Self-care for solicitors
Taking care of our mental, emotional and physical health is a vital part of ensuring that we are able to behave and perform at an optimal level in both our personal and professional lives.
Stress in moderation can be helpful. A low to moderate level of stress motivates us to get us out of bed, complete tasks and get our work done. Yet too much stress can make us feel overwhelmed, and too much stress over prolonged periods can lead to burnout and other secondary problems.
The higher our stress levels, the more important self-care is.
Imagine that you have a bucket. This bucket fills up incrementally with each bit of stress that you experience. As your bucket fills, smaller stressors can cause the bucket to overflow. This is when we may start to see deterioration in our abilities to manage our emotions and make decisions. Irritability, mood swings, feeling on edge and overreacting are also common signs and symptoms of too much stress, and may lead to tensions in our relationships, challenges at work and reduced sleep quality. Self-care activities help to empty out and relieve some of the stress, so that your bucket does not overflow.
It is not always easy, but effective self-care practices can help us to:
- cope with life challenges
- enhance our general wellbeing (physical and emotional)
- feel satisfied with our work and other life achievements
- help with work-life balance and reduce the risk of burnout
- reduce the risk of experiencing vicarious/secondary trauma
- minimise vulnerabilities to developing depression and anxiety
Self-care is the restorative activities that you do to look after your health and wellbeing. It is recommended that you select self-care activities which are aligned with your personal values and individual needs.
There are several barriers which may get in the way of practising self-care. Some people perceive self-care as being a bit self-indulgent. Other commonly experienced barriers include burnout, professional isolation, heavy workloads and stigma.
This publicly available self-care assessment tool can help you to assess your current levels of self-care and wellbeing .
- Review your results of the self-care assessment tool. This will help inform areas which could benefit from more self-care.
- Brainstorm self-care activities which are personally meaningful and interesting to you.
- Write a plan for how you will implement these activities into your daily life. It can be useful to follow the SMART principle of goal setting when doing this (i.e., setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goals).
- Consider realistic barriers to you practising these self-care strategies. Have a plan for how you will overcome these barriers.
- Continue to review your progress and make changes as required and where helpful.
If you feel like stress or work-life imbalance is impacting on your health and wellbeing, or you would like assistance achieving a healthy lifestyle, a psychologist may be able to help. Psychologists are registered mental health professionals trained in the provision of evidence-based interventions for a range of emotional, mental health and lifestyle concerns. A psychologist can help you identify the factors that might be contributing to your stress, and help you come up with strategies to achieve better health and wellbeing.
Examples of self-care activities which may enhance health and wellbeing
- building your peer network to reduce professional isolation
- managing workload
- having boundaries between work and your private life
- taking time away from electronic devices to psychologically detach from work outside of work hours
- minimising exposure to distressing work material outside of work hours
- engaging in regular self-reflection
- challenging or restructuring unhelpful thoughts
- engaging in regular mindfulness or meditation practice
- taking regular breaks
- connecting with nature
- limiting use of alcohol/drugs
- allocating time to hobbies and other enjoyable activities
- seeking professional support if required
- regular exercise
- eating a balanced and healthy diet
- access medical care if required
- focusing on healthy sleep habits
- religious or spiritual practice
- mindfulness or meditation
- altruism or other acts of kindness
Have you heard about the Solicitor Outreach Service (SOS)?
SOS is an independent and confidential psychology counselling service for NSW solicitors.
NSW solicitors can call SOS on 1800 592 296 for access to:
- Up to three counselling sessions with an SOS psychologist per financial year, paid for by the Law Society of NSW
- 24/7 telephone crisis counselling with a psychologist.
Since July 2020, SOS has been providing help to NSW solicitors experiencing a range of emotional difficulties and other mental health concerns. You don’t have to be at breaking point to access this service. Find out more about SOS here.
 Access online here. Adapted from Saakvitne, Pearlman, & Staff of TSI/CAAP (1996).
Transforming the pain: A workbook on vicarious traumatization. Norton.
Miriam Wyzenbeek is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and the Law Society of NSW’s Wellbeing Coordinator.