It’s that time again: the all-important end of financial year is upon many of us. This time of year brings highs and lows as year-end billings are totted up in the ledgers and often publicised within law firms. It is a very public declaration of success (or perceived shortfall in achievement) and that can be shared as a firm, a department, or a team, but it can also be very much an individual sentiment. There also comes the conflict of whether to celebrate or be discrete and sensitive to others. We do see people coming to market because of poor pay reviews or their manager’s handling of billing and targets, and stress levels often peak. As such, it feels timely to introduce the second in our series of guest blog posts from LawCare, which talks about tackling year-end anxiety.
This time of year is often when many lawyers are at their most stressed and anxious. Pressure to meet end of year billing targets may mean working even longer than usual hours, the uncertainty of whether you’ll get your bonus is hanging over you, and the constant comparison between yourself and others can lead to unhelpful thinking, anxiety and burn out.
Anxiety describes feelings of unease, worry and fear. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations you might experience when you are worried or nervous about something. Anxiety is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response – our normal biological reaction to feeling threatened.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
We all know what it’s like to feel anxious from time to time. It’s a normal human response to feel tense, nervous and perhaps fearful at the thought of a stressful event or decision you’re facing – especially if it could have a big impact on your life. You might even find it hard to sleep, eat or concentrate. Then usually, after a short while or when the situation has passed, the feelings of worry stop. It’s sometimes hard to know when it’s becoming a problem for you – but if your feelings of anxiety are very strong, or last for a long time, it can be overwhelming. You might find that you’re worrying all the time. You may regularly experience unpleasant physical and psychological effects of anxiety, and maybe panic attacks.
SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
- Panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Sleep problems
- Not being able to stay calm and still
- Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
UNHELPFUL THINKING STYLES
You may also be experiencing one of these unhelpful thinking styles. It’s important to remember that your thoughts are not facts, how you feel about yourself is not an accurate representation of who you really are, and that none of us can predict the future.
All or nothing – Sometimes called black and white thinking, this is believing that something or someone can only be good or bad, or everything has to be perfect and if it isn’t you’ve failed; rather than anything in between or shades of grey
Mental filter – Only paying attention to certain types of evidence, for example ignoring the times you have been praised in favour of times you’ve been criticised, or focusing on your failures rather than your achievements.
Jumping to conclusions – Assuming you know what others are thinking, or that you know what the outcome of a situation will be. None of us can predict the future.
Emotional reasoning – Assuming because you feel a certain way it must be true, for example just because you think ‘my boss hates me’ doesn’t mean she does. Feelings are just a reaction to thoughts.
Labelling – Assigning unhelpful labels to yourself or others such as ‘weak’ or ‘stupid’.
Over-generalising – Seeing a pattern based on a single event – for example having a difficult meeting with a client and then assuming future interactions will be similar.
Disqualifying the positive – Discounting the good things that have happened to you as if they were a one-off or a fluke.
Catastrophising/minimastion – Blowing things out of proportion and believing the worst possible thing will happen or shrinking something to make it seem less important.
Shoulds and musts – Thinking or saying ‘I should’ and ‘I must’ puts pressure on ourselves and sets up unrealistic expectations.
Personalisation – Taking responsibility or taking the blame for something that wasn’t your fault.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH UNHELPFUL THINKING STYLES AND ANXIETY
- Focus on the here and now – what is actually happening in this moment. Is there another perspective? You are more than your bill!
- Talk to people about your feelings – ask them for feedback.
- Keep a list or folder of your achievements and look at it when you need to.
- Talk to yourself as you would a friend.
- Distract yourself from your thoughts – read a book, take some exercise, see a friend, do something you enjoy.
TREATMENT FOR ANXIETY
If you are worried about your anxiety or if they are persistent it is important to see your GP. Many people find counselling and CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) help with anxiety. Mindfulness can also help calm the mind – check out the Headspace website or app for more information.
For more information, advice and support you can call LawCare ‘s confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888 or visit www.lawcare.org.uk