7 Ways Lawyers Can Stress Less at Work

“All stress is caused by perception, not the actual situation or circumstance.”

We can retrain the mind to process ‘stress’ differently until stress-free becomes the default mind program. Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT for short makes that process relatively easy.

Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping as it is often called is a technique not unlike acupuncture without needles. It is easy to learn and apply and its effectiveness is around 90% in changing not only perception, but how we feel about any stress, negative emotion or unfavourable circumstance.

It doesn’t matter what the stress is, Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT for short can help reduce or in some cases completely eliminate the stress response.

What do lawyers typically stress about?

1. Billable hours

In speaking with lawyers, many say that the pressure of billable hours is a huge and constant stress for them. The pressure of reaching targets and coping with the demands of accounting for minute by minute increments can make for some sleepless nights and become another time drain.

When taught to apply the Tapping technique to the pressure of billable hours, suddenly they feel free of that huge pressure and much lighter, even though the reality hasn’t changed. In other words, they are aware that they still have the demands and expectations of billable hours but they feel less concerned about their ability to perform or cope and feel it is less of a chore or a worry.

EFT also has a cumulative effect, meaning that the more it is used, the more effective it becomes and brings with it an increased amount of personal change without the hard work, much less stress in every area of life and generally a more optimistic attitude.

2. Workload and long hours

There is no doubt that workload and long hours place lawyers under considerable pressure and often, not much can be done to change the reality of that, except to manage time a little better.

When our workload seems above our capability we can feel inadequate or incompetent and our inner critic takes over and tells us that we should be able to do this. We also hate being judged by colleagues or bosses as not being able to manage our time effectively .

What can be done is to change how we feel about what essentially can’t be changed. Lawyers are possibly always going to be overworked. That’s a given. But it’s not uncommon for an overworked team member who has learned to apply Tapping to this particular stress to say something like this, ‘Wow, I don’t feel it’s such a big deal now. I can cope with this. It’s just part of the job.”

Once our perception has changed, our emotions change and stress reduces organically. Stress is really all about how we feel, not the actual situation or circumstance.

3. Perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome

It’s fairly common knowledge that lawyers in particular suffer from these two conditions. They go hand in hand and feed each other endlessly, creating a cycle of stress that seems relentless.

In his ground breaking book, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, he cites the fear of being found out as an imposter as one of the greatest fears for moving forward. Perfectionism is used a cover for this fear, which is nothing more than slight insecurity or self doubt.

Perfectionism was once my middle name and I drove myself to chronic illness because of it. EFT allows us to drop the need for perfectionism, to strengthen our sense of self and in doing so, dramatically reduces our stress on the job. Perfectionism can be replaced with excellence, which is not stress inducing at all, but which assumes that work quality does not suffer.

Once we feel that life as we know it won’t cease because we have dropped perfectionism from our range of stress inducing patterns, we have lightened our load and reduced the long term effects of chronic work related stress.

4. Competitiveness and adversarial workplace culture

Being competitive doesn’t necessarily make you better at your job but it does increase stress levels dramatically. It seems competitiveness is hard wired in the brain of many lawyers and the way law firms are set up and managed creates what seems like a need to beat or perform better than your colleagues. This puts tremendous internal pressure on the individual, another reason that stress on the job becomes a chronic condition.

The need for competitiveness can be eliminated over time with Tapping without a loss of performance, the reward being a huge drop in stress levels.

There’s no doubt that most lawyers operate in a highly combatative environment as it’s part of the job.

Unfortunately, engaging in constant adversarial situations floods the system with stress hormones associated with the fight or flight response and over time the ‘on’ button stays on, keeping us in a highly stressed state.

The use of Tapping turns off the stress response. EFT reduces the levels of cortisol, or stress hormone, in the body. The technique makes an electrical connection in the body that is directly communicating with your amygdala, the area in the body that governs the stress factor and sends out chemical signals to the body. Instead you create a state of ease in place of stress.

5. Job dissatisfaction

Job dissatisfaction occurs when the reality is out of kilter with expectations. Law is regarded as a prestigious occupation and the financial rewards are high but the stress, the long hours and a multitude of other contributing factors make for high job dissatisfaction over time.

Is there anything that can be done to change that?

Generally speaking we can’t change circumstances but we can help to change our perspective which changes how we feel.

Reframing is a tool used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming which helps to shift the focus from the negative to the positive and allows us to feel differently about circumstances over which we have little control. It’s easy and habitual to become bogged down in negatives quite quickly when we are not being mindful of the ways we feel about the multitude of little stresses we face in the course of our job. Before long we can find ourselves in a highly stressed state in which everything seems to be a problem.

Reframing is a very useful mental tool but it’s not always easy to apply especially if our emotions have already been engaged. By the time we realise we need to reframe our perception, our neural pathways have jammed and it’s become quite a difficult, if not impossible task.

EFT is an automatic reframing tool. We don’t have to consciously try to unravel all of the circumstances which are causing stress and try to get the mind to choose another way of looking at it. Tapping does that for us automatically as long as we apply the technique.

6. Pessimism about the future and things going wrong

Lawyers are trained to be pessimistic and cynical . They are paid to think of all the things that could go wrong and this constant focus on the negative creates neural pathways in the brain that spill over into every area of life and become the default programming. Lawyers brains are wired for negativity which long term can result in anxiety, depression, burn out and a heavy reliance on addictions to ease the pressure.

Although there are many methods which help to reduce stress, most of them are simply distractions. They deal only with taking the mind off the pressures but do little, if anything to alter the cause.

The cause of all stress is perception. Emotional Freedom Technique changes the cause, which is how we think and feel about the situations and circumstances we deal with.

7. Job insecurity

A position in a law firm could end at any moment,which is another reason we see the rise of the entrepreneurial lawyer specialising in niche markets. As happened with journalism, technology is reshaping the law, shattering a once impenetrable profession, and taking the expensive legal fees down at the same time.

Apps and online templates are taking the place of some expensive legal services. Set fees are becoming the norm in some aspects of law instead of the old billing by the minute.

All of this puts even more pressure on individual lawyers and firms to continue to increase performance in a shrinking market before they become a statistic of the inevitable further disruption that most industries will eventually face.

Worry about job security does nothing to either change the possibility of job loss or to improve outcomes. In fact worrying only adds to the internal stress.

EFT can halt the habit of worry and allow even highly stressed lawyers to become more relaxed, optimistic and at the same time improve work performance. It is used by many, including high level sports people to improve performance, so it’s a win in both areas.

There’s no doubt about it, law is a stressful business and it’s guaranteed to become even more stressful as 12,000 graduates are churned out each year from Australian universities and disruption occurs across all industries.

According to Lawyers Weekly, eighty per cent of lawyers say that their job is too stressful and one in three contemplate suicide at least once a year. That’s an amazing and alarming statistic.

While it’s not always possible to change the circumstances of our working lives it is always possible and highly desirable to change how we process those situations and how they make us feel.

EFT is very simple to learn, yet a highly effective tool in decreasing the stress response. It can be taught in a group training setting or one on private coaching over a number of sessions.

Don’t wait for burn out to take its toll or for anxiety, depression or addiction to take hold of your life or those of your staff. Contact me today to learn resilience and stress management techniques that impact not only on workplace stress but general well being, relationships and overall quality of life.

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