The legal profession is often heaving with stress, so in light of National Stress Day, we hear from Jane Jukes, a Psychotherapist, who shares insights into stress and how you can ensure it does not control you.
Stress: a bad thing, right?
Well, not necessarily, or at least it certainly is not that simple. According to Kelly McGonigal, a leading health psychologist, it is, in fact, our view of our stress that is the most damaging. A recent study revealed some quite shocking statistics. It is our belief around stress that dictates the outcome of its physical, mental and emotional effect on us. Whether it is our perception or reality that is correct, we can certainly not ignore the enormous impact stress has, not just for ourselves, but especially within our working environment.
Learning how to best cope with that stress is key to living a healthy life. Mental Health Foundation state that 74% of the UK workers report that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope with the stress they have had over the past year; 32% have had suicidal thoughts. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics state that 526,000 people report suffering work related stress, depression or anxiety (2016/17). 12.5 million working days were lost due to work related stress, depression or anxiety. The contributing factors were lack of support, bullying, lack of autonomy or imposed changes and workload. The weight of this work load responsibility, and their deadlines alone can be extremely anxiety provoking.
Some of us thrive off this, but others less so. The societal norm is to applaud this and indeed it is rarely crowded on the train to achieving the extra mile, so we know that both personally and professionally this attitude can work… until it doesn’t.
According to HSE, legal professionals are third on the list of most stressful jobs and fourth in the suicide rate. The problem with becoming more resilient is that you are improving on your already remarkable ability to keep going, despite the level of extreme demands.
When struggling with high levels of stress and work life balance, it may be that one is seeping into the other.
Combine this with the natural tendency of the legal profession taking responsibility of being one of the leading factors contributing to depression, and you have a recipe of disaster. Do not allow your career to define your sense of self: your self-worth needs to amount to more than your working ability.
A certain amount of stress is a normal part of life. How we respond to it is key. One of the most important things is to take control of what you can change and try to accept the things you can’t. We often wrongly assign our feelings.
Our conscience self-allocates responsibility for stress in an area of our lives, but similar to anxiety, it’s not always easy to ascertain the cause, which could be something you are not always likely to suspect, or, an unrelated factor such as marriage: we can often blame our marriage for work troubles, or vice versa.
It is often best to remember that the winning traits of your professional life may be hugely detrimental in your personal life. Be aware in the act of winning, you may be losing what is truly important to you.
When struggling with high levels of stress and work life balance, it may be that one is seeping into the other. Although it is easier said than done, try to set boundaries; create a clear distinction between personal time and work time.
These boundaries have become more difficult to impose with technological advances. Our devices can fulfil our deepest desire for personal interactions, feelings of self-worth or, simply, feed our feeling of relevance: ‘I’m in demand, therefore I am loved and necessary’. This, in turn, feeds our egos and temporarily makes us feel more secure.
In fact, some suggest the devices themselves have become attachment figures or security blankets fulfilling our unconscious needs. Next time you are on the train have a look around and see the “sippy cups” of latte and iPhones acting as security blankets, that we cling to in order to comfort us, often even without realising it. Be aware of your unconscious ‘child’ looking for validation and recognition. Do not allow yourself to sit as the chairman of the committee meeting in your mind. Your inner tyrannical self can be quite successful at getting what it wants but can also drive everything else over a cliff.
Do not suffer in silence: work smarter not harder.
Problems arise when the balance between our work life and personal life becomes skewed, and our work life starts to take over. This may sound simple but the most important thing to remember when this happens, is to take control. Create proper boundaries between your work and your home, including your phone. If necessary, book time off from your phone and all other electronic devices. Quite literally diarize time off. If you can’t, you may need to alter the way you work, during your work hours only.
We all know our billing hours rarely reflect the hours that we have actually put into the working week. Try to be aware of not relating to yourself as a means to an end.
Are you using your drive to succeed as a way to bulldoze through life?
Often this high stress way of being can overshadow the simple fact that you ought to be the priority in this life. Meeting the needs of your professional life can help to make us feel invincible – an intoxicating cocktail! Work can be as addictive as a drug – if you are too hooked on it, you struggle to do something about it.
Make sure the voice inside your head is on your side. Above all, be kind to yourself and those around you.
Top Tips on Tackling Stress:
- If work is getting on top of you speak to somebody.
- Do not suffer in silence: work smarter not harder.
- Be active.
- Take time to connect with people you care about, including yourself.
- Engage in hobbies or challenge yourself to learn something new.
- Help other people. Its amazing how this virtue feeds us in ways we don’t truly understand or appreciate.
- Consider finding a mindfulness course in your area.
Videos to watch:
- Consider watching the “How to make stress your friend” TED talk. Mindfulness meditations in the morning and evening can have a remarkably positive psychological impact.
- You may also want to watch Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture on YouTube… inspirational stuff!
These suggestions may sound simple however when we are stressed and overwhelmed sometimes it the simplest things we forget. Prevention is better than cure.
If life becomes too overwhelming, consider seeking therapeutic support. Make sure the voice inside your head is on your side. Above all, be kind to yourself and those around you. When retirement looms you will be glad you did!
Janes’ approach is first and foremost orientated towards a natural approach to wellness. She believes talking therapies and Eudeamon’s natural health supplements used as part of a programme of exercise, healthy eating, and therapeutic support will help you embark along the path to a healthier way of being. She feels that there is a place for pharmaceutical intervention but also a more natural alternative.