By Ms. JD Editor • August 09, 2021•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence
“And then I did it. I closed my eyes... and I exhaled—”
Savannah Jackson, Waiting to Exhale (1995)
A recent study found that approximately 25% of women are likely to leave the legal industry due to mental health issues and stress. Burnout, overcommitment, and work-family conflict were the most cited contributing factors. The study also found that in order to cope, women were more likely to engage in risky, unhealthy habits such as binge drinking, binge eating, lashing out, oversleeping, and prescription drug abuse.
It is that time of year when many women in the legal profession are awaiting the next big step in their legal journey (LSAT results, starting law school, bar results, or starting a new job) which can certainly bring stress. Therefore, a quick discussion about self- care is timely.
The term self- care is quite popular nowadays. Social media is flooded with selfies and photos of vacations, hobbies, rituals, and food all with the #selfcare hashtag. Though self-care may be depicted differently, it is essentially the practice of preserving one’s overall health.
Setting self-preserving habits early on can help maintain stress levels to avoid burnout and risky or unhealthy coping habits.
What does stress look like?
Stress symptoms show up differently in people. However, from highly circulated lists of possible symptoms, the most common include acne, appetite changes, decreased energy/fatigue, depression, digestive issues, frequent sickness, headaches, hormonal changes, and insomnia. Eventually, these symptoms can lead to the development of self-destructive patterns or habits.
As we move forward in our careers, it is important that we incorporate healthy practices to preserve our peace, sanity, and overall health.
It is possible to manage your stress.
Stress can come from a myriad of things. It can come from overcommitment, overthinking, being unorganized, uncertainty, you name it! One way to assess the root of stress is to pay attention to our bodies. Certain people, places, and/or tasks may cause different bodily responses like an upset stomach, headache, nausea, and even changes in emotions. The more in tune we become with our body, the easier it becomes to identify our stressors, and the easier it becomes to manage those stressors.
Much of our stress can be traced back to our daily habits, routines, and thought patterns. To preserve the self, we have to preserve the mind and the body. Our habits and routines can show us just where we rank on our own list of priorities. We should always be at the top of our own list. If we do not take care of ourselves, then how can we expect to fully show up for ourselves, our careers, and others? An easy and therapeutic way to track our habits is to journal. Make a journal entry each time you feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or exhausted. When you do this, you are documenting your “triggers.” Identifying these triggers will determine what self-car looks like for you.
For example, take the woman who always feels the need to make herself available for every request made of her and gets anxious at the thought of simply saying “no”. Her body’s response to saying “no” could indicate that she is uncomfortable setting boundaries. Thus, in her case, overcommitment would likely be a cause of her stress. A great way to incorporate self-care in this situation would be to set firm boundaries by limiting the tasks taken on each week, prioritizing the requests received, delegating, or declining the less important requests, and getting comfortable saying “no”.
What does self- care look like?
Self-care is not luxurious. It does not look like elaborate brunches, shopping sprees, and expensive trips every month. Self-care is not lazy. It is not rewarding ourselves for doing the bare minimum. Self- care is a necessity. It is practicing gratitude when you wake up in the morning, setting boundaries to create more time for yourself, making time to develop your talents and abilities, giving yourself grace, practicing patience with yourself, building fulfilling relationships, prioritizing your health, and taking a deep breath every once in a while.
When we incorporate these things into our lives, we will eventually arrive at a place where we have given ourselves permission to be and are no longer waiting to exhale.
A few resources to use along the journey to self-care:
Jackson, Dylan. (2021). 1 in 4 Women Attorneys Consider Leaving Law Because of Mental Health, Survey Finds. Law.com