Because of Covid-19, many in the legal industry are working from home and experiencing a slower pace of life than maybe they have been used to.For some, this is a moment to re-energise and relax, but for others it is a difficult time which has led to people feeling increasingly stressed, anxious and helpless.
Every April since 1992 the UK has celebrated Stress Awareness month. This aims to increase public awareness of what stress is and how we can use coping mechanisms to control it. I want to recommend a book on mental ill-health and share personal tips which might help if you are struggling with stress.
Stress can be a positive feeling that can help you to stay focused and motivated. For example, you may be feeling stressed because you have an exam coming up or an important deadline at work. However, stress can become a negative feeling if it becomes all-consuming, unhealthy and makes you forfeit other essential parts of your life, such as sleep. It can affect everyone in different ways throughout their life and it is important that if we are struggling with stress, we recognise it, address it and own it.
You need to get to a place where you believe and understand that stress is completely normal and that there is nothing to be ashamed of
This Too Will Pass: Anxiety in a Professional World by Richard Martin is an honest account of Richard’s mental breakdown caused by stress and high pressures. Richard was an employment law partner at a London law firm when he had a breakdown. In his book, Richard reproduced sections of his personal diary which he wrote throughout his journey and his recovery. This is particularly inspiring because Richard’s accounts and diary entries are authentic. This is extremely powerful because Richard publicises his vulnerabilities.
A poignant moment is when Richard describes an evening when he broke down in front of his children and his daughter put him to bed. Richard also describes the thought process involved in everyday activities such as food shopping, and how he finds it difficult to make certain decisions. For many this will speak volumes and make complete sense. Sometimes, the smallest things can seem extremely difficult and it is impossible to explain why; the task just simply becomes overwhelming. Richard’s book is his contribution to help break the stigma around mental ill-health, so that it becomes something that is normal to talk about.
Below are five key tips that I hope will help anyone who is struggling with stress:
1. Recognise that you are struggling and that something is making you feel stressed and concerned.
2. Figure out what the concerns are and why they have become concerns that are making you feel stressed.
3. Communication: nothing is more important than communicating the concerns that are making you feel stressed. Communication can be to another person or to yourself; through writing it down, saying it out loud or communicating it through a creative outlet. Also, you can reach out to anyone else you know who could be suffering from the same stresses as you.
4. Make time to check-in with yourself on a regular basis, to ask yourself how you are feeling and to make a physical note of anything that you accomplished that day (this can be anything, as long as it lifted your spirits).
5. Once you understand your concerns and worries, react in a more positive way and answer these questions: can you control or solve them? Are there changes you can make to your daily routine (such as any form of exercise or meditation) to help you manage these concerns and worries?
Most importantly, you need to get to a place where you believe and understand that stress is completely normal and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Once you recognise, address and own the concerns that are causing you stress, you will be able to move forward as ‘this too will pass’.
Hannah Bignell is a trainee solicitor at Fieldfisher LLP and an executive committee member of the Junior Lawyers Division