Practicing family law can be stressful even at the best of times. Adding a pandemic to the mix can make it seem impossible. Lawyers are having to be even more nimble and retrainable in order to keep in contact with their clients, colleagues, and the courts. Learning new tricks with virtual conferencing, resolving conflicts without the Courts, and watching our hard-earned savings evaporate can make any family lawyer despair. Here are a few suggestions on how to reduce stress and weather the storms during this COVID-19 pandemic.
3 Tips to Help Family Lawyers Reduce Stress During this Pandemic
1. Deal with Your Stress, Fear, and Uncertainty by Controlling Your Thoughts
Stress is caused by fear, which is our hardwired response to the unknown. When we don’t know what is going to happen, or when difficult times are at hand, it is to be expected to experience some fear of the future. How we handle that fear determines whether we will succeed or fail.
Mankind has come up with numerous strategies for dealing with uncertainty; my personal favorite is controlling my thoughts. Contrary to what you may currently believe, you do have the ability to control what you think about. Researchers confirm that you can only have one thought at a time, so you need to choose which thought to have. If you focus on positive aspects of your life, you can overcome (or at least mitigate) your fears about the future. If you focus on the negative aspects, however, you open the door to fear and stress.
The first step to controlling your thoughts is to separate your awareness from your thoughts. In other words, you have a consciousness that is separate from our thoughts. You are not your thoughts, but you can be overwhelmed by them. Start by simply observing your thoughts from second to second. One way to visualize this is to imagine that your awareness is the sun, and your thoughts are like clouds passing by. By being an observer of your thoughts, you can avoid the emotional reaction that follows. When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, take a deep breath, and remind yourself to flip your mental script back to the positive side.
Simply being aware of being separate from your thoughts will substantially reduce your irrational thinking and catastrophizing. Sometimes, your most delusional and devastating thoughts will stop if you ask yourself, “Where did that thought come from?” One of the more interesting aspects of our psyche is that our thinking can spiral up or down, depending on whether we are having positive thoughts or negative thoughts.
Just as it is important to focus on the positive aspects of your life, it is also important to minimize the negative information you absorb.
2. Focus on What You Can Control
It is also imperative that you focus on what you can do versus what you have no control over or obsessing about the unknown. This is a great time to review your practice and decide what is and what is not working to make your practice more efficient – and to make you happier and more fulfilled. Perhaps this lockdown combined with the death toll has allowed/forced you to discover that there is more to life than 100-hour workweeks. Do you live to work or work to live? Do you allow your practice to invade or completely take over your personal life? Now is a great time to make new rules about drawing boundaries between your professional life and your personal life. You deserve a fulfilling personal life, and part of that may be considering changes to your professional life. As we are all rebooting our lives, we can make minor or even substantial changes while we are at home.
Just because we are at home doesn’t mean we can’t interact with our clients and colleagues. Zoom, Skype, Google (and soon Facebook) offer both free and paid video conferencing abilities. It is fun – and good for your mental health, especially if you are home alone – to catch up with family, friends, clients, and colleagues on these video conferences. You can network with your law firm to show you care about each other, and perhaps to let your staff see you in your personal environment.
3. Accentuate the Positive & Eliminate the Negative to Reduce Stress During this Pandemic
Just as it is important to focus on positive aspects of your life, it is also important to minimize how much negative information you absorb. The stress caused by reading or watching bad news compromises our immune system just as much as any other stress. Don’t watch the news more than you have to. Get plenty of sleep. Watch uplifting movies or play “relaxing music. Get some exercise. Meditate or have some quiet time every day. Start a new habit or hobby, or resume hobbies you enjoy but haven’t had time to pursue in years.
You can practice positive thinking at any time. When you go to sleep or wake up are both excellent times to practice. A favorite positive affirmation/thought of mine is: “I am getting better every day in every way and everything is as it should be.” Simply thinking that over and over will help you face these most uncertain of times.
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