Lawyers suffer disproportionately from stress, depression, anxiety and addictive behaviour, compared with other high pressured professions with similar work demands. Why is this?
Whether you are a barrister, solicitor, paralegal, counsel, legal executive, trainee, legal apprentice, pupil or judge, there is an unspoken but pervasive message in the legal sector that, “It's not OK, not to be OK." This message comes from expectations embedded in the legal culture which surround you on a daily basis and influence and distort your own self-expectations and demands. Do any of the expectations in the outer ring below, or the mantras you tell yourself in the middle ring, sound familiar to you?
As a lawyer, you may experience not only the daily grind of these pervasive expectations, but also pressures specific to your environment relating to the people you work with and for, and the working ‘culture’. All of these pressures, those coming from external sources and the ones you may have placed on yourself, will have been amplified by the economic uncertainty and swingeing cuts affecting you and your client base.
It is not uncommon for these pressures to become too much. Trying to cope with them, combined with the encompassing message that “It's not OK, not to be OK” creates a toxic combination where it can be extremely difficult to admit, even to yourself, that you are struggling and need help.
So what can happen?
- you wait until you are in crisis before considering sharing with another.
- you blame yourself for how you are and withdraw, feeling isolated and alone.
- you have waves of feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
- you hide how you are, like a secret, and feel fake when around others.
- you lose confidence in your ability to look after yourself, make decisions, work and be in relationships.
You can end up experiencing some or all of the inner circle, believing there isn’t a way out. If you see yourself in the circles, please read on.