This article is about how solicitors can deal with stress with handy tips and advice in regards to workplace stress.
Although everyone suffers from stress from time-to-time, our working life has a significant impact on our stress levels. In fact, a study by human resource consultants, Resource Systems, confirmed that being a solicitor is one of the most stressful professions you can choose.
Learning how to deal with stress is essential for everyone but it’s particularly important if you work in a high-stress environment. Solicitors routinely deal with life-changing work, tight deadlines and strict regulations.
Furthermore, many people who seek out legal services are going through upheaval in their personal or professional lives. When so much is at stake, solicitors often shoulder the burden and pay the price.
Understanding the symptoms of stress
Anxiety and stress can cause various different symptoms, so you may not even realise that you’re feeling overwhelmed. However, sometimes it’s clear when anxiety strikes. In times of acute panic, for example, you may have difficulty catching your breath, feel hot, start to sweat, feel nauseous and/or shaky.
When you’re dealing with stress over a long period of time, you may notice that your general wellbeing is affected. People who are chronically stressed may:
- Have trouble sleeping
- Loose or gain weight
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Become forgetful
- Become hyper-focused on work
- Be unable to ‘switch off’
- Experience more headaches
- Develop muscle tension and discomfort
- Suffer from digestive issues
- Begin smoking or consuming alcohol more often
All of these symptoms can actually make you more stressed, which turns into a vicious cycle. By addressing the issues causing you to feel stressed, you can successfully minimise these symptoms and restore your physical, mental and emotional health.
Minimising professional stress as a solicitor
How solicitors can deal with stress and anxiety can be tricky but having a reliable professional support network can make it easier to cope. Law firms with good in-house management ensure that their solicitors, paralegals and legal secretaries have the support they need at all times.
Working as a solicitor can involve long hours but these can be minimised, providing you have the resources required to undertake your duties. Even something as innocuous as a faulty printer or temperamental photocopier can add unnecessary time to your work day.
If you don’t have the resources or professional support you need, it’s important to address this with office managers or senior partners. By implementing new in-house strategies and updating equipment, you can manage your workload more successfully and minimise the time you spend on unnecessary tasks.
Professional stress can also be caused or exacerbated by performance anxiety. If you’re concerned about the quality of your work or you feel that your work is subject to a considerable amount of criticism, it’s important to tackle things head-on.
Common issues causing solicitor’s stress include:
- Impossible targets
- Job insecurity
- Limited promotion opportunities
- Unsupportive colleagues
- Inflexible hours
- Lack of supervision
Each of these issues can cause an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety for a solicitor but they can be addressed and satisfactorily resolved.
Identifying the causes of stress
Although you may recognise that you feel stressed, it can be difficult to identify the specific triggers. How solicitors can deal with stress, well keeping a stress diary for two or three weeks can be an effective way of identifying what causes you to feel overwhelmed.
Rather than simply stating that you lack supervision, make a note of instances in which you would have liked input from a supervisor or partner. Similarly, when you’re faced with impossible targets, highlight why they’re unattainable.
This will help you to clarify which elements of your job are causing you stress and will ensure you can find effective ways to manage them. When you reflect on your stress diary, you’ll be able to determine whether there are better ways to manage your workload and minimise your stress levels or whether you need to discuss your concerns with your managers.
Talking about workplace stress
Broaching stress-related issues at work can be daunting, particularly in the legal profession. In an industry that is highly competitive, a solicitor may feel unable to raise their concerns or discuss such issues. However, ignoring chronic stress can have a debilitating effect on your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as impacting upon the quality of your work. By talking to trusted colleagues, HR professionals and relatable supervisors, you can access the support you need.
In many instances, stress-inducing situations can actually be resolved quite easily. Whilst you may prefer more supervision, your colleagues may have assumed that you were happy to work autonomously. Once they’re aware of your concerns, it’s likely that will ensure you have more supervisory input.
Similarly, issues surrounding job insecurity and lack of promotion opportunities can be easily resolved. Every solicitor should have routine appraisals or feedback sessions with someone from their management team. This gives you an opportunity to discuss the direction of your career and the timeframe of potential promotions.
Whilst some firms will have the scope to offer full career development, smaller or more niche law firms may have limited promotion opportunities. If this is the case, you will have the information you need to determine whether you want to stay with the firm or start looking for new opportunities. Of course, you needn’t wait until your next appraisal to raise these issues. If you’re keen to discuss your career development, you should be able to make an appointment with the relevant personnel.
Dealing with criticism
A solicitor is required to undertake many varying tasks, some of which you may be more familiar with. Indeed, everyone has different talents and you may struggle in some areas more than others. If you’re receiving regular criticism at work, it will make you feel understandably anxious and stressed.
However, you can obtain the feedback you need to improve the quality of your work. When you receive criticism or your work is amended by a colleague, ask them for further information and an explanation. By approaching the issue constructively, you can highlight your willingness to learn and your commitment to improve.
Your senior partners and management want the firm to perform as well as possible, so it’s in their interest to provide you with the feedback and support you need. Once they see that you’re willing to learn from criticism and enhance your work, they should be more than happy to help you do so.
Managing stress outside of work
As well as working as a solicitor, you may have family commitments at home, intensive hobbies or medical concerns. There are endless sources of stress, so feeling overwhelmed may not solely be linked to your profession.
If you’re struggling with your work/life balance, it’s important to address your priorities and find ways to minimise the burden. If you’re responsible for running a family home, for example, you may want to look for additional support so that you get more free time. Alternatively, you may want to schedule your commitments differently so that they’re spread more evenly over the week.
Taking care of yourself is essential if you want to minimise stress and anxiety, so scheduling time for exercise and relaxation is crucial. Going to the gym, swimming or even going for a brisk walk can boost your endorphins and minimise your stress levels, for example.
Whilst it may seem counterproductive to schedule ‘me time’ when you’re so overrun with responsibility, taking the time to care for yourself will help you to cope with stress and anxiety more effectively.
In addition to this, there are a variety of sources of support for how solicitors can deal with stress. As well as in-house support at your firm, you can seek advice from confidential helplines and legal support networks, as well as your GP and medical providers. Whilst it can take some time to learn how to manage stress effectively, you can discover effective ways to cope with stress in a healthier way and to minimise the negative impact it has on you.