The ability to deal with stress is vital at any time, but particularly in this period of uncertainty. LawCare provides some useful tips on how to stay in control.
The legal profession can be a very stressful one, and prolonged stress can lead to physical problems such as headaches, high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as mental illnesses such as depression. It can also lead to family problems, since the stressed person becomes quite short-tempered, and even addiction, as some people turn to alcohol and drugs to try to cope. However, not all stress is bad – it can be a helpful motivator and prevent us from becoming bored.
Stress is your reaction to the levels of pressure upon you.
- In the first stage you may find yourself feeling overworked, uncertain of your own abilities, and reluctant to take days off.
- In the second stage you may find yourself tired, irritated and frustrated, working long hours but seeming to achieve less. You may be skipping meals, or “comfort eating”
- In the third stage you may feel resentful or guilty, you will probably be neglecting your family and friends, and will no longer be enjoying work or life
- Finally you may withdraw completely, succumb to illness or drug or alcohol abuse, feel a failure or completely break down emotionally and mentally.
It is also possible to become stressed about matters inappropriately. If you find yourself worrying or becoming unduly anxious about matters in the past, matters which you know are trivial, or things which are related to someone else and do not affect or concern you, you may need to speak to your GP or a counsellor.
Where is your stress coming from?
Identifying where your stress comes from can be a good first step in dealing with it. Is it primarily from your career, colleagues, the work itself, financial concerns or issues at home? One of the best ways to identify sources of stress is to keep a stress diary for two or three weeks. When you begin to feel stressed, look at what you are doing and what you were doing before, and note these down. Any physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach pain, should also be noted. After a while you may see a pattern emerging, and become better at identifying what it is that makes you stressed.
Some Suggestions for Dealing with Stress
- Eat healthily and exercise regularly. Take good care of yourself physically.
- Give up smoking. You may think it relaxes you, but in actual fact nicotine only creates a new stress – that of craving for a cigarette.
- Cut down on the amount you drink, or avoid alcohol altogether. There is a tendency for stressed people to drink too much and this could lead to a dangerous addiction. In additon, alcohol is a depressant and is liable to make stress problems worse, not better.
- Learn to relax and unwind, perhaps by meditating or by chatting to a trusted friend or family member, or by indulging a hobby.
- Get a decent night's sleep, the longer the better.
- Plan and book a holiday with your family or friends, and ensure that the office knows that you will be off for at least a week no matter what crisis should occur, and are incommunicado. Ensure that your work is covered in your absence. Use your full holiday entitlement.
- When you are feeling very stressed, stop! Ask yourself what is the worst thing that would happen if you did not do the tasks before you, and whether it will still matter a week later.
- Protect your time by not over committing yourself. Learn to say ‘no’ and mean it.
- Be realistic about deadlines. Being over optimistic usually means increasing the pressure on yourself and letting people down later.
- Build some ‘breathing space’ into your day. When you plan the work you will do, leave a good hour or so for those little things that crop up
- Take short work breaks. Walk around the office or have a cup of coffee (not too much though!). Stretch tired muscles. A five minute break every hour will actually increase your concentration whilst reducing stress.
- Take a proper lunch break and do not work while you are eating.
- If a task seems overwhelming, break it down into bits and deal with them one at a time.
- If you are getting impatient about something, ask yourself why you are letting it annoy you. Take some deep breaths and relax!
- Open mail with the waste paper bin handy, or get an assistant, if you have one, to sort your mail first and weed out all the junk.
- Prioritise! Put all the things you have to do in order of importance. Think about how much time each task will take, then add half that time again. In an eight hour work day you have six hours of actual working time, plus one hour for a lunch break (which is important), and another hour for unavoidable and unforeseen matters. Put everything you're not going to be able to deal with today out of the way. Then gather together all the information, files, documents and telephone numbers you'll need. The best time to do this might be first thing in the morning, or perhaps before you leave the office at night so that you can get started right away the next day.
- Each day list which tasks are essential, which you would ideally like to do if possible and what it would be good to do if you have time at the end of the day – you might like to call these you A, B, C and D lists. “Absolutely must do today”, “Best done today if possible”, “Could wait a day or two” and “Delegate or Dump”.
- If someone asks you to do another task, don't be afraid to say "If I do this I won't have time to deal with this other file. Which would you like me to do?" Let the onus of your being unable to do everything fall on someone else. Turning down additional work will not make you look half as bad as failing to do work you have accepted, or doing it badly.
- If a matter arises, such as a phone call, which isn't important, don't be afraid to say "This isn't a good time, please call back later".
- Don't subscribe to journals and periodicals you never have time to read.
- Fifteen minutes before you're due to leave work - stop working! This is the time to organise everything ready for the next day, clear away files, pat yourself on the back for getting so far through your A and B lists, and start winding down and switching off. That way you should actually be ready to leave in time to catch your train.
LawCare can be contacted on 0800 279 6888, Monday to Friday 9am to 7:30pm, Weekends/Public Holidays 10am to 4pm, 365 days of the year. Alternatively visit our website www.lawcare.org.uk for lots of really helpful information.