Battling Burnout and Depression


By Odette Pollar,

Not so very long ago, people didn’t have trouble deciding what to do in their spare time. Leisure time meant just that. It was an opportunity to do what you wanted, when you wanted and how you wanted. It was a time to recharge your batteries, rest, relax, take it easy, maybe indulge in a little recreational activity. But things have changed dramatically, and the pace of living these days is rushed and stressful. Even children are beginning to fall victim to the high stress and constant demands.

The alarm rings and you jump out of bed. A quick shower -- never a bath --and the morning rush to eat (if you have time) and get your family off to work or school has begun. And are the weekends any better? That is usually when the errands get run, repairs made, cars washed, groceries purchased and all the other activities required to maintain the things you own and that support an active, busy life.

For family lawyers facing today’s demanding pace of work, the level of sustained energy required to meet expectations gets harder to maintain. Pouring your all into meeting client demands takes its toll. The phone never stops ringing, and there is always another issue to deal with, decision to make, or question to answer. This is combined with worrying about how to stay current on legal issues in light of the glut of information available. Catching up becomes more unlikely.

If you are faced with rising stress that seems never to reduce, you may find yourself getting depressed. Workplace depression is no fun for the individual, but can also be costly to a firm through reduced productivity and increased absenteeism. Clinical depression can be a very serious illness requiring proper diagnosis and treatment. Before things get that serious, try these suggestions to refresh and renew yourself.

1. Fire problem clients.

Sometimes you need to let a client go for philosophical differences where both sides have valid points, but it is not the way in which you choose to do business. For example, you may have a client who wants to take a relentlessly aggressive approach and “teach his or her spouse a lesson.” You may understand the rage, but disagree with the strategy and find that interactions with the client are increasingly a source of frustration. In such situations, it is often better to end the relationship instead of try and endure it.

2. Consider a change in professional focus or practice area.

For example, you may shift from heavy litigation practice to mediation, or from being a solo practitioner into a partnership. Or vice versa.

3. Focus on the positive.

Keep in mind that most clients are happy with your advice and service. Try to keep your day’s work in perspective. There is always good news, but it is often overwhelmed by the next call or problem. Focus on praise when you receive it. You probably get it more often than you realize and may dismiss it with a "yeah, but" statement.

4. Never take the emotional aspects of your work personally or let your self- esteem suffer.

When a client is in the middle of a divorce, emotions run high and part of your job is to help them manage their emotional state. Remember that their frustration is based on their expectations, uncertainty, fear of the unknown, unhappiness and a myriad of other issues that have nothing to do with you.

5. Don’t take the problems home.

When you are at work, be there 100%, but leave it when you go home. Worrying about what is left on your desk or what might be on the horizon just destroys your ability to rest and refresh yourself. Remember that whatever comes the next day will come with or without your worry and agony.

6. Seek calmness immediately before and after work.

Restructure your morning routine so that it is relaxing. That may be reading the paper early, listening to music on the way to work or eating a leisurely breakfast. As a transition into your personal time, develop a routine when leaving work that you find refreshing. Unwinding before arriving home allows you to move into the stream of things more easily.

7. Talk with your colleagues.

When you are feeling isolated, talk with colleagues. They are probably experiencing many of the feelings that you are. Talking things over is often helpful and will make you feel better. They may have a suggestion or two that you will find useful. But sometimes just venting without trying to fix anything is just what is needed.

8. Find ways to reduce stress.

Exercise, deep breathing, taking a break, and stretching can all help reduce high anxiety levels. Eat lunch away from your desk. Try to get out of the building. Go for a walk during your lunch to help regain your sense of calm. Being out of balance and over tired makes everything just that much harder. During particularly tense times, allow yourself more sleep at night. You will need it.

9. Make time for your hobbies.

When work is particularly draining, it is never more important to have something you enjoy and is fun. That counterbalance helps offer a more realistic perspective on the workplace. Fill your leisure time with rewarding things that have value, not just routine errands and chores. And take vacations regularly! In fact, book all of your vacation time for the year in January. You are much more likely to take them than by waiting for a gap in your schedule and then trying to fit one in.

10. Review your successes at the end of the day.

Think about what you did well and congratulate yourself. Tally up the good experiences you have had. You will probably be surprised at how many more pluses you experienced than minuses.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.

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