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Why Legal Burnout Is A Wake-Up Call (And 3 Ways To Reclaim Your Health)

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

As lawyers we are determined and highly driven by success, but the lifestyle and working conditions make us vulnerable to chronic stress and burnout.

This can lead to serious long-term health conditions, and can hold us back professionally.

Burnout is a buzzword, but have you stopped to question if you are on your way there?

Find out if you're on the way to burn out?

As part of my obsession to help you live a better version of success (increased well being and optimised professional performance), I asked health coach Katarina Hunter, who specialises in chronic stress reduction, recovery from exhaustion and holistic health regeneration, for her expert advice.

Katarina was once a public affairs director in London; she has great insight into the debilitating impact of exhaustion.

You can hear our full conversation on my podcast Water+Air.

The struggle

Katarina: “When people experience burnout, they’ve reached the point where they are incapable of dealing with routine tasks, let alone more complex ones. They do not have the physical energy to do it and this is often associated with depression or lack of joy. Everything becomes a struggle.”

"Everything becomes a struggle."

Katarina has helped dozens of lawyers on the brink of professional collapse to reclaim their careers by helping them build a robust digestive system, regulate stress and restore the body to its natural rhythm. Just some of the physical tell tale signs of the road to burn out.

People in the legal profession expect to be pushed to their limits and, until now, they have been conditioned to accept it as par for the course. Katarina explained why routinely ignoring the common symptoms of burnout is a risky strategy.

The truth about burnout

Katarina: “Burnout is more than a mental war. Your body can only take a certain amount of stress and pressure. When we are running on empty, we are eating into our vital resources. Sugar cravings, disrupted sleep and a loss of interest in life impacts on our relationships and leads to chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and cardiovascular problems (research shows this, even though conventional medicine has still to catch up).”

"- sugar cravings
- disrupted sleep
- loss of interest in life
- chronic health conditions (type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and cardiovascular problems)"

Nobody wants to create disease or a bleak future. It’s time to wake up to the truth that teetering on the edge of burnout, or worse, is not on anyone's bucket list. Katarina has seen the consequences of inaction many times.

Katarina: “Law is a difficult profession to be in because of the way the system, the structure and the culture work; there’s lots of competition and pressure to produce billable hours. It’s considered ‘normal’ to go about life feeling terrible and disconnected. I’ve worked with lawyers who were outwardly very successful but they paid the price with extreme health issues; one gentleman had to overcome a cancer diagnosis twice.”

"It’s considered ‘normal’ to go about life feeling terrible and disconnected."

Katarina is spot on here. In fact, the legal profession is the second most stressed out profession in the world! In a recent piece of research from LawCare, a study was carried out on 1700 lawyers which revealed that 69% have reported mental health unwellness, and 1 in 5 suffering from harrassment, bullying or discrimination.

How's that for a difficult profession?

Now I don't want to start waving the “poor us” flag as stress is all part of the job, but we can't ignore the facts any longer or feign ignorance.

The good news

The good news is that there are some very simple things we can implement to help solve these issues.

When I named the podcast Water+Air, I wanted to reinforce the fact that the ordinary is what powers us to be extraordinary. The solutions, even to burnout, can be simple. Katarina went on to explain three ways you can begin to reclaim your health:

  1. Rehydrate

  2. Breathe better

  3. Explore and update your beliefs around how you work and live

Water restores mental clarity

Katarina: “So many lawyers suffer from chronic dehydration because they don’t replenish the water in their body. This has huge implications on how they feel; they might think they’re tired but they’re dehydrated. They reach for a coffee to boost their energy when in fact it would be better to have two glasses of water to bring back their mental sharpness for their next task.

Water isn’t the only thing our body needs for rehydration. We need two other things: good quality salt (like Himalayan salt) and green vegetables, or salads, to help rehydrate the body at a cellular level.”

"Green vegetables help rehydrate at a cellular level"

It’s reassuring to hear from an expert that simple things like water and green vegetables can significantly reduce our stress levels.

A better way to breathe

In addition to Katarina’s wisdom on drinking more water, she has lots to share on how we can boost our wellbeing by breathing better.

Katarina: “There is profound wisdom in our breathing. The majority of us don’t breathe in the correct way, which is in and out through our nose (with mouth closed and tongue lightly touching the roof of the mouth). Incorrect breathing leads to fatigue; we don’t recover from our day-to-day stress. Better breathing makes us smarter, more intelligent human beings.

A lawyer who is working for hours on end at a computer is likely to be a shallow breather. We want to be breathing so that our diaphragm expands and we fill all five lobes of the lungs. It’s really important to fill up the bottom pocket of the lungs because that gently massages the heart, the upper digestive tract and helps expand the back, which loosens the tension in the upper part of the body.”

One minute power habit

We all breathe, so a really simple technique like this is a “one-minute habit” that we can introduce at any point during our day, or anchor it to something else that we already do, like boiling the kettle or going to the toilet, so that it’s easier to remember.

Katarina also explained that while high-performance athletes breathe out through their mouth for speed in competition, if they’ve trained by breathing in and out through the nose beforehand, their performance goes beyond expectation; so just imagine what it could do for the legal profession if we could invest even a few minutes a day to breathe better!

However, there is also a need to address the deeper roots of why we do what we do, the belief systems we’ve developed, and our perception of self. As Katarina explained, focusing on our behaviour, habits or lifestyle is only skimming the surface.

YOU matter more than your job

Katarina: “You have to dig deeper into your emotional make-up. Sometimes people who choose to work in the legal sector feel they have something to prove to others. They don’t feel worthy; going into the legal profession becomes another way of hiding and running away from themselves. They haven’t developed self-compassion.”

Katarina’s perception is fascinating. If we don’t have compassion for ourselves, how can we expect to have it for other people?

There’s an ongoing revolution where we now know that “control” is no longer the best style of leadership. It has been replaced by compassion – however, it’s ironic that lawyers feel compelled to do their best and deliver at a high level, but they often live and work in such a disconnected way. It’s a vicious cycle that negatively impacts on our own personal and professional relationships, and it has to change.

From too busy to better career lifestyle

Breaking the cycle of busy-ness that we’ve created isn’t going to happen overnight, but a simple strategy that is easy to implement will help reduce the impact of unhealthy stress.

Looking after our wellbeing has to be about more than optimising our professional performance. It also has to be about respecting and looking after ourselves, understanding the beliefs that drive our habits and behaviour and responding to those with compassion. However, even if you’re not ready to dive in at the deep end yet, you can start simple – drink more water and spend a little bit of time every day breathing more deeply.

If you’re a lawyer, tune in to my Water+Air podcast; it provides invaluable insights to help you build strong wellbeing foundations and create sustainable success (in a way that works for you).

It’s time to ditch high exhaustion and burnout!

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