May 30, 2024

Five ways to maintain your mental health at the Bar

Posted by Andrew Lindsay, in-house journalist at Legal Futures Associate Briefed

Lindsay: Ask yourself questions and answer honestly

Navigating a professional career in the legal field can be particularly demanding. Individuals often face challenges arising from heavy workloads and intricate personal issues, leading to potential impacts on their mental wellbeing.

Stress, burnout and isolation are prevalent concerns for both chambers members and staff. These initial challenges may serve as precursors for more severe conditions such as depression and anxiety.

It is not uncommon for these conditions to manifest themselves and it is crucial for your own wellbeing that you know of ways that can help you deal with these feelings and emotions, or even help to prevent yourself from experiencing them entirely.

Recognise when stress is becoming a problem

Developing an ability to recognise subtle yet significant signs when stress begins to become an issue is an invaluable skill to have. Pay attention to both your physical and emotional ‘warning signs’ that accompany heightened levels of stress – such as persistent headaches, disrupted sleeping patterns, irritability or inhibited concentration levels.

Being able to spot these cues as they emerge, and accepting when stress has transcended the boundaries of normal workplace challenges, can provide barristers, clerks and staff with a crucial window where they can intervene and take control of the situation.

A sensible first step would be to consider your daily habits, both inside and outside of working hours.

Establish boundaries when working from home

Within the legal industry and particularly within chambers, working hours can be long, intense and at times, lonely. In the current post-Covid era, remote working has emerged and stood the test of time, becoming a mainstay in the lives of barristers and chambers staff.

Legal professionals are notorious for going above and beyond their daily quota and therefore risk working themselves into the ground. With the added dimension of no differentiation between working and living quarters, it is imperative that those working remotely make the distinction for themselves.

Interrupting yourself from working is a skill that needs to be mastered from the home office. There is nothing or nobody around that will disturb your workflow, therefore the responsibility lies with you.

Any activity outside of working acts a wall between your work and your private time. Watching TV, walking the dog or listening to music are all perfect examples of this – whatever it is, it must be away from your desk. If there is work close by, work will be on your mind.

Be conscious of your daily habits

Keeping your mental health in good condition goes far beyond managing your workload successfully. Each of your daily habits can equally affect the quality of your mental health and it is crucial that you tend carefully to every area of your life, such as:

  • Build and maintain close relationships – friends, family and colleagues can offer vital support and advice in times where you are struggling with your mental health;
  • Be conscious of your diet – having a healthy, nutrient-sufficient diet (including vitamins and water) can drastically improve your mood and mental wellbeing. Also, moderating drinking or smoking can be beneficial. Despite reducing mental tension temporarily, drinking or smoking excessively can have a detrimental effect on your mental state; and
  • Exercise appropriately – exercise helps to manage stress by producing endorphins, giving you a mental boost. Something as simple as a 20-minute walk multiple times per week can make a huge difference.

Regularly assess your own mental health

Carrying out a self-assessment of your mental health is a useful way of figuring out how you are truly feeling, reasons for why you feel this way, and behaviours you could change, if necessary, to make yourself feel better.

Asking yourself a series of questions and taking adequate time to think about the honest answers allows you to target specific areas where problems may lie. These targeted questions might include:

  • How would I describe my mood overall?
  • Has my mood changed at all over the last six-12 months?
  • Has my level of stress or anxiety changed recently?
  • What strategies do I use to manage a low mood or anxiety when they come up?
  • Do these strategies work?
  • Are these strategies healthy or unhealthy?
  • How am I functioning at work, in social relationships and with my family?

Also, by applying this method to your own routine, you place yourself in a position to help or offer advice to others who may be struggling with their mental health.

Be aware of where you can get help

If you find that you are struggling mentally, there is a plethora of mental health charities and services that offer advice and support across the UK.

Charities such as Mind and SANE are among the frontrunners in changing attitudes and the conversation around mental health. They offer clear information on the intricacies of mental health and support for anyone experiencing issues with it.

Alternatively, there are many services available to you that can aid provide effective mental health support to anyone. Organisations such as Headspace offer expansive meditation and mindfulness tools – including meditations, podcasts, mindful movement and focus exercises, coaching, therapy and an employee assistance program.

There is also the Bar Council’s dedicated website for mental health and wellbeing at the Bar.

Addressing mental health in the legal profession is crucial. Creating an open, supportive workplace enables us to recognise and support colleagues in need while knowing when to seek help for ourselves.

Let’s prioritise mental health, reduce stigma, and build a resilient professional community.

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