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Effective Stress Management for the Seriously Curious Attorney

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In the demanding world attorneys face, effective stress management is an essential skill. Managing stress allows you to excel in the workplace while maintaining a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Unmanaged stress increases anxiety, depression, anger, substance abuse, and feelings of hopelessness- all of which decrease quality of life and workplace productivity. In fact, a study done at John Hopkins University found that out of 104 occupational groups, lawyers were the most likely to suffer from depression- more than three times more likely than average. And according to a Campbell University study, 11% of attorneys in the state of North Carolina contemplate suicide at least once a month. San Francisco’s Hindi Greenberg, President of Lawyers in Transition, has seen hundreds of unhappy attorneys contemplating leaving the practice of law.

Depression can be understood as basically a change phenomenon. That is, depression is part of or a reaction to change. There are three major factors as main contributors to depression.
1). lack of emotional resilience. Inflexibility, lack of insight and rigidity can cause panic and depression.
2.) lack of physiological resilience. As stress accumulates in a vulnerable individual, mediating brain chemicals are depleted. Antidepressant medication can bring these chemicals into more balance. Non-pharmacological activities such as appropriate exercise and humor can also enhance physiologic functions.
(3. lack of an adequate social support system. Isolation perpetuates depression, while resilience is promoted through a network of friends and confidants.
Attention to all these factors produces greater self-esteem and a more flexible person able to manage the external depleting factors that often support depression.

An ever-increasing number of attorneys are complaining of persistent and excessive anxiety. “Persistent anxiety” can be described as a condition that results from prolonged periods of anxiety. “Anxiety” is a state of uneasiness, fear, or worry, brought on by real or perceived threats to our safety or well being. The immediate physical responses set off by anxiety include increased heart and breathing rates, dilated blood vessels, and tensed muscles. The emotional responses include uneasiness, apprehension, and dread. One lawyer described her anxiety as “I used to love my work, but lately I feel so drained and irritable, I dread going to the office. And, these headaches… Of course, I haven’t had a vacation in years…”

Another lawyer expressed her emotional state as follows: ” I always thought I was a worrier. I’d feel keyed up and unable to relax. At time it would come and go, and at times it would be constant. It could go on for days. I’d have terrible sleeping problems. There were times I’d wake up wired in the middle of the night. I had trouble concentrating, even reading the newspaper or a novel. Sometimes I’d feel a little lightheaded. My heart would race or pound. And that would make me worry more.”

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