The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

Exploiting anxiety’s Achilles heel

July 29 2014 29 July 2014

What makes lawyers anxious?

Their anxiety levels for one, if that isn’t too much of a tautology for you. That was one of the findings of a recent survey of the Canadian legal profession by LPAC, with respondents saying they were more concerned about mental health issues than about alcoholism or drug addiction.

Anxiety is part of the lawyer’s day-to-day, says Jeena Cho in a blog on lawyerist.com.

“As lawyers, we are constantly pressured to deliver results for our boss, opposing counsel, the court, and most importantly, our clients,” writes Cho, a partner at JC Law Group PC in San Francisco. “Regardless what can be controlled, we are expected to foresee what could go wrong with every correspondence, motion, hearing, email, settlement agreement, and contract. It is no wonder that so many lawyers suffer from anxiety, among other illnesses.”

Cho says she started practising meditation and mindfulness to deal with her stress, but that kind of inward-looking activity doesn’t work for everyone. She offers up some other tips from Joe Gilbert, a licensed professional counsellor in Raleigh, N.C.:  deep breathing, perhaps while reciting a mantra such as “this too shall pass;” smiling, which loosens up the facial muscles and helps you relax; being honest about what’s bothering you; and changing your behaviour – when something makes you anxious, take a walk, talk to someone, or write in a journal.

These may seem like simplistic instructions but sometimes all it takes is a little redirection –anxiety’s Achilles heel is lack of attention.

While some people say they work best under stress, Steven G. Mehta in his blog Meditation Matters says stress can actually inhibit a lawyer’s performance when it comes to negotiating deals. He cites these four relaxation tips from Mark Robert Waldman, author of Words Can Change Your Brain: run in place for 60 seconds; yawn 10 times even if you don’t feel like yawning – eventually you will feel like it, and your body will relax; roll your head 360 degrees, taking a full minute for a full rotation; or slowly stroke your hand or arm with your fingertip.

Mehta says exercises like these lower activity in the part of your brain that generates negative emotions.

There’s a wealth of information available on the internet about anxiety and other mental health issues, but it’s not always easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is why the CBA is partnering with Bell Canada and the Mood Disorder Society of Canada to develop online education and information materials for lawyers to better understand and combat the stigma of mental illness.

Funding will be shared among Bell Canada, The Law for the Future Fund, most law societies across the country, and LPAC, which has also committed funds for ongoing maintenance. The program is expected to be launched in February 2015.

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