2020: the Year of the Lockdown. The Year of Mental Health Struggles. The year wherein most folks took their work home. Unless you’re an essential worker i.e. medical professionals or restaurant workers, chances are your business is now conducted out of your home office. This also applies to some law offices. If you’re a lawyer still working from home, you may find that your mental health is walking a tenuous tightrope.
Pre-COVID-19 life consisted of long hours at the firm complete with lengthy commutes and less family time. Now, family life and work-life are smudged together like paint on a canvas. How does one keep the two separate? More importantly, how do you, as a lawyer, nurture your mental health while working in the confines of your house amid quarantine? It’s a balancing act, but if you stick around, I’ve got some helpful hints to impart regarding this very subject.
Taking breaks is crucial for your mental health no matter your profession. As a lawyer, it’s even more important to make time for a short break. Your brain is working overtime almost 24 hours a day. If you want to keep your mind as sharp as a knife, I suggest taking a 10 to 15-minute break every few hours.
Review42 recently revealed a survey that stated “37 percent of remote workers stay productive by taking breaks.” “Participants in an Airtasker survey indicated that taking regular breaks was the most effective tool for productivity. So if you need to work from home, make sure that you incorporate time for a breather in your routine.”
Your mind is your weapon when you’re an attorney. In order to avoid burnout and mental fatigue, which adversely affects your overall mental health, insert a short break every so often. If you can’t go outside, migrate to another room in your house. Don’t stay stationary in your home office, because that can feel like a prison over time. Mosey on over to the kitchen and grab some snacks. If you can, leave your phone and laptop in your home office.
You need to disconnect. Recharge. Then, you can resume your work with a revitalized mindset. Because running on empty batteries helps no one.
Make sure you’re eating/drinking water throughout the day!
Believe it or not, your diet affects your mental health. Did you find yourself not taking the time to nourish your body when you were working in a pre-COVID-19 world? Yes? Then, break that habit in two. Throw the pieces in the garbage. You don’t need to resume bad practices while in your home practice (See what I did there? That’s some lawyer humor for you.).
Eat! It’s good for your body and your brain. While taking a break, perhaps you can use that time to drink some water. Eat fruit or a granola bar. One of the benefits of working from home is the temptation to stuff cheap, quick food in your face hole lessens somewhat. You’re not out and about on lunch in the big city. Instead, you can buy healthier options with which to stock up your kitchen. It’s like the greasy hotdog cart on the street outside your firm, but better!
If you’re a fan of sources, here’s one: Aetna shared a piece about mental health and its correlation to a healthy diet. “When you stick to a diet of healthy food, you’re setting yourself up for fewer mood fluctuations, an overall happier outlook, and an improved ability to focus, Dr. Cora says. Studies have even found that healthy diets can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Unhealthy diets have been linked to an increased risk of dementia or stroke.”
So, if you’re neck-deep in a case and you find yourself losing focus or getting grouchy, eat something! Drink water! My biggest tell when I need sustenance, especially hydration, is I get a headache. You can nip that in the bud by regularly snacking on healthy foods/drinking water if you don’t have time to eat a full meal. Although you should be eating three meals a day.
One of the downsides of working from home is your personal and professional lives may start to blur. Back in the day, you could compartmentalize — work stayed at work and home stayed at home. Ask anyone who’s been in therapy: compartmentalizing, especially for your mental health, is a good thing. Now, this can become exponentially more difficult to do when your work is at home. But it’s not impossible!
Look at it this way: when it’s time to close the laptop or it’s the end of a workday, make it the end of the workday. Shut the laptop, close the door to your home office, and walk away. Leave your case notes, documents, client information, etc. in your office where they belong. Then, spend time with family. In fact, don’t talk about work with them if you can help it. This may prove harder to do since you’re working in the same environment where your family lives, but it can be done.
Keep all shop talk in the shop, as it were. In this case, the shop is your home office. The only thing you should be talking about in the living room is how little Timmy did on his school test or whether The Mandalorian is Star Wars’ best property. Trust me, your sanity will stay intact if you compartmentalize in this manner. Think of it as letting go of unnecessary baggage at the moment when it’s not needed.
You’re always told to leave your personal life outside of work. The same applies to our current predicament. There’s a great article in Forbes written by Ryan Blair. He’s the co-founder and CEO of ViSalus Sciences. In said article, Blair imparts his tips for compartmentalization. Here are his five steps to successful compartmentalization:
” 1. Compartmentalize it. Isolate the issue from all the other challenges you are dealing with. 2. Apply extreme focus on each compartment, but only for a short period of time. 3. Move forward in incremental steps. And once you see progress… 4. Close the compartment and open the next one. 5. Say “no” to things that don’t deserve a compartment.”
If you try to focus on everything all at once, like a spat with your partner and a big case you’re working on, you’ll fall apart at the seams. As a lawyer, your mental health is vital.
This may sound very “New Age-y,” but meditation works. Now, this doesn’t have to be something you practice during your workday, but if you can find time amid a break, it’ll only help. Psychology Today published an article regarding meditation and its link to mental health. Here’s the lowdown on some benefits of meditation for your mental health:
” … meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with some symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain, and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.”
Additionally, meditation can aid your sleep cycle and help you achieve a deep, restful slumber. Of course, that in turn can lift your spirits and brighten your overall mood. But you may be asking, “Who has the time?” If you’ve got 30 minutes, use those to meditate. Perhaps you can start out your day with mindfulness meditation. Give yourself time before your workday starts to refocus and center yourself. Calm your overactive mind. You can even tack on a meditative practice before you go to sleep.
Headspace has a list of 16 types of meditation to help you get started.
Yes, you read that correctly. When I have virtual therapy sessions with my therapist, we almost always end our talks with her saying, “one breath at a time.” Take everything one breath at a time. Naturally, our instincts are to put the cart before the horse and concoct about 20 different endings to any given situation. But don’t forget to breathe! Breathing can help quell stress and aid your mind in refocusing.
Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School shared a piece about how breathing techniques can help alleviate your body’s stress response. Here’s a simple practice you can adopt for breath focus:
“Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).”
Additionally, the article suggests that you try to practice a breathing technique at least 10 to 20 minutes a day. You can easily do this during a break while working from home. Find a space that’s separate from your office. A quiet place that’s warm and comfortable. Preferably away from screaming children and loud noises that can proffer a distraction. Take that time for yourself. Self-care is so very important. Breathing is so very important. And 10 to 20 minutes is nothing!
To sum it all up…
Adopting the above steps into your work-from-home routine will make your law-filled days less stressful. Lawyers aren’t robots. Your mental health is just as crucial as any other professional’s mindset. Take care of yourself, and your work will flourish. How have you been nurturing your mental health while working at home? Sound off in the comments below!