Practicing family law can take a toll if you never put yourself first. Add a pandemic to long hours and stressful work and your mental & emotional wellness should be a priority – now more than ever! Equine therapy could be just the ticket!
By Andrea Hall, Criminal, Business, and Equine Lawyer
In our new COVID-19 reality, our profession is being forced to focus on our mental and emotional well-being – now more than ever. A few short months ago, lawyers were running around like their hair was on fire with no time to call the fire department. Today, lawyers have come to understand their hair really is on fire and that they are the fire department.
The practice of law is inherently stressful. Negotiating for your client’s best interests, making sure they don’t lose their children in the divorce, keeping them out of jail, handling heart-breaking cases, or helping them plan for the future; there’s a lot riding on your ability to do your job well. All of this pressure can not only lead to stress and issues with your physical health, but it can also put you at risk for mental health issues. The stress can lead to depression, anxiety, moodiness, anger issues, and/or substance abuse – and it can even put you at risk for suicide.
As a Family Lawyer, You Must Make Mental & Emotional Wellness a Priority
How long have you been practicing law? Do you spend hours and days working endlessly for a slow or ultimately a no-pay client? When are you going to make your mental & emotional wellness a priority? When are you going to put you first in your life?
As an attorney for the past 16 years, I can relate to this pain in a deeply personal way! As a solo practitioner, I found it very easy to put the needs of my clients and others in my life before anything or anyone else, including myself. I would ignore and dismiss my needs, instead of focusing my time on clients and work.
It felt like my needs could always wait.
Until one day, my needs couldn’t – or wouldn’t – wait and longer.
The constant stress, lack of boundaries and losing sight of what brought me joy took a toll on my health. IT WAS PHYSICALLY KILLING ME. The only treatment included rest and rejuvenation. Two things I didn’t have nor did I know how to get.
My charged-up life had left me close to burnout and missing the things I truly desired: a partner and children. I started to remember the dreams I had as a child. What had I dreamed of being when I was a grown-up? The only thing I had ever dreamed of was to be a lawyer. A lawyer full of integrity and grit, who fought for the underdog.
I looked at my now-grown-up self. I was a lawyer. I had grit. And I certainly had that tenacious fighter who fought for my clients every day. And yet there was something missing, and that something was passion. I took a breath and made a choice: I would begin a journey of soul searching. I would seek to find the answers I was looking for, and what would truly bring back my passion.
Equine Therapy Can Help to Ground You – and Restore Your Passion for Life
My journey of soul searching began with a discovery of a healing process involving something that made me curious and my heart skip a beat – horses! When I was with horses, I felt my world melt away. My breathing pattern and heart rate changed and I was able to become grounded and centered. Hours felt like minutes when I was with these magnificent creatures in the barn. I knew that moving forward, I had to share the lessons I learned from the horses with those around me: lawyers who, just like me, were struggling to find their passion.
My horses give clients instantaneous feedback. Unlike traditional talk therapy, client’s shift their awareness into real-time with the help of a horse. The horses are like lie detectors, flushing out limiting beliefs with a swish of their tail, a shift of their 1,200-pound body, or a simple unwillingness to move.
Horses have a way of seeing into the window of our souls. Horses have been connected to humanity since the dawn of time. Their hearts can heal and mend our broken hearts. Simply standing in their presence can change our lives forever; putting the puzzle pieces back together and returning us to wholeness. Simply put, equine therapy can help to restore the parts of us that have been lost along the way.
My clients leave sessions smiling from ear to ear and feeling a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders as they shift into wholeness, leaving behind the weight of their unfinished business. My colleagues and I have impressive data to back up the equine therapy work that we are doing with our horses. Below is the recent data from our study with clients supporting the claim that Equine Gestalt Coaching truly brings clients healing.
Making Mental & Emotional Wellness a Priority is Essential for Lawyers
The horses have taught me that self-care must be at the top of my list. I work every day to share that message with everyone around me, especially those who practice law. Caring for your mental well-being while working in a stressful career is a necessity.
Here are four ways you can care for your mental health:
Let go of perfectionism – remember, you are only human and you are not able to be perfect all the time. The struggle to be perfect and make the “right” decision every single time can lead to issues like obsessive thoughts, feelings of inadequacy, sleep deprivation, difficulty focusing, and heart palpitations. Focus on doing your best and let go of being perfect.
Use stress-reducing methods – such as meditation, long walks, exercise, and being mindful to help you let go of the stress and not carry it with you all the time. A few minutes a day of mediation can help you relax and get back on track with more focus and less stress. Do it for 3-5 minutes throughout the day when you’re feeling especially stressed.
Seek help – don’t go it alone. Talk to a professional like a counselor, therapist, or a coach to help you through the difficult times.
8 Tips “From the House’s Mouth” about Change
Change is so difficult for many to deal with and right now our profession has no choice but to change. These tips are something that my horses allow my clients to experience in a safe place with no judgment.
1. Accept That the One Constant in Life is Change
This is probably the biggest step and the most necessary one. Accept that life will always be changing. It’s the one true thing you can depend on above all else. When you and your friends were hanging out in law school, your life and relationships changed when you graduated. There are and will be plenty more examples throughout your life. Some changes may be little and others may be huge – and, of course, they are all relative depending on who you are talking with.
2. Don’t Get Too Comfortable
The biggest changes seem to always happen when we are content or comfortable. Additionally, they never come at a convenient time. While there may not be scientific evidence to back this up aside from Murphy’s Law, you should always be ready for anything that comes your way. When you are comfortable in your situation, you tend to let your guard down – which makes it more of a shock when something changes.
3. Talk About Your Feelings Towards Change
People tend to let things build up inside. They don’t talk about their situations, or if they do, they don’t talk to the right people. Our profession is scared to share their feelings. We are among the top 10 professions suffering from drug and alcohol abuse and suicide because we hold things in. We work hard to give the impression that we have it all together and we don’t like to ask for help as it could be seen as a weakness or failure. So many lawyers are solo practitioners and work alone. Therefore, you must seek outside support. This may be with a friend or another colleague. If the changes are at work, for instance, consider talking to your manager about the impact of those changes. Managers are human beings, despite what people otherwise believe. Present your concerns in a professional manner and try not to flare up your anger, even if it isn’t directed at your manager. Bear in mind that your manager may be dealing with the changes much the same as you are.
4. Turn the Change in Your Favor
The phrase “turn lemons into lemonade” has been widely used and overused. However, it’s hard to deny the impact of having this mindset. If you are dealing with change, in one form or another, see what angles you can use to make it work to your benefit. Now more than ever it is time to get creative and think outside the box. What ideas have come to you now or in the past that you let slide by because you didn’t have time or energy to focus on that “thing”? This is a big opportunity to turn a tragedy into a triumphant experience.
5. Keep Changes You Can Control to a Minimum
If you try to enact too many changes at once, it may overwhelm the people who are impacted by them. We are experiencing this right now. So many changes all at once from working at home to communicating with clients via the internet, depositions, and mediation via Zoom, etc. People need time to absorb those changes and incorporate them into their lives. If people are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of changes, they will likely rebel. I see so many people doing this right now. Sitting on the couch binge-watching Netflix eating tubs of ice cream, not having a schedule, and even lying in bed in the fetal position unable to get up. Sometimes, the changes you put into place, can’t be controlled, however, if you do have control over them, try to introduce them slowly over time.
6. Join Support Groups
Some changes will impact people where they need the support of others. This can happen when death strikes or some long-term illness or the COVID-19 pandemic. It could be trying to give up a type of addiction, etc. Because of the lack of physical support and connection that most people are used to you see addictions, divorce, domestic issues rising to the surface. There may be other types of changes where people need to reach out. Seek out the help of others who are going through similar circumstances as you are.
7. Trust Your Instincts
People may be forced into situations or decisions that go against their belief systems. If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s best to go with your gut or trust your instincts. If the change doesn’t feel right and you have no power to counter it, try to remove yourself from the situation and choose what’s right for you.
8. Change Can Lead to Unforeseen Opportunities
This goes in line a bit with the lemonade from lemons; When you start to focus on change being something good, opportunities will be more open to you. They have a way of finding you. These opportunities may not have presented themselves had the changes not occurred. Opportunities are never missed; they are just passed onto someone else.
In this time of uncertainty, your mental and emotional wellness is a priority. I hope that these suggestions will support you during this time of change. My horses and I are always here to support you even further as a resource to you and your clients. A healthy lawyer will have a full cup which in turn will be able to supply your clients, family, and friends with the support they need.
Andrea Hall, JD, is a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and a member of the Colorado Horse Council. She earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of North Dakota School of Law, then furthered her education by completing International Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Oslo in Norway. www.thehalllawoffice.com
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