Since March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has upended personal and professional life in the U.S. COVID-19 has interrupted education, derailed personal finances, shuttered businesses and, of course, caused sickness and death. According to the American Psychological Association (2020), few are immune to the coronavirus’s mental health effects: nearly eight in ten Americans report significant pandemic-related stress, and stress has increased for most during the outbreak. While new vaccines bring hope for an end to the pandemic, attorneys currently must assist anxious clients, while themselves coping with challenging times and managing their own pandemic-related stress. Here are five helpful tips to manage personal and professional pandemic-related anxiety in the several months ahead while we await being vaccinated:
- Focus on controllable behaviors and action. The pandemic provokes anxiety in part because it makes life unpredictable. People may worry about all sorts of possible losses or bad outcomes related to the pandemic. In turn, they may start to feel hopeless or overwhelmed. The “Serenity Prayer” popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous challenges people to accept the things they cannot change and work to change the things they can. Back in March we wrote about Five Ways Family Court Clients Can Make Progress In Their Cases During COVID-19. Harnessing these ways to make progress for your clients can help both the client, and you, feel less anxious about their case. Rather than fantasizing about what we’ll do when the pandemic is over, we can think about how to use this time in ways consistent with our personal values to move ahead now.
- Focus on the present. Anxiety is, by definition, uncontrolled worry about the future. Some people may have vague, underlying feelings of fear and insecurity about the pandemic. Others may feel acute anxiety in specific situations, like when entering a building or a room with other people. When we notice ourselves thinking about bad things that might happen, we can choose to shift our focus to the here-and-now. It is possible to notice and acknowledge anxious thoughts without dwelling on them. Instead, we can think about what we need to do right now – then today, then this week. Reducing uncertainty also greatly reduces anxiety, and we can stay knowledgeable of ways in the present to reduce uncertainty. (An example of reducing uncertainty would be our article Five Questions Clients Should Ask To Ensure Their Evaluation Process Is Safe During COVID
- Prioritize basic wellness. Exercise, sleep, and nutrition are three foundations of physical and mental health, and important to prioritize when stressed. As stress increases, people increase their coping behaviors, which can be maladaptive. With winter and “pandemic fatigue” setting in, overeating, binge-TV watching, and using alcohol or other substances might feel tempting. These behaviors promise short-term relief, but in the long run, they tend to exacerbate existing problems or become problematic themselves. Instead, attorneys and clients can remember to have daily physical activity, eat healthy meals, and aim for eight hours of sleep per night. To maintain social and professional support, attorneys can schedule times to consult with colleagues and keep up with local and national professional organizations. Attorneys can remind clients to take care of themselves and maintain support systems as they navigate legal proceedings.
- Keep up with routines. The pandemic has disrupted many school and work-related routines. Some people have become busier, others have lost their positions, and many have experienced changes such as working remotely. Changes to daily structure can breed feelings of anxiety. Attorneys can model work boundaries by responding to emails during business hours. Everyone can improve structure by planning times to work, exercise, eat, contact friends or family, engage in leisure activities, and get to sleep. The American Bar Association (2020) recommends minimizing multi-tasking, such as trying to watch TV while working, or checking emails while on conference calls. If working from home, it is recommended to still dress professionally, and to work at a table or desk instead of in bed or on the couch. Routines are literally calming to our brains!
- Consider therapy. If pandemic-related anxiety is beginning to interfere with functioning, attorneys can seek out counseling or psychotherapy, and recommend clients do the same. Many practices including Lepage Associates offer remote appointments online, as well as in-person sessions with safety protocols, and outdoor session as well! Therapy can help build skills for coping with stress and achieving goals in the face of challenging circumstances. the benefits of teletherapy are impressive research has shown teletherapy can be as effective or even more effective than in-person treatment!
Our “new normal” of adopting safety behaviors such as wearing masks and social distancing seemed strange at first but is now for many of us routine and habitual. With vaccines developed, we enter 2021 hoping the pandemic will be managed by mid-year. But that doesn’t have to mean several more months of languishing in stress! Knowing what to do to keep ourselves and others safe helps us retain senses of agency and control, and being in-action toward our goals reduces anxiety. We encourage you to share these five stress-reducing tip with clients, and employ them yourselves, as you ring in the new year!
American Psychological Association (2020). Stress in America: A national mental health crisis. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/sia-mental-health-crisis.pdf
Toohey, M.M. (2020) Maintaining remote control: Six common-sense tips for telelawyers to reduce risk. American Bar Association. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/ethics-professionalism/articles/2020/maintaining-remote-control-six-common-sense-tips-for-telelawyers-to-reduce-risk/