Work Life Balance

Take a Break: Managing Work-Related Stress

So I am the biggest proponent for mental health days–I wish employers (especially law firms) were more supportive/less judgmental of people taking a day when they need it. And lawyers need it! I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but obviously this job is stressful as our profession suffers from high rates of depression, anxiety, and problematic drinking.

To me, it’s no surprise–for most of us, we often meet our clients at one of the worst, most stressful time in their lives. We also see an ugly side of humanity, when people dig their heels in, unwilling to compromise to stick it to the other side. The work is harsh. So for those that don’t seek help, we self-medicate until we burn out.

But that doesn’t have to be the case! I’m not saying a mental health day will resolve all your problems. Obvi no. If you’re dealing with vicarious trauma and serious levels of stress, you should go to a professional. But even before it gets to that point, the truth is that the day-to-day stresses really impact our mood and production. We should be cognizant of how our work affects us so we can take breaks and realign ourselves.

And that’s really my main point. Make sure you’re taking breaks (even just one day) when you really need it. When I’ve taken mental health days, they allow me to just breathe and lose a bit of the overwhelming feeling of whatever it is that was bothering me. The times I’ve taken these breaks, I’m back at work energized and with a new focus.

Of course, this assumes you’re able to take time off freely at work. I think it should be considered sick time (if you have sick time and vacation), but I would totally use up a vacation day for myself to help my mental health, absolutely. And the key for this to work, is that when you take the day off, you are really off. That means relaxing in the way that actually relaxes you. And really relax–don’t spend the day running errands or doing chores (unless that’s how you relax) because you won’t get the benefit of the time off, if you really don’t take the time to de-stress.

Taking the time off has benefits that go beyond the immediate relief of a break. Learning how to manage your stress level and how you respond to that stress will help carve out your executive presence at work. Imagine being an attorney that’s always in crisis mode or snaps at everyone for everything all the time? How likely is that person going to be seen as a dependable teammate or a possible supervisor? Instead, if you give yourself a breather when you need it, it will make you a stronger attorney–one that’s focused, energized, and in control. That is the person, more likely than not, that gets promoted–or at the very least, that’s the attorney that will avoid the pitfalls of problem drinking… #sipstea.

I always know it’s time to take a day off when a few factors arise all at once:

One. You feel dread. You feel dread about a project or a situation more than normal. Or you just dread getting the day started. If you’re at that level, then you need a break from what you’re doing to take a breather and remind yourself (away from the office) of your goals to see if you can shake off those negative feelings.

Two. You are being “Witchy”. Ha! you get what I mean. My litmus is that I am always gracious and kind with my clients–even when they do things that make me take deep breaths. But if I find myself feeling overly annoyed/bothered etc. then I know (for me) there’s something off. Likewise, maybe you’re always kind to the admin staff but one day you find yourself snapping at them–take that as a cue that you need a break.

Three. You just feel it. After a while, you feel it when you hit a wall and need a day to shake it off. The last time I needed a MHD, I could just sense it. I had worked on a case that was not really any different than any of my other cases, but something felt off (obviously I can’t go into detail) and it kept bothering me. I kept thinking about the case in a nonproductive way. For the rest of the day, I felt anxious and annoyed at everything. This was my tell-tell sign that I needed to take a day off to get some distance from the case.

Overall, our bodies and minds send us signals when they need help. Listen to them and respond!