Being in the legal field can be extremely stressful, even if you’re on top of all your cases. The long hours, never-ending caseload, and high-pressure environment can begin to weigh on lawyers, which can lead to anxiety and burnout. A 2022 ALM study showed that 67% of attorneys suffer from anxiety and 37% had a mental health-related problem within the last year alone. Though it is very common in the legal profession, these feelings of worry and stress as well as physical symptoms such as breathing rapidly, sweating, feeling lightheaded, or accelerated heart rate, can be debilitating.

Stress can exist in any workplace, but studies have shown that the legal field is one of the most high anxiety careers, and the statistics are only rising. Over 74% of the attorneys surveyed in the 2022 ALM study reported that their work environment contributed to the mental health issues they were experiencing. Factors such as client requests, lack of sleep, the stress of making billable hours, always being on call, and the pressure to be perfect all added up to persistent feelings of anxiety. The pressure of being on top of so many projects while working to make billable hours can be overwhelming. Many lawyers feel like they can’t even take a vacation without having to make up those hours later. But without being able to take a break from work, persistent feelings of anxiety can have dire consequences. A 2023 study done by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota showed that over 28% of lawyers all over the country reported depression as well as elevated stress levels and feelings of loneliness. These numbers are concerning, but by making the effort to prioritize both mental health and career, hopefully, these numbers will begin to go down.

Sometimes it can feel like anxiety actually enhances performance and gives you a little extra push to succeed at work, even if it feels unpleasant. Intense worry about arguing a case in court can mean that we go overboard to prepare or feel pressure to do well. However, when the anxiety and stress of the work begin to affect your sense of self and relationships, it may be time to reprioritize and seek help. The good news is that there are some easy ways to de-stress and deal with anxiety that will make you feel better in the long run.

Here are five strategies for reducing your anxiety and taking care of your mental health while working in the legal field.

Get Some Exercise 

Your physical health can have a huge impact on your mental health. Endorphins released by exercise have been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety while giving you a boost of energy. Exercising can create a positive feedback loop by raising your mood and lowering stress levels while empowering you as you get stronger and can find success in lifting a heavier weight or adding one more mile to your run. It can be difficult to squeeze time to move your body in your busy schedule, but even a 15-minute walk can help you burn off stress and reconnect with yourself.

Lower Alcohol and Caffeine Intake

Though coffee during a morning meeting and drinks after work seem like crucial parts of your life at the firm, these substances may be exacerbating your anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant that can trigger your nervous system’s “fight or flight” response if you’re anxious. This can feel like sweaty palms, increased heart rate, and racing thoughts. Try switching out your morning cup for decaf, which contains 97% less caffeine than regular coffee and won’t heighten your anxiety.

Alcohol on the other hand is a depressant that can affect the way we handle stress and anxiety. Though it may feel like it helps in the short term, a drink can actually make anxiety symptoms worse when the alcohol wears off. Alcohol affects the chemicals in our brain that normally cause feelings of relaxation. However, in someone with anxiety, alcohol can actually use up the stores of those relaxing chemicals, causing elevated feelings of worry, panic, and stress after the alcohol wears off. Try a mocktail at your firm’s next happy hour to avoid dreaded hangover anxiety spirals.

Get Outside 

When going through intense periods at work, it’s easy to spend a day sitting at the computer without going outside. However, being in nature is one of the easiest and best ways to lower anxiety levels and even improve your focus. Studies have shown that being outside lowers feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety while raising feelings of empathy, calm, and connectedness. Time in nature also has the power to improve cognitive powers including memory and attention. Take a walk or read a book in the park on your lunch break to give your brain a bit of a break, and return back to the office with a fresh sense of calm and focus.

Seek Out Joy

Working long hours can mean that our relationships and hobbies can take a backseat in our lives. But by spending all of your time and energy on your career, it can become the only thing you think about and worry about. Make sure that you are spending time on the weekends doing things that have nothing to do with work and spending time with people who don’t work with you! This can be extremely beneficial and help to ground you when things feel particularly anxiety-provoking. Chat with a friend on the phone, read a novel, go bowling, or join a pickleball club. Having something totally different than your professional life to explore and bring you joy will feel like a breath of fresh air.

Seek Help 

Dealing with anxiety can be difficult and symptoms can come and go. Sometimes you need to get help to manage these symptoms so you can be your best in and out of the office. Think about reaching out to a professional who can guide you through the process of alleviating your anxiety. Therapists or counselors can work with you to find strategies to manage symptoms and work through your thoughts to find the root causes of your anxiety. Together you can create a toolbox of coping mechanisms to serve you in the most stressful situations.

Mental health can be difficult to prioritize in a fast-paced work environment, especially in such an intense field as the legal field. But in order to succeed in your career, prioritizing taking care of yourself is crucial. This can start with managing your anxiety, so feelings of worry and panic don’t hold you back. Employing strategies like these will help you to succeed in your career and in your life outside of work.


Until the next Opening the Doors post.

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