Chair of the Junior Lawyers Division Charlotte Parkinson gives key tips about mental health and welfare resources during the Covid-19 outbreak
Even in normal circumstances working as a law professional can be very stressful, with substantial workloads and emotionally challenging cases. Now, with the pressures and confines of the coronavirus, that stress may well be magnified affecting mental and physical health, often before we even realise it.
The Law Society, with the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), is actively working on resources for its members and is only too aware of the particular difficulties that we face.
Working from home can be lonely and bring added strain to an already intense workload. There are also many uncertainties surrounding furlough and, particularly for junior lawyers, how exams, training contracts and qualification, along with job prospects, may be impacted.
But please be assured that you are not alone and there is help if you need it. Below are just some of the questions you might like answered about mental health and welfare issues, and there is plenty of help on our website and from outside organisations (links provided at the end of this article).
Q. Often I feel daunted by a heavy workload. Now that I am working at home during this pandemic, I feel more isolated from my colleagues and less able to discuss my work schedule and problems and issues that arise. How can I best cope in these unusual circumstances?
A. Isolation is a problem for all of us just now and working in a vacuum can be very lonely and overwhelming. A tip for managing your workload is to break tasks down and making sure you can share your worries. Knowing how to discuss your concerns and talk via the phone or video-calling to air what’s on your mind can also ease stress and make it feel more manageable. Fortunately we live in an era where technology such as Skype, Zoom and Facetime exist – and this can help a lot.
Q.After my day of working alone at home, all the stress of the day has built up and it would be good to go out and relax with friends. But that’s not possible at the moment. How can I unwind or stop this stress from building up?
A. While we know it’s difficult to go out to meet friends, you can still call or Skype or message them. There are lots of opportunities to join online activities at present too, things like online quizzes, shared singalongs on social media and lots of TV and online routines to exercise to and relax, with stress busting ideas such as yoga and pilates.
But most important of all is to make sure you share any worries and concerns that you have with someone, so that the pressure is not allowed to grow inside you. If you feel unable to talk to someone who knows you, organisations like the Samaritans and Mind are on hand at any time, so you can open up anonymously. Make use of them rather than letting your stress and fears build up.
Q. I feel lonely and isolated at present even when I am living with my family, as I can’t share my concerns over my workload and fears about the virus with them.
A. Make sure youshare your concerns with someone; friend, colleague or a helpline. It is essential for your wellbeing.
Q.I’m very concerned about my current role and whether I might be furloughed. I do not know what this would mean for my career.
A. These are very uncertain times for all of us and the best thing you can do is to voice such concerns. Do you have a colleague you can confide in first – they might have the same worries. Then why don’t you write down a list of everything that is worrying you and book some time in the diary to have a virtual coffee with your team leader or HR. We encourage conversations within organisations on these issues as much as possible so that everyone feels a little better informed about what might happen in the future.
Q.I find working from home means I am lacking motivation and find it hard to stick to a routine without the habit of getting up and going into the office.
A. This is a common effect of long-term working from home. It’s important to adopt a new schedule and set up a new routine for each day, such as getting up at the same time. Keeping your ‘work home space’ separate from your ‘living home space’ is also a good idea if possible. And try setting yourself a task to complete every day and perhaps someone to call each day.
It’s also important to have a healthy diet, eat regularly, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to take regular breaks.
Make good use of technology to link to your colleagues and friends and family to keep you connected with the world and to keep you uplifted and motivated. Keeping a sense of team and interconnectedness with your organisation, even when working remotely, makes you feel less isolated and cut off from the ‘norm’.
A lot of the advice above refers to working from home, however many of the JLD’s members are LPC students or graduates, not necessarily working. However, the same advice applies to simply being at home – keep in a routine as much as possible, stay social by trying out new technology and make sure you have someone to talk to about anything which may be worrying you.
There are a number of useful tips which can help, including dealing with depression and low-self-esteem as well as isolation in the current climate. The Law Society website has a whole host of pointers and useful contacts for anyone needing advice on mental health and welfare issues.
Key tips on the website include five ways to boost your productivity, which are backed by science. These include a 'super to-do list' and optimising your working environment to include such things as daylight lighting, comfortable temperature, mood enhancing colours and indoor plants.
The website also contains a list of contacts of organisations that can help.
Law Society pastoral care helpline: 020 7320 5795
LawCare offers a free, confidential emotional support service to all legal professionals, their support staff and families in the UK and Ireland. We’re here to listen, with helpline calls, emails and webchats answered in confidence by trained staff and volunteers who have first-hand experience of working in the law. We also have a network of peer supporters.
If you are struggling to cope you can contact the Samaritans’ free helpline, 116 123 (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) about a whole range of problems, whether it’s loneliness and isolation, job-related stress, college or study-related stress, financial worries or depression.
Helpline: 0300 123 3393. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Most of all, don’t be afraid to contact someone if you need help; anddon’t deny that you need help.