By Rachel Phillips
Bob Marley, in his infinite wisdom told us all, “don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing, gonna be all right.” I’m sorry Bob, as much as I try, I do worry. I worry a lot. I struggle with anxiety and overthinking. And I know I am not alone.
In the past few years, organizations like the ABA have been promoting attorney wellbeing. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being issued its 2017 Report detailing various ways to improve the legal profession and confront the troubling statistics regarding attorney mental health and substance abuse issues. It is not surprising to learn that a worldwide pandemic has not improved the situation. The ABA recently released results of a survey of how COVID-19 affected lawyers. 40% of lawyers reported feeling stress about working during the pandemic. And a June 2021 Bloomberg Law survey found that two-thirds of junior and midlevel attorneys reported a decline in well-being. 52% of women respondents experienced stress about work.
Many law firms and organizations have taken these troubling statistics seriously. I was a member of my former firm’s inaugural wellness committee. We worked to implement programs and provide resources to all levels of attorneys to improve wellbeing and firm culture. While progress is slow moving, it is encouraging that organizations and firms are taking steps to improve the work environment and prevent (or lessen) burnout.
As military spouses and lawyers, we face even more challenges. PCS season and upcoming deployments only make things worse. Everyone handles the stress of the legal profession and military life differently. But here are five things I found helpful.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is first for a reason. If you are going through a deployment, there are often support groups and other resources readily available. Many state bars or employers also have resources to provide free counseling services. I have taken advantage of the services through my local bar organization. The process was fairly simple, and I do not know why I waited so long to make the call. The professional I was matched with was familiar with working with attorneys and helped me develop healthy coping tools. As attorneys and military spouses, we often feel we have to be independent and able to handle anything life throws at us while not asking for help. It is always okay to ask for help whether it be from a professional, a friend, a family member, or a neighbor.
- Plan something to look forward to. This is important whether you are stressed at work, need a reward after PCSing, or are going through a deployment. I like to plan little things each week and something bigger once a month. Usually my goal is just to make it to the end of the work week. Maybe I get that takeout I have been craving. Maybe I watch that new movie that is streaming. Or, maybe I make a date with friends or a video date with my long distance SO. Whatever it is, having a countdown to something fun can make the long days go by faster and offer a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Make time to exercise your mind and body. There are many studies on the positive effects of physical activity on our mental health. Sometimes we may require more than just endorphins, but I am always amazed at the big impact a little physical activity can have on my mental health. Last year I trained to run the Marine Corps Marathon, which occurred virtually because of the pandemic. I am not a runner. But even though my body was sore all the time, my anxiety was a lot more manageable. You don’t have to run a marathon, but getting up and getting active will always lead to positive results.
- Bring nature indoors. I was sitting in a CLE in Jackson Hole, Wyoming a few years ago when one of the presenters discussed something I have not forgotten. She detailed recent studies of the positive impact of having plants and access to nature in the workplace. Even just having pictures of nature scenes can boost productivity and lower stress. In fact, studies over the last six years have shown that exposure to sunlight and natural elements in the workplace boosts moods, satisfaction with work, and commitment to employers. While having houseplants can be tricky when you have to move every few years, do not overlook incorporating small touches of nature or natural light in your workspace. That can be a picture, a screensaver, or even just taking a break during the day to take a quick walk around the block or through the neighborhood. I am lucky to currently live next to a park, and when I get frustrated at work or need a break,I take a quick walk to reset. It does not solve all of my problems, but I always notice an improvement in my mood or ability to focus on the project I am working on.
- Develop a new hobby. During the pandemic, many of us were forced to find creative new ways to spend time. Lots of people (including myself) baked banana bread. I also discovered that I loved paint by numbers. I found that learning something new gave my mind a break from stressing about work and time to calm down. I also bought some books on Amazon and started studying Japanese. Starting new projects or projects can also be a good distraction during a deployment.
So, talk to a friend, take a walk, get some sunshine, and remember that there are many resources available to help you with whatever challenge you are facing! And most importantly, you do not have to go through this alone.
Rachel Phillips received her JD from Brigham Young University and is licensed in Utah and Wyoming. She is currently a law clerk for Judge Barlow at the United States District Court, District of Utah. She previously clerked for Justice Pearce at the Utah Supreme Court. When not pursuing her dream of clerking, Rachel has been an Associate at Snow Christensen & Martineau in Salt Lake City. Her practice focused on representing government entities.