It’s time for a vacation – your mental health may depend on it

We’re nearing the halfway mark of the year and you’ve been diligently working to grow your law practice, while keeping current clients satisfied. Your staff has been right there with you, making sure deadlines are met, documents are accurate, and the office is properly managed. You’ve created an efficient and effectively performing machine, but even a machine needs some downtime every once in a while. Enter the vacation. Whether you choose to stay home and take some much-needed time away from the office or catch a plane around the world, vacations are essential to your personal mental health, as well as your law practice as a whole.

 

The vacation dilemma

Attorneys are notorious workaholics. For many lawyers, there is no such thing as an 8-hour day. Particularly, when your livelihood depends on the billable hour. So, vacations and down time get pushed to the side in favor of more working hours. But there can be serious consequences to this decision, including increased occurrences of chronic depression, physical illness, and resentment for the career that you worked so hard to pursue.

It’s no secret that depression is a major problem within the legal community. Just look at some of these alarming statistics:

  • Only half of polled lawyers classified themselves as very satisfied or satisfied with their work
  • Lawyers are the most frequently depressed occupational group in the United States
  • Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers
  • Lawyers struggle with alcoholism and illegal drug use at rates that far exceed nonlawyers.
  • 26% of all lawyers who seek counseling cite bouts of depression and anxiety
  • Lawyers rank 5th in incidence of suicide by occupation
  • The divorce rate among lawyers (particularly female attorneys) is higher than the divorce rate among other professionals.

These numbers may be difficult to take in, but they cannot be ignored. The stress and responsibility that accompanies the practice of law can be debilitating if not properly treated. There are several possible reasons for these negative feelings among lawyers, including:

  • Pessimism – Attorneys are taught to anticipate negative responses and take actions to prevent them. This means that you are wired to constantly consider the negative possibilities. Lawyers are even congratulated for their pessimism, with those who are best able to prepare for trouble receiving the highest level of praise. Yet, while pessimism may be a positive in the practice of law, it can wreak havoc on an attorney’s personal well-being.
  • Conflict – The practice of law can be highly adversarial, with two or more sides pitted against one another. While some attorneys thrive in this type of environment, others find these conflicts difficult to continuously handle on a daily basis.
  • Responsibility for others – Attorneys routinely take on the expectations and needs of others. Whether it’s the custodial determination of a minor or a corporation’s existence wrapped up in a business deal, there are extensive responsibilities that come with practicing law. An important part of healthy lawyering is the ability to separate your clients’ problems from your own. But, unfortunately, many attorneys have not mastered this trait. Instead, they walk around with the weight of their clients constantly on their backs, which can manifest as anxiety and depression.
  • Dealing with loss – Even the most charismatic, skilled, and persuasive attorney may lose a case here and there. If you don’t learn to deal with that loss in a healthy manner, you may view it as a personal deficiency, instead of professional loss. Most lawyers are naturally competitive, with high expectations for themselves. One unsuccessful case can have lasting effects for an attorney with poor mental health.

Before we get into the more upbeat topic of taking a vacation, it’s important to make one additional note. By refusing to take time off, you may also be creating a law firm culture where your staff members feel uncomfortable taking their vacations. This is a prevalent problem within the general workforce. According to several career website polls, only about 25% of employees in the workforce take all of their paid vacation days. Even more disturbing is the fact that of those who do claim their vacation time, more than 60% report that they continue working throughout. Sound familiar? Vacations are important to your office environment. Employees who take vacations benefit the workplace through higher productivity, improved morale, and greater retention.  So, set an example and watch your legal practice reap the benefits.

 

Planning your vacation

In attempt to make this as painful as possible for even the most workaholic attorney, I have gathered some resources that I hope will help you with the planning phase of your vacation. Remember this is supposed to be a stress relieving experience, so don’t let it become another source of stress.

All-inclusive packages – These one-stop shops allow you to simply pick a destination and virtually make one single payment. The work is done for you, so you don’t need to spend hours researching hotels, restaurants, and attractions. Just decide where you want to go and book it. With resources like Groupon Getaways and BookIt.com, you can have your all-inclusive vacation booked in no time.

Think outside the box – Is there some adventure you have always wanted to take, but you keep talking yourself out of it? Well, there’s no time like the present. Adventure vacations can take you from the safaris of Africa and bike trails of France to the waters of Alaska and the campgrounds of Yellowstone. Even better, a lot of these adventure options are also all-inclusive, saving you time and money. If this option peaks your interest, check this US News article listing 15 of the country’s best adventure vacations.

Do some good – There’s no better way to get out from under your own stress than to help alleviate someone else’s. Volunteer vacations give you the opportunity to visit a new place, while also giving back to people in need. These travel opportunities are available domestically and internationally, with projects ranging from home building to wildlife monitoring. If you’re not sure what’s out there, check out Travel to Do Good for some interesting options.

Don’t let the summer months pass you by without taking a break from the hustle and bustle of legal practice. Take some time off for a much-needed vacation, and don’t forget to encourage your staff members to do the same. Your mental health, as well as theirs, may depend on it.


About Erika Winston:

Erika Winston is a freelance writer with a passion for law. Through her business, The Legal Writing Studio, she helps legal professionals deliver effective written messages. Erika is a regular contributor to TimeSolv and a variety of other publications. 

www.legalwritingstudio.com