How lawyers respond to stress


Another insightful blog from our member LawCare:

When our bodies tell us that all is not well, do we listen? Many professionals, when faced with unpleasant symptoms, push those warning signals aside in their desire to appear completely confident and competent as they continue in their high-pressure career.

I was more than a little dubious when I did some research in order to prepare LawCare’s factsheet on stress and was amazed to discover the list of illnesses which can allegedly be caused by stress. Headaches I’ll accept, maybe even high blood pressure and heart disease, but paralysis and cancer?

But I have changed my mind about stress related illnesses, and my left elbow is the reason.

Twenty years ago my sister experienced some stiffness and pain in her left elbow which turned out to be a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer. She had a major operation and luckily survived. Three years ago I started to experience similar pain and stiffness in my left elbow. Naturally I was concerned that my sister’s cancer had a genetic link, but my GP seemed to think little of it and prescribed a gel to rub on, which made little difference. For several weeks I worried about my increasingly painful elbow whilst working, raising my family, running a youth group etc. Then we flew to Florida for a much-needed family holiday and only a week into the trip I realised that my elbow no longer hurt.

Discovering that my elbow pain was stress related has led me to accept that there is indeed a relationship between a whole variety of symptoms and our own feelings of being under pressure. In fact, now it seems obvious that the body and mind are so closely related that mental pressure should lead to physical symptoms.

That’s partly why it’s so important that we address stress, manage and control it, and learn to deal with it before it does lead to something more unpleasant and permanent. That’s why LawCare is here for lawyers.

The legal profession is particularly stressful. Yes, there are often high salaries to compensate for the high-pressure work, but it is extremely highly regulated with many complex and ever-changing rules. Lawyers deal with the public at crucial flashpoints in their lives – divorces, deaths or brushes with the law – and with companies, corporations and entities with similarly demanding needs, often with large sums of money at stake, as well as a reputation. The training is long and arduous with no guarantee of a position afterwards, which is why LawCare also supports trainees and law students. In fact, we support the families and staff of lawyers too, because the issues faced by members of the legal profession do rub off on those around them.

LawCare is funded by grants from the professional bodies which regulate the legal profession, although it is completely independent of those bodies. The LawCare helpline is staffed not by professional counsellors but by lawyers trained in telephone counselling. This means that callers to LawCare’s helpline can speak to someone who understands the pressures that they’re under, and recognises the significance of a missed deadline in a litigation matter, or supervision issues in a training contract. LawCare’s helpline offers support, information, signposting, reassurance and encouragement to lawyers going through tough times. Where appropriate we can refer callers to a volunteer supporter – a practising lawyer who has been through a similar problem (for example, depression, workplace bullying) and who can give them one-to-one support as they work through the issue.

The results of unaddressed stress, for anyone, can be unpleasant, ranging from a slightly stiff elbow to a heart-attack or mental illness. Despite the professional veneer, lawyers are not immune to stress; indeed working with traumatised people and in a high-pressure environment can make them more susceptible to stress related issues. It’s in the general public’s best interests to ensure that the lawyers we turn to in difficult moments in our lives are not struggling with their own concerns.

If you know a lawyer who may be going through a tough time – or even one who isn’t – tell them about LawCare. Just as you never know when you might need them, you never know when they might need us.

Contact LawCare on: 0800 279 6888

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