We all feel fluctuations in our moods (from elation to deep sadness). Some people feel this range of emotions to a lesser degree (find it hard to feel intense emotions) while others feel it to a greater degree (find it hard not to feel intense emotions). A common question we get is, “How can you tell the difference between a low mood and something more serious like depression?”.
The stats are alarming which indicate that before entering law school a student is just as likely to have experienced depression as any other adult in the general population (which is about 7%). After one year of law school, 32% of law students experience depression. It keeps rising to 40% by the end of the third year. So what is it about law school, and in particular the first year of law school that is so stressful to law students? While there are many sources of stress in the first year of law school, two particular stressors stick out as significant for many students: the Imposter Syndrome and the Socratic Method.
Much research has been conducted to examine the effects of meditation from reducing anxiety, increasing attention, and slowing down the aging process on your brain. In a nutshell, meditation can be an effective practice. And while meditation might not be recommended for everyone, the usefulness of meditation can be wide reaching. So, let’s assume that you have read a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of meditation programs and decided that meditation might be helpful to you in your management of anxiety, stress, attention, and so on. Now what?
Stress management is a big industry these days. Whether its relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, mindfulness or therapy, there are many options for how we can better manage our stress and anxiety in life. When lawyers come to talk with me about how to manage their anxiety and stress more effectively, they often expect to be told to practice some mindfulness or deep breathing technique (which are great by the way, so yes, please do them). But for some types of stress and anxiety, a different approach can be more effective, and more fun.
As high achieving professionals, lawyers are genuinely busy people. Too much to do and not enough time to do it in. But what if the busyness that most of us busy people face on a daily basis is not due to pursuing some professional or personal goal but instead a distraction from something else? What if we are busy but not productive? I often tell people that as human beings we are motivated by two basic drives: to pursue pleasure and to avoid pain. And avoiding pain is stronger. Given this fact, we can understand a lot about why we do what we do by understanding what we find painful, or uncomfortable, and how we typically respond to that discomfort.
Lawyers are not unique in their struggle to prioritize their health and well-being. Many in the helping professions focus on those they aim to help at the cost of neglecting their own needs. It takes time and effort to learn how to prioritize one’s own well-being as an essential element in being an effective helping to others. For those looking for reasons to avoid addressing issues with their own well-being, lawyers can turn to their legal training to help provide justification for their avoidance of self-care.
A random act of kindness is a kind gesture offered without solicitation to someone who has a need. National Random Acts of Kindness week this year falls between February 11th and 17th. Not that kindness should ever be confined to one week, but this week is an opportunity to do a deeper dive into the benefits of acts of kindness, be creative about ways to spread kindness, and start a pattern of engaging in random acts of kindness throughout the year. Random acts of kindness, or “RAKs” for all of you cool kids out there, are one of the few social interactions that create a reinforcing cycle of positivity on the one offering kindness, the one receiving kindness, and anyone observing that kindness.
The change in the season means many different things to different people. When the season changes from autumn to winter (at least in regions where there is distinct variation between seasons), some people are excited about the holidays, winter fashion, and outdoor winter activities (think of your friendly neighborhood skiers, snowboarders, Santa impersonators). For others, the change in season is met with dread (lower amounts of energy, mood fluctuations, pessimism). While many people are negatively impacted by the colder seasons, there is a percentage of individuals who are affected to a significant degree, those who meet the criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD occurs when the change of season produces depressed mood, low energy, irritability, change in sleep patterns, change in appetite, diminished concentration, and low motivation.
The holiday season is not unique in terms of the various hot topic conversations that often come up between friends and family members. However, this season may provide more opportunity for such discussions given the nature of getting together with people you may not see on a regular basis and therefore having less of a track record with said people in terms of successfully discussing difficult topics without ending in a knock-down-drag-out brawl that embarrasses Aunt Shirley’s sensibilities. Popular topics that ruin family events include such classics as politics, world events, religion, sex, and of course the ever-controversial issue of whether a food can be considered a side dish if it has marshmallows on top. Don’t get me started.
When you ask people what the holiday season means to them, you will probably get as many answers as the people you asked. For some, the holiday season brings up memories (some good, some bad, some ugly, some they hope one day to repress) of years past that they either wish or fear could be repeated each year. It can be difficult to know what to expect and how to prepare. I find it easy to feel overwhelmed and distracted by the bombardment of messages about the holidays (you should feel happy, you should spend time with family, you should throw parties, you should buy lots of stuff, you should make resolutions, you should or shouldn’t eat lots of sweets, you should compete with your neighbor for the most electricity used to light the exterior of your dwelling, etc.). By this time in the season, I’m tempted to start dreaming of life on a deserted island.