How lawyers can make 2020 their best mental health year to date

By Jerome Doraisamy|22 January 2020

Lawyers – particularly those in small practices – often complain that there are just not enough hours in the day for self-care. According to one neuroscientist, 2020 can be the year of mental health for legal professionals, by dedicating just an extra five minutes per day to one’s self.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Driven CEO and neuroscientist Jurie Rossouw said that for those working in professional services environments such as law, it is integral to connect to one’s purpose.

He said: “This is a powerful technique we teach in high adversity occupations. Everyday think about what you have done or will do today and connect that to your purpose in life, or what is meaningful to you. Is your purpose to help people, or make a big difference?”

“Now, connect what you did today to that purpose, and it will help remind you why you do what you do, energise you to keep doing it, and constantly remind yourself that what you do is truly important.”

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This is especially necessary for lawyers, Mr Rossouw continued, given the tendency to be perfectionists.

“As a lawyer, there is an expectation of delivering perfect work all the time, so it’s natural that you might have an incredibly high standard for yourself. Take note that perfectionism can often lead to depression and anxiety, especially if you constantly put this pressure on yourself,” he said.

“You might notice this driven being counterproductive, where you put so much pressure on yourself that you end up performing worse than when you’re relaxed! While maintaining a high standard of work, take care to also let yourself be human and relax your expectations, and find that balance where you deliver high-quality work at a sustainable pace.”

Finding meaning and purpose, he mused, is the most important domain of resilience for such professionals.

“Staying on top of this provides perspective over all areas of life. It makes decisions simpler, since you know what’s important. It clarifies goals and helps you focus, particularly making it easier to say ‘no’ to things that would otherwise suck up your time,” Mr Rossouw noted.

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“In a world of ever-increasing digital distractions, the greatest gift you can give yourself is purpose.”

Connecting to one’s purpose is also important, he added, given the psychological and professional dangers of not doing so.

“The pressures of professional services, combined with relatively higher disposable income lead to a growing trend to self-medicate mental health challenges with technological distractions, such as binging on TV shows, playing games, and constantly checking social media,” he said.

“This is expected since entertainment is becoming better than ever, which is not helpful for mental health. The problem is that these coping mechanisms drift towards increasing loneliness, as we spend less time meaningfully connecting with others, increasing risk of depression, anxiety, and even heart disease.”

When it comes to prioritising such wellness, Mr Rossouw said those who work in small teams (or even alone) must remember that sustainability is “the key”.

“For your business to thrive, you need to be able to put in a level of effort that is sustainable in the long term. It’s no good if you get your business running while working at a pace that’s unsustainable, as eventually you’ll need a break and then the business might break too,” he said.

“Develop the personal discipline to exercise four times a week, eat healthy foods, and sleep around seven hours at least each night. Make time to catch up with friends. Stay focused on why this is meaningful to you. If you can do all these, you might well find the path to sustainable high productivity!”

Finally, for those who manage teams, even small ones, one must “find out what you don’t know”.

“A crucial component of providing meaningful health and wellness support is assessment. When done holistically through an external provider that can collect and aggregate confidential responses, it can provide crucial insight into how best to support staff with which programs,” Mr Rossouw concluded.

“This avoids inefficient scattershot approaches and [helps laser] in on the specific issues your workforce face. This is the path to reduce waste and efficient help in meaningful ways.”

How lawyers can make 2020 their best mental health year to date
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