From Paralegal to Associate:  How to Handle Stress During the First Year as an Associate

It is no secret that the schedule of an attorney is a hectic one.  Balancing a personal life with the pressure of billable hour is a tricky job.  The typical day of an attorney starts around 8:30 am and rarely ends until 7:30 pm.  Add to this the commute to and from home.  And with the new technology, are you truly ever disconnected from work?  All of these contribute to higher than normal stress level in the legal profession.  The first year of a new associate is even more difficult, as there is the continuous pressure to adjust to the position. 

So, what's new associate to do?  Are we all doomed?  This article focuses on ways to manage the stress and (hopefully) avoid a meltdown.

1.         Exercise

Studies show us again and again that physical activity reduces stress, leaving us more happy, healthy and productive.  Exercise also increases energy levels, improves sleep quality, and helps with mental clarity.  While, I admit, I often struggle to set aside “work-out” time in a busy schedule, I found that by just waking up 30 minutes earlier to exercise for 20 minutes helps me tremendously.  I am sure we can all find time to sneak few minutes at lunch or even right after work. 

2.         Tackle the big tasks first

Whenever possible, start your day with the biggest/hardest tasks of the day.  Doing so will have a double effect:  it will make the “easier” tasks later in the day feel like a breeze, but it will also boost your confidence and productivity.  Don’t forget to “reward” yourself when done by taking a small break.  Make sure to also ease the transition between each task.  Take a few minutes to breathe, leave your desk, stretch, and if possible meditate. 

3.         Relaxation Techniques

Meditation is not just for the yogis among us.  There are many different apps to help with meditation.  Find one that work for you and stick to it.  My relaxation technique is music. There’s nothing like a music break to destress and recharge.  The plus: music is shown to increase endorphin production and slow the heart rate down.

4.         Create Boundaries

As hard as it can be, we all need to leave work at work.  At least, most of the time. And this does not just apply to after work hours.  During your lunch break (if you’re lucky to have one), make sure to disconnect, even for few minutes, to fully recharge your batteries before attacking the rest of your work day.  Try to also set a time each night where you stop looking at your work e-mails.   

5.         Know When to Ask for Help

If you are stressed about something at work, do not internalize it, talk to someone about it.  However, avoid venting to your colleagues.  Speak to the appropriate person in the firm, and whenever needed speak to a professional.  Most bar association have extensive literature on how to deal with stress, as well as toll-free hotlines of professionals available to speak 24/7. 

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