Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that being a lawyer is the most stressful occupation in the United States.

One of the many ways I can help lawyers reduce their stress to improve overall well-being inside and outside of the workplace is through education. Creating and leading Continuing Legal Education (CLE) wellness programs is a way I can help lawyers combat elevated stress levels, work-life imbalance, and career burnout.

In June 2024, I led a CLE titled “Working Wellness: Healthy Solutions for Lawyer Well-Being,” with over 2,600 people registered in the summer, when people are taking vacation – a clear indication that the topic resonated with many. I am sharing some healthy strategies from the program in the hopes that many more lawyers (and anyone else who happens to be reading this) may benefit from them.

Before we jump into the strategies, I want to bring to your attention the signs of stress and chronic burnout in lawyers which can manifest in various physical and mental symptoms, including, but not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues / Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Fatigue / Irritability /Moodiness
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Increased susceptibility to infections and inflammation

Any of these conditions can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, eating disorders, and PTSD. If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, these tips may help you, however, addressing them with your preferred healthcare professional is always a good idea. 

“You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response.” – Tony Dungy

What can lawyers do to better control their attitude, approach, and response when stressful situations arise?

Be prepared to handle almost any situation by building up your mental fitness and resilience. Just as you build stronger muscles over time with weight training, you can better control your reactions to stressful situations by learning and developing actions that can increase your resilience and your mental ability to cope when workplace stressors arise.

Strategy #1: Increase and Manage Your Window of Tolerance

The “Window of Tolerance” describes the best state of arousal or stimulation in which individuals can still function and feel comfortable enough in stressful situations. When operating within your window of tolerance, you can effectively manage and cope with the emotions and punches that life throws at you. Everyone’s window of tolerance is different. Those who have a “wide” window are best able to reflect, think rationally, and make decisions calmly without feeling overwhelmed. Those with a “narrow” window may often feel their emotions are intense and difficult to manage.

Lawyers can increase and manage their window of tolerance by incorporating one or more of these grounding exercises into their daily lives.

  • 5 Senses: When negative or challenging thoughts or emotions arise, stop and address your 5 senses when you are distressed to induce calmness.
    • What do you smell, taste, hear, see, and feel (through touch) around you
  • Breathwork: Calm your mind and reduce anxiety by decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure through breathwork.
    • Practice 4-7-8 breathing. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat as needed.
  • Self-Compassion: Give yourself grace through positive affirmations and self-talk.
    • Write a few positive affirmations and repeat them to yourself while looking in the mirror.
  • Self-Care: Do something every day that is relaxing and you enjoy.
    • Take care of yourself by scheduling doctor and dentist appointments regularly, exercising, and participating in the hobbies that you love.

Strategy #2: Set Flexible Boundaries

When it comes to work, setting boundaries is crucial for maintaining mental health and well-being. However, if they are too rigid or too loose, they will not serve you well. Know what works for you, and allow yourself to have some wiggle room. Lawyers can practice boundaries by:

  • Knowing your limits: Am I taking on too much?
  • Listening to your emotions: Is this making me feel anxious, overwhelmed, happy, or depressed?
  • Listening to your body: How do I physically feel? “I’m exhausted!”
  • Knowing your values: Does this decision align with my values?
  • Ask yourself, “Are my boundaries porous, rigid, or flexible? “

Here are some examples of boundaries to set that are helpful for lawyers or professionals to navigate the workplace healthfully.

  • Time Boundaries. Time is your biggest commodity so spend it wisely.
    • Be realistic about your work projects and your personal/professional commitments. In regards to professional associations, don’t be afraid to say no to joining or partaking in activities that may overwhelm you and your time.
  • Technology Boundaries. Technology is a blessing and a curse because it allows us to be in contact or contact at any time. It is easy to get caught up in work 24/7 so it is imperative to set boundaries to give yourself a needed break.
    • Do not feel like you need to respond to everything immediately, especially if it is not within your working hours.
    • Set time limits for social media.
    • Create cutoff times for when you will stop checking messages from your work email.
  • Professional Boundaries. These are especially important to avoid unnecessary conflicts or misunderstandings between colleagues and clients.
  • Be a clear and direct communicator. Do not try to convolute emails or conversations because you are trying to be nice to the recipient.
  • Learn how to delegate. Do what you do best and learn your colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses so you may delegate responsibilities.
  • Identify your non-negotiables. These will be based on your values and help you achieve a more balanced work-life. Some examples include:
    • No non-emergency work calls and emails if you’re at home.
    • Take a “coffee break” two times a day to recharge that is away from your computer (do a short meditation, take a walk, etc.,)

Strategy #3: Identify and Live According to Your Values

Values are the fundamental beliefs that govern our lives and guide each of our life choices. Everyone has a unique set of values based on their life experiences. As values shift through different life stages, we should regularly reassess our values to consider where our focus truly lies at that moment in our lives personally and professionally.

To assess your values, try this value coaching exercise.

  1. Sit down and answer these questions on paper or your computer.
    • Who am I right now?
    • Who do I want to become?
    • Who do I want to spend my time with?
    • How do I want to spend my time (in general and/or when I’m away from work)?
    • What life domains are most important to me?
  2. Review this list of values and pick 20 that resonate with you the most.
  3.  Circle your top 10. Was this easy or difficult for you? Was there any internal negotiating that you had to do?
  4.  Reflect on your 10 values and select your top 5.
  5.  For each value selected, write out how each one will influence your life domains.

Bonus Strategy: Give Yourself Grace

Everyone has regrettable moments. If you have one of these, whether it’s daily or once in a while, give yourself grace instead of grief.

These strategies are designed to help lawyers reduce stress and improve overall well-being, and implementing them will pay off over time. Before you know it, you’ll be automatically enforcing a boundary at work or practicing 4-7-8 breathing in an intense moment, and will find yourself able to handle the challenges of the profession with ease, finesse, and maybe even a smile on your face.

– – – –

I am passionate about helping lawyers create and maintain healthy, happy, and productive lifestyles. My holistic lifestyle wellness coaching for lawyers includes unique programs based on a law firm’s needs, wellness seminars, keynotes, panel discussions, and CLE programs. Learn more about collaborating with me here.  

View my current speaking engagements here.
Schedule a consultation with me.