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Chronic Stress: The Causes, the Effects, and the Solutions
Modern life is full of hassles, frustrations, demands, and deadlines. For many individuals, especially those in the legal profession, stress has become so commonplace that it may seem to be a normal way of life.
While stress can provide motivation and may even improve performance in small doses, operating in a constant emergency mode exacts a high price on the body and mind. Your body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats – every type of stressor stimulates the primitive “flight or fight” response that releases a flood of stress hormones.
The brain prepares itself for the challenge by calling the body’s systems to action: the heart beats faster, the muscles tighten, blood pressure increases, the breath quickens, and the senses become sharper.
Over time, the body’s repetitive response to stress can lead to and/or exacerbate numerous physical and mental health problems, including: heart disease, obesity, substance abuse, depression, job burnout, premature aging, infertility, and pain of any kind.
Pathways to Well-Being
Although some degree of stress is unavoidable, it is possible to reduce many stressors and improve one’s ability to deal with those which remain. The foundation of successful stress reduction consists of (1) establishing realistic expectations of oneself and others, (2) approaching situations with a positive attitude, and (3) prioritizing intrinsic values above external ones.
It is essential to establish realistic expectations regarding hours of work, case loads, acceptable legal maneuvers, and other aspects of a practice, even though these changes may seem foreign and produce discomfort initially. Remember, if the goal is to lead a healthy and fulfilling life (one not riddled with stress), then the course of action is to pursue a work-life balance in which one thrives both professionally and personally.
Negative thinking is probably the single most significant contributor to stress.
Research also shows that people primarily concerned with the personal and interpersonal aspects of their lives — personal growth, relationships, helping others, or improving their community, are significantly happier and more satisfied with their lives. Conversely, individuals whose major focus is on external rewards and values over which they have minimal control such as affluence, fame, and power, experience less happiness and fulfillment.
Based on his research with law students and lawyers, Florida State University Law Professor Lawrence Krieger has identified “thinking and acting like a lawyer” as another factor that creates stress and can result in a disconnection from basic values and feelings. Krieger cautions that the analytical thinking and defensive posture equated with being a successful lawyer must be paired with self-awareness to ensure it is used appropriately. Looking for the weakness in opposing council and reinforcing your counter position may win cases, but it won’t support healthy personal relationships. As one lawyer quipped, “I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends.”
Successfully Countering Stress
To reduce stress and its negative effects:
Once you establish a clear picture of your major stressors, create a plan to:
Lastly, share your list and plan with a trusted person before you implement it.
Help Guide.Org: Quick stress relief tools and in depth information on stress and other mental health issues.
Practicing Law & Wellness: Modern Strategies for Lawyers Dealing with Anxiety, Addiction, and Depression: A DVD from the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program offers insight into issues commonly faced by lawyers and explores a variety of strategies for reducing stress and achieving a work-life balance.
Additional articles on stress and related issues can be found on the Articles web page.
*Kasser, T. and Ryan, R., A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of Financial Success as a Central Life Aspiration, 65 J. PERS. & SOC. PYCHOL. 410 (1993), and Further Examining the American Dream: Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals, 22 PERS. & SOC. PYCH. BULL. 281 (1996)