Kris de Jong* “Unprecedented times” is a term that’s been overused in the past, but at this moment it seems completely appropriate.
Disruption, uncertainty and additional pressures from clients or colleagues caused by the Covid crisis can lead to lawyers and legal professionals feeling even more stressed and anxious than usual.
Looking after your mental health and finding ways to cope with these feelings is paramount if you want to remain effective and productive at work. Here are some practical strategies that will help to maintain your sanity during this challenging time:
Pressure vs Stress
Pressure is external, and stress is internal. One doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the other.
For example, you may have time pressures or deadlines to meet. If you interpret these pressures in unhelpful ways, such as “If I miss this deadline, it’s going to be a disaster” or “This is too much. I’ll never get it done in time”, you tend to feed stress as you worry about what awful thing may happen in future.
If, on the other hand, you think more rationally and constructively such as “I’m going to schedule time to work on my priorities” or “How can I get more time or more help to do this?”, you can concentrate on process and then get on with your work.
Remember, there’s a difference between worrying and planning. Worrying is ‘fortune-telling’, where you assume bad outcomes for future events without evidence. Planning is taking practical steps toward your goals.
Keeping stress at bay is a matter of accepting the things that you can’t influence, and focusing on your locus of control.
‘Mindfulness’ is a trendy word at the moment, and it can conjure up images of new age yoga instructors imploring you to “find your centre”. But at its core, mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment.
The easiest way to do this is to consciously engage your senses as much as possible. If you’re having a nice dinner out, really savour the smell and taste of the food and wine, and consciously take in the ambience. If you’re in a business meeting, actively listen and seek to understand. If you’re playing tennis, focus on your body and how it feels to move around.
Sometimes when it all seems too much, it can be amazingly beneficial to find a quiet space and just focus on doing some slow deep breathing for a few minutes.
When you’re living in the present, your brain hasn’t got much time to dwell on the past or worry about the future.
Numerous studies show that people who practice mindfulness regularly have reduced levels of stress and anxiety, so make this a habit.
Schedule activities that refresh you
Working 10 or 12 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week is not going to make you more efficient or productive in the long term. Our brains need a break from intense concentration to re-charge.
Make sure to regularly schedule activities you enjoy into your diary. ‘Flow’ activities like surfing, playing an instrument or video-gaming can help to take your mind off things. Micro-breaks are just as important as holidays. If you have to, set reminder alarms every couple of hours to go for a coffee or a walk around the block.
Keep your surroundings neat and tidy
Your physical surroundings can have a detrimental effect on your state of mind. If your workspace is messy and unorganised, your mind tends to reflect that, which will be damaging to your ability to perform your job effectively.
This disruption is forcing companies and individuals to adapt to new paradigms and ways of working that will continue long after the pandemic is over.
Kris de Jong
Try to keep your home clean and tidy as well, so that it acts as a sanctuary that gives you a sense of calm and wellbeing, and allows you to unwind after work.
Keep Things in Perspective
Keep things in perspective. Know that you’re not alone, and that many people around the world are in the same boat. Remember that even though we don’t know how long this crisis will last, it is temporary and we will come out of it sooner or later.
This disruption is forcing companies and individuals to adapt to new paradigms and ways of working that will continue long after the pandemic is over. This means there’ll be all kinds of new opportunities out there if you look for them.
You will get through this
It’s ok to be feeling more anxious and fearful than usual – these are difficult times for everyone. Don’t try to ‘fight’ your feelings, but rather acknowledge and observe them, be aware of your thinking patterns, and take care of yourself physically through regular exercise and healthy eating. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
We’re all looking forward to the end of this crisis, but in the meantime, know that you have the capacity to keep calm and carry on.