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Are You an Anxious Attorney? Tips for Managing Your Mental Health in Uncertain Times

Posted July 7, 2020

Practicing attorneys have a lot on their plates. As if there isn’t enough to manage on a regular basis, your anxiety may be at an all-time high right now due to the pandemic. In light of various coronavirus restrictions and implications, attorneys worry about what comes next, says Patrick Krill, a lawyer, licensed alcohol and drug counselor and the founder of Krill Strategies.

“In many ways that’s the job of lawyers—to be thinking about the unknown. It’s a really easy mindset for lawyers to find themselves in and over-indulge. We’re good at that,” says Krill, adding some attorneys by nature are often skeptical and pessimistic. Those tendencies, he says, might not be helpful with managing anxiety as we wait to see what happens next with the coronavirus, among other things.

Here are some tips for coping with the uncertainty and managing anxiety:

  1. Distance from the media – Anxiety seems to stem from the unknown. The media tends to drive that uncertainty and raises red flags that cause us concern. The more anxious you feel, the more you should step away from the “news.”
  2. Get out of your own head – Think about other people’s concerns, rather than only focusing on your own. This is a strategy to stay sober in the 12-step community and it’s a good way to deal with anxiety around the coronavirus, regardless of whether you have an addiction issue, says Bree Buchanan, president of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (COLAP). Consider scheduling a phone call to friends or family you know are dealing with difficult situations. Put a movie on. Play a game with the family. Try to give your mind a rest.
  3. Maintain a healthy diet – Many of us have put on the “COVID 19” with a higher intake of unhealthy foods and “stress eating.” When it feels like you can’t control much of what’s going on around you, you can control what you eat. (Eating well may also help you sleep better.)
  4. Ease up on alcohol – “Even if you’re not a heavy or problem drinker, you want to be limiting your use of alcohol and drugs,” says Krill, who worries that stress around the coronavirus may accelerate some lawyers’ alcohol use. People with mental health conditions, including problems with substance abuse, may respond more strongly to stress in relation to the coronavirus, says the CDC. According to a 2016 study on substance abuse and mental health in the legal profession Krill conducted with the American Bar Association (ABA) and Hazelden Betty Ford, more than one-third (36.4%) of the 12,825 attorney respondents demonstrated hazardous drinking or possible alcohol abuse or dependence based on the World Health Organization’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.
  5. Write your fears down – “Then use your analytical brain to think about what the actual likelihood of these things occurring is, and what you can do to mitigate or prepare for these things you are actually worried about,” Buchanan says. “Also, if it’s something you have absolutely no control over, consider finding ways to let go of that fear.” Further, maintain proper perspective on the virus. The chance of you or a loved one dying from COVID-19 is low, but the virus is deadly and it’s easy to latch on to that and dwell. If you take care of yourself properly, even if you are in a higher risk category, your risk of death is still low.
  6. Seek out professional help – You don’t need to do this alone. If you are experiencing an escalation of anxiety, talk to a professional who can help you through it. Almost all therapists are using telehealth, so you are not limited to professionals in your area. Medication for anxiety, depression and insomnia might also be needed and can be prescribed by a psychiatrist or your primary care physician.

If you’re interested in other ways to manage your mental health, the ABA’s COLAP has created a list of resources specifically for attorneys during this pandemic, which may be found here.

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