Mindfulness: Giving lawyers something to think about

There are a number of reasons why an employee might have to take time off work, many of them related to illness and injury. But, did you know the biggest cause of long-term absenteeism is stress? On top of that, around 300,000 people in the UK leave their jobs each year due to issues related to mental health.

We’re all subject to stress in our daily lives, but if you’re in a busy, high-pressure career such as law, then serious cases of stress can be all the more common. In fact, more than 50% of people in the profession admit to feeling stress. But it’s not just the rise in the number of incidences of reported stress in the legal profession that is a concern, but the severity of it.

Indeed, 1 in 5 (19%) lawyers in the UK are currently reported as suffering from clinical depression and 95% of those who admit to suffering from stress say it is more ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’ that it was a few years ago. The consequences not just on the individual but also in the bottom line of the firm can be significant. So, what can be done about it?

With 1 in 4 people experiencing some sort of diagnosable mental health condition in their lives, more and more people are realising that this is nothing to feel ashamed about and that it’s okay to talk about it, no matter how mild or severe your problems may be. One trend that’s taking off in popularity to help us manage stress and other issues more effectively is mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a kind of meditation that encourages us to focus on and be present in what we are doing. With so much mental and visual stimulation from new and pervasive technologies, our attention is more often than not divided. This means we rarely slow down and focus on the present moment anymore.

Practicing mindfulness helps us to keep a clear head and change the way we react to certain situations, making us more focused, more relaxed, and more productive. Or put another way, it is a way of re-training how individuals habitually react and respond to stressful situations.

We’re not talking about gathering groups of lawyers to sit cross-legged in a circle and holding a team chant – that’s a very antiquated (and wrong) way to view mindfulness. Rather, it can take the form of short exercises lasting no more than 5-10 minutes per day yet they can make a big difference. You could practice this on your commute to work in the morning or before you go to bed at night, for example. In fact, they are not time or location specific – they are designed in a way that can be deployed on the spot.

How can mindfulness benefit lawyers?

If a million different things are going through your mind while you’re at work, then you’re not fully focused on the task at hand. This can lead to less productive staff and even a reduction in the quality of work being produced. Practicing mindfulness helps you to train your mind to rest on a single thing, or even on nothing at all. This helps to improve your focus and, therefore, your productivity, letting you get more done in your work day.

To make this clearer, it’s metaphor time: Imagine you’re sat on the side of the road doing your work, and all the cars passing by are your thoughts, memories, and emotions. You can let these cars go by while still focusing on your work. If you start chasing after the cars, or even running away from them, then you lose that focus on your work and get lost in your thoughts and feelings. Likewise, if you let a thought take up your attention or try to push them out of your mind, your focus will be divided.

Mindfulness teaches your brain to become more relaxed and handle life’s daily stresses more effectively. It also helps you to become more attuned to the way your mind and body feels. This helps you to notice the warning signs when you are becoming too stressed or tired, helping you to prevent burnout.

A lot more workplaces are adopting mindfulness programmes to help keep their employees happy, healthy, and productive, and law firms should be no different. Think about how mindfulness meditation could help you and the rest of your firm.