While we are all working from home, it’s a good time to take measures for self-care. Likewise, carving out a space to soothe anxiety and protect our mental health as much as possible.
Working in cramped quarters with family members nearby and pets underfoot, amid a national health crisis, creates some unique challenges. I read a recent article about how to stay calmer while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and current political climate. The article talks about how we all can protect our mental health.
One of the first suggestions to maintain a mental equilibrium is to refrain from obsessively following the coronavirus updates. The article states “Protect yourself from the mental fallout. Those include limiting your exposure to emotionally disruptive cues. . . Unless you’re an epidemiologist or public health official, chances are you don’t need a real-time play-by-play. As with most anxiety-inducing subjects, the big-picture awareness will probably suffice. As such, limiting social media and disabling worry-inducing notifications is a good idea. According to the CDC’s guidance for managing anxiety and stress during the coronavirus pandemic, you should “take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.”
Aside from trying to keep anxiety in check, it’s a good idea to turn off the frequent news notifications on our phones while we’re trying to get in a productive workday from home. The usual rhythms of how we work, go through our emails, and interact with clients have been upended. It’s important to cut out extraneous distractions wherever possible. Of course, sometimes news is really pressing or a family member really needs attention. That said, creating a general framework for business hours is helpful.
During this challenging time, those working from home (and staying in all the time) are also facing an “increasing sense of isolation and loneliness. As events and get-togethers are canceled, trips are postponed and remote working and ‘social distancing’ increase, we’ll be getting less of something human beings are hard-wired to need—a sense of connection.”
It’s kind of a double whammy for the legal profession. That sense of connection is something that many lawyers have already found lacking in their daily lives during normal times. Statistics show that “lawyers already experience high levels of isolation and loneliness, both of which undermine physical and mental health and increase the risk of substance misuse and addiction.”
Therefore, lawyers working from home during social distancing should keep in mind purposeful ways to combat feelings of isolation. These feelings can no doubt exacerbate anxiety. The article had some suggestions for staying connected, including “schedul[ing] time to check in (by phone or video) with family and friends” because “in a time of increased stress, a sense of connection can be transformative and, for some, lifesaving.”
Maybe it’s a good time to check on colleagues you haven’t heard from in a few days. Just to make sure they are OK.
Another thing to keep an eye on for yourself and your friends and colleagues is the risk of overusing substances. Lawyers already have a heightened risk in this area. Health guidelines suggest that “excessive alcohol use disrupts and impairs the immune system” — something none of us need right now.
This year’s election also promises to be a potential stressor and the article points out that “it’s an environment that you’ll be required to take proactive steps to mitigate if you want to emerge unscathed.” Just as with the coronavirus coverage, the author recommends limiting exposure to negative social media and other news about the contentious election. It also recommended “prioritizing and nurturing a sense of connection with others” through activities like “joining social groups or clubs, engaging with your community, volunteering, and taking part in religious, spiritual or cultural activities.”
It may seem a bit ironic that when busy lawyers are forced to work from home and may finally have time for activities that can enhance their social connections, social distancing and shelter in place orders have made them seem impossible. However, some of these activities may be still be taking place virtually and that’s a great place to start.
Try to engage with your house of worship or watch services online, spread the word on charities that need help, attend a virtual club meeting, or stay involved in other virtual activities within your community. Then when things return to normal, you will hopefully have developed a different routine that includes more time for the things that matter to you and foster a sense of connection, such as family, faith, community, or service and you can do them in person, which the author points out is much better than through social media.
Law firms can also do their part. It will help the whole organization if as the article suggests they “promote activities to support health and well-being in the coming months…. it really is something that organizations of just about any size and budget can accommodate.” One thing to check out coming up in a while is Lawyer Well-Being Week in early May.
Anything individuals and employers can do to help manage stress and protect mental health will certainly benefit all of us. Focusing on taking positive steps which are in our control can help when things seem so out of control.
If you would like to read more you can also check out this article. Minds Over Matters: An Examination of Mental Health in the Legal Profession.
I also would like to invite you to join us weekly for networking. There is no charge. It’s our way of getting a number of interesting people together and connecting in this time of social distancing. You can learn more here.