Are you happy practicing law, and if so what keeps you happy? Recently it seems that almost every time I read an article on lawyers it is about the high rate of depression in the legal field. Why do lawyers have such a high rate of depression?

My observations of law school students and lawyers are that they typically possess similar character traits and respond to stress in a similar fashion. Lawyers often fall into the “Type A Personality,” which includes the following traits:

  • Ambitious
  • Over achievers
  • Self-critical
  • Perfectionists in almost every aspect of their lives
  • Competitive in every aspect of their lives
  • Easily angered or hostile
  • Strive to achieve, but often don’t feel any joy in their accomplishments
  • sense of urgency – always “do it now” mentality

Although these traits aren’t necessarily bad, they can cause physical and emotional problems when they dominate every aspect of your life. Different areas of your life, such as work and social, require being flexible and accommodating. You may need to be critical in some areas of your life, but if you carry that over into your personal relationships it can be very destructive. Managing life this way can lead to excessive stress, which in turn can lead to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Having a constant sense of urgency can be exhausting and lead to burnout at work, play, and home. There are times when you need to be watching the clock, but always feeling like you are struggling against time can lead to unnecessary stress, impatience and a feeling that your work isn’t being completed to the best of your ability.

Here are some tips to help you maintain your sanity:

  1. Recognize these traits in yourself and how you apply them to your life. Recognizing that there might be a better way is the first step in making changes. Make a list of traits that you see in yourself. Write down where in your life you apply them and how they impact each area of your life.
  2. Everyone makes mistakes. Learn from them and improve for the next time.
  3. Seek out friends and family to talk to honestly about how you feel.
  4. Keep a journal on how you feel, and rate the strength of that feeling on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being very little and 10 being a lot. For example if you are feeling depressed over an incident that occurred at work, write down the incident and where you were on the scale. Writing is very therapeutic, and rating it puts it in perspective and helps you decide what your next step is.
  5. Don’t ignore your mental health. Without taking action, mental health problems only get worse, not better. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  6. Manage your stress by finding healthy outlets such as exercise, a hobby, volunteering, etc.
  7. Be honest with yourself. Practicing law can be stressful. Recognizing this will help you make choices on how to manage that stress.
  8. Find balance in your life. Look at your values and decide what is important to you. Remember that balance is fluid and what might need focus today may be different then what needs your focus tomorrow.
  9. Learn to breathe. Breathing is within your control, but most adults don’t breathe in a way that will reduce stress. Learn to breathe deeply. Try this: Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of 5. Hold your breath for 5, and then breathe out slowly to the count of 5. Repeat 5 times. Notice how you feel when you are done. Practice this breathing and you will be able to use it when you are stressed.
  10. A professional is someone who knows when to ask for help and guidance and the resources that are available to them.

This Tip Sheet has been written by Lisa Caplan. Lisa is a Licensed Certified Social Worker at the clinical level (LCSW-C) and a Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC). She has over 15 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma.

For Assistance Please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential assistance. Jim Quinn, Lawyer Assistance Director, 443.703.3041, jquinn@msba.org; Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC, Lawyer Assistance Counselor, 443.703.3042, lcaplan@msba.org. Toll free 800.492.1964

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