5 Ways Lawyers Can improve Their Mental Well-Being

Have you ever noticed that it is much easier to tackle problems after you have had a good night’s sleep? Or how you feel less stressed after exercising? Have you ever realized how much easier it is to communicate with others when you focus on the present? These are a few examples of being mentally well. When you are mentally well, you are able to recognize your abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and rewardingly, and contribute to your community. 


Because of the demands of lawyers’ responsibilities—making decisions that significantly impact people’s lives, the stressors of an intellectually demanding job and long hours—legal professionals are more prone than others to experiencing burnout, depression, anxiety and other problems that can affect mental well-being. If you are finding it difficult to manage your mental well-being, try one or all of the following methods to get your mental health back on track.


1. Banish negative thoughts

Have you heard it? The negative thought that pops into your head when you make a mistake, when you say the wrong words, when you wake up in the morning, when you are late? It might tell you that you are stupid, that you are ugly, that you are not good at your job. Learn to recognize these thoughts and challenge them. Replace them with something positive. For example, if you double-booked meetings, and the voice tells you that you are unorganized and a failure, tell yourself that you will do a better job of keeping your calendar up to date. If you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and the voice tells you that you are ugly and old, squash it. Tell yourself that you look pretty good for your age! Just as we start to believe our negative thoughts, if you replace them with positive affirmations, you will start to believe them.


2. Make time for self-reflection

Just as banishing negative thoughts is important, so is taking the time to reflect on your accomplishments. Accomplishments can be as big or small as you want them to be. Consider some of these accomplishments:


  • Arriving early to work. 
  • Helping an elderly woman when she dropped her purse.
  • Reading a book to your child.
  • Brushing your teeth.
  • Establishing a time-saving procedure at the court that was well-received by all.
  • Exercising.


Think of at least three big or small accomplishments before you go to bed. This will help you fulfill your sense of purpose and improve your mental well-being.


3. Do something you enjoy

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? Is it your work, learning a new skill, doing something outdoors, reading, or doing something musical or artistic? When you make time to do something you enjoy, you build your self-worth, which can improve your mental health and wellbeing, and people with hobbies are less likely to experience stress, low mood, and depression.  


4. Focus on the present

Focusing on the present, or mindfulness, is not just a popular phrase. It’s an evidence-backed lifestyle that psychologists recommend for those struggling with anxiety and other mental health issues. Being in the present moment, or the “here and now,” means that you are aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment. For example, say you are at home having dinner with your family, but your mind keeps going back to the details of the day’s trial that focused on a violent crime. It is difficult to turn off the images in your head. You are not focusing on the present. But if you concentrate on where you are at this moment—a warm and relaxed dinner with your loved ones—you can start to train your brain to focus on the present. You cannot go back and change anything that happened throughout the day. Embrace the here and now of this moment with your family. Tell yourself not to be distracted by events from the past or to worry about the future. You cannot change it! Center yourself in the here and now, and focus all of your attention on the present moment. This helps relieve stress and anxiety.


5. Communicate  and connect

As a legal professional, you were probably taught to be confidential about certain aspects of your job, which makes it difficult to talk to friends or family members who do not have the same career as you. If you feel frustrated, overwhelmed or burned out, it is helpful to talk to others in a similar situation. If there is another lawyer in your area who you are comfortable reaching out to, ask them if you can have some of their time to talk shop. You will probably find out that other colleagues are experiencing many of the same challenges that you are. It helps to discuss and learn about how other lawyers cope with different situations. Connecting with others gives you a better sense of belonging and reduces feelings of loneliness.


If you find it difficult to find another legal professional to talk to, you can contact the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, a confidential organization dedicated to helping Ohio’s judges, attorneys, and law students obtain treatment for substance use disorders and mental health issues (ohiolap.org; (800) 348-4343). 


If you are a judge or magistrate who needs assistance, contact the Judicial Advisory Group (https://www.ohiolap.org/judges; (800) 348-4343), a confidential peer-based assistance group that helps judges and magistrates with personal and professional issues. 


Connections with other people outside of the courtroom are also important. When you embrace good relationships, you not only build your sense of belonging and self-worth, but you also provide emotional support to others. You can nourish these relationships in many ways. For example, you could have at least one meal a day with your family, make a weekly or monthly get-together with your friends, volunteer, or turn off the TV or your phone to make more time for meaningful conversations with your loved ones.


It’s ok to ask for help


If you find that your mental health is keeping you from your responsibilities and interrupting your normal activities, you should seek help. It’s ok to ask for help! You would ask your doctor for help if you had chest pains, right? Asking for mental health help is the same as asking for help for any other ailment, and recovery is possible. You just need to recognize it, understand it and talk about it.

Mote is executive director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program.