Burnout is not a fad or a phase, it’s a real condition. A condition that many in the legal profession are struggling with. Unfortunately, the elements that contribute to burnout are inherently connected to the very nature of the legal profession.
People drawn to a career in law and court reporting are the types of people who naturally drive themselves hard and place high expectations on themselves. For too long, burnout has been brushed aside as something trivial, well, we want to stop this trend.
In this article we look at the signs and symptoms of burnout, how you can prevent burnout, and what to do if you are experiencing legal career burnout. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone and that help is available to you.
Signs and Symptoms of Legal Career Burnout
While burnout is not an official medical diagnosis, it is a very real condition impacting so many people in the legal profession. Consider this definition of burnout by Professor Arnold A. Bakker, Ph.D, a burnout researcher:
Burnout develops when someone is dealing with a high level of stress but doesn’t have access to adequate resources, such as social support, helpful advice, feedback from friends or colleagues, or control over how they spend their time.
With this in mind, let’s look at the signs and symptoms of burnout:
- Overwhelming fatigue. Regardless of the amount of sleep, you’re still extremely exhausted.
- Negativity. Every aspect of life is considered in a pessimistic and negative light. This is a core aspect of being disengaged with life.
- Feeling of uselessness. With burnout, the stress and depression can culminate in a feeling of uselessness. It doesn’t matter what work gets done, there is always a sense that it not good enough.
- Inability to focus. The sense that you cannot focus on one task long enough to complete the work.
- Desire to be alone. People often want to isolate themselves during this period.
These symptoms are very similar to those of stress overload and depression. It’s important to also pay attention to physical signs including regular headaches, stomach problems, sleeping problems, and chest pain.
If you’re experiencing any or all of these symptoms, please contact your healthcare provider. Be honest with how you’re feeling and about the stress levels you’re dealing with.
How to Prevent Burnout
The steps to preventing burnout are very similar to those recommended to lawyers and court reporters who are struggling with chronic stress. In fact, these recommendations are ones that regardless of your stress levels and risk of burnout, everyone should be incorporating into daily life.
- Prioritize your workload. People drawn to the legal profession and court reporting are prone to wanting to do everything themselves. This has to stop. Focus on what can be done today and make sure that you’re not taking on too much work. You should not be working more than eight hours a day.
- Disconnect from technology. Technology has many positive impacts for the legal profession, but it’s also created the perfect storm of always being connected. Stop checking your email at home, turn your phone off, don’t respond to every text message, use the weekends to disconnect from work – do what you have to do to stop working 24/7.
- Talk to someone. Take advantage of the support services provided to you. Talk to your friends. Talk to people who don’t work in the legal profession. Talk to your doctor.
- Take a vacation. This is a real vacation that doesn’t involve checking your email or scheduling conference calls. Leave your phone in your hotel room and get out and relax on a beach somewhere.
Working in the legal profession doesn’t have to be stressful. The old ideas of working 24/7 and constantly taking on more work are definitely old-school. Make yourself a priority and put yourself first. This doesn’t mean you’re not committed to court reporting or to being a lawyer, it just means you want to have some balance and a long and healthy career.
What to Do If You’re Experiencing Burnout
If you’re experiencing burnout, please do the following: talk to your doctor, remove yourself from the stressful situation (take a sabbatical or use your vacation time), and remember that burnout is not a personal failing.
Whatever you do, don’t keep working, hoping that things will simply get better. Speak up and get the help you need.