone. It’s an extremely demanding profession that requires your time, your knowledge, your skills, and a lot of mental energy. This is why it’s so vital for attorneys to take time away from the office and find themselves.
Self-care has become a popular term in recent years, with mental health advocates championing its importance. As explained in a PsychCentral.com article, self-care is “something that refuels us, rather than taking from us.” It is a deliberate activity that is done to improve our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Many attorneys fail to see the value in self-care. They see it as a waste of time or one more addition to an already full calendar. The result is widespread cases of depression, anxiety, and suicide within an industry that is steeped in a tradition of helping others. Let’s examine five reasons why you need to practice self-care.
Here are some extremely disturbing statistics, as reported by an American Bar Association article:
- Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States
- Suicides in this country occur at an average rate of one every 15 minutes
- For every completed suicide, there are approximately 25 attempts
- Approximately one-third of suicide victims test positive for alcohol at the time of death
- Approximately one-fifth of suicide victims test positive for opiates at the time of death
Why am I pointing out these troubling realities? Because lawyers struggle with depression and substance abuse at a higher rate than the general population, which means that attorneys are at a greater risk for suicide.
The challenges and responsibilities of practicing law can create a heavy burden. Some attorneys hold their client’s lives and freedom in their hands, and when the outcome is negative, the weight of guilt can prove too much to endure.
By practicing self-care, you can proactively work to protect your mental health. Taking time away from your practice gives you the opportunity to rejuvenate your mind and step away from the stress of the job. Simple activities like taking a hike, reading a trashy novel, or getting a relaxing massage can be of immeasurable value to your mental well-being.
Chances are that your presence is extremely important within your law practice. If you are a solo practitioner, no money comes in unless you are providing legal services. Even if you have a small practice with other capable attorneys on staff, you probably have clients who specifically rely on you and your expertise.
A serious physical illness can keep you out of the office for weeks and even months. While, there is no way to eliminate all possibility of sickness, you can take measures to keep yourself at your best physical form. If you like to run or dance, fit these activities into your schedule on a regular basis. If you prefer something more structured, get a personal trainer to help you get and stay in shape. Your physical health is extremely important – not to mention the euphoric feeling you’ll get from those wonderful endorphins. Physical health not only results in a healthy body, it also contributes to a healthy mind.
You are constantly helping others
The practice of law is a service-based profession, meaning that you are constantly providing services to those around you, including your clients, the judicial system, and your community. There is a reason why you have to take an oath for bar membership, but unfortunately, it can be a thankless job at times. Your client may be disappointed with the outcome of a case. The court may not accept your argument. The community may shun you for taking on a particular case. Each of these circumstances can take a serious toll on your well-being.
Especially if you are the type of person who personally takes on other’s problems, working in a profession where you are constantly caring for others can be extremely taxing. Employ tools that help you deal with these feelings. Whether you choose meditation, yoga, or talking to a therapist, having an outlet can help you deal with the responsibility of constantly helping others.
Your personal life
There is more to life than your law office and you need to give all of it adequate attention. Your family and friends have probably been with you from the beginning of this long journey. Don’t take them for granted or neglect them in favor of spending a few extra hours at the office. Not only will time away from work help strengthen these relationships, but it will also contribute to your own well-being.
Studies show that inadequate social ties are associated with higher rates of depression and life span. As stated in a Harvard Health article, a study of 309,000 people found that “lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.”
Your personal relationships are vital to your mental and physical health, so you have to take the necessary time to nurture them. Take those family vacations twice a year and go out for cocktails with college friends – or simply leave the office behind and show up at the dinner table every evening. The benefits are priceless.
Legal competence All of these solutions work together to make you a more effective and competent attorney. An absence of any one of them can have dire consequences for you and your legal practice. Your clients rely on you to use good judgment and make sound decisions on their behalf. To adequately meet these expectations, you have a duty to care for yourself. Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your weekly routine, so you can consistently be a healthy person and a competent lawyer.