“. . .women in the legal profession are being hit hard by this crisis. Many are attempting to do the impossible and there is a reluctance to admit they are not super women.” Dana Denis-Smith, founder of The First 100 Years
Mental health in the legal profession has been the subject of numerous studies1 and articles. It is no secret that attorneys suffer from depression, substance abuse, anxiety and yes, suicide at a rate much higher than that of the general population. (As I write this, my heart is heavy after learning of the suicide of one of our local colleagues just days ago.)
While blogs and podcasts abound as to the effects of COVID-19 on lawyers’ mental health, a survey conducted in early May 2020 by The First 100 Years2 explicitly focused on the effects of the pandemic on women lawyers. In that survey, nearly 900 female attorneys in Scotland were asked a series of questions relating to the pandemic and the effect it has had on their law practices. The data is still being tabulated, but Dana Denis- Smith, founder of The First 100 Years, a group dedicated to preserving the history of women lawyers, gave us a glimpse of the results.
Less pay, same work
Of the nearly 900 survey respondents, many women faced pay cuts (over one-third), yet only 6% of employers had reduced their working hours and only 3% requested reduced hours. While this is not a new issue for attorneys, it is exacerbated in the current reworking of the “office” environment to “WFH.”
If you are in this situation, what emotions are you feeling? Anger? Frustration? Guilt over complaining when you still have a job and others don’t? We may feel sad that perhaps this is the way things will be going forward, not some temporary setup to get through until the pandemic is over. Think of these negative emotions like your heaviest file that you are lugging around, all day every day. If not released, these negative feelings will prevent us from doing what we need to do to maintain our sanity and balance as we figure out the shape of our practices in the days, months and even years to come.
Furloughs and Job Security
Respondents in the survey also expressed concern over being furloughed, currently or in the future; or being one of those attorneys who is not furloughed but required to pick up the work of the furloughed attorneys, to the point of exhaustion. Another concern expressed was for those out on maternity leave, who feel that their jobs may be in danger when this is all over.
Women lawyers were worried that their future employment was at risk if they were judged not to have juggled adequately all of the pressures of family and working at home. Again (and sadly), this is nothing new for women lawyers, but made worse by the pandemic. The need to appear that we “have it all together” makes showing up as anything less than that unacceptable to us, underlying the fear of asking for help or even discussing our challenges with a colleague.
Childcare/Homeschooling: Overwhelmed and exhausted
It will come as no surprise that mothers of young children are feeling the effects of the pandemic on a higher level. In the survey, for those with school-age children, over 90% were handling homeschool responsibilities and extra childcare. Nearly a third of them were forced toreduce their working hours, half felt that they were handling more childcare duties than their partner andnearly three-quarters were finding the situation “hard to juggle.”
Women lawyers who don’t have children also reported that they felt pressured and isolated because they don’t have children, taking on extra work, again, to the point of exhaustion. With or without children, it appears that women lawyers are trying to do too much and it is taking its toll on their mental health.
Ways to Cope: Self-care
We all have “the list” at hand of all of the self-care tools that have been offered far and wide during this crisis: breathing, mindfulness, meditation, exercise and diet. These tools are invaluable not only for helping us to get through COVID-19, but also for maintaining a healthy lifestyle in general. There is one tool, however, that no one has mentioned that is largely unknown in the legal profession: EFT tapping.
What is EFT tapping?
As I have written in previous blog posts, EFT(Emotional Freedom Techniques) is an evidence-based set of techniques that uses tapping on acupuncture points, located in the head and upper torso, to relieve stress. It is often called “psychological acupuncture“ because no needles are used, just your fingertips. There is an ever- increasing body of scientific evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of EFT not only for stress, but also for PTSD, phobias, cravings and addictions, eating disorders, sports performance, and a host of other issues. You can learn more about the science and research behind EFT at www.eftlawyer.com/What-Is-EFT/
EFT has been used with veterans, in prisons, schools, with medical professionals and with law-enforcement personnel. Why not with lawyers?
EFT has been around for over 30 years, and has been used extensively in many areas with different demographic populations, yet it is virtually unheard of in the legal profession. Probably the biggest advantage to using EFT as a self-help tool is that it can be done anywhere, anytime, by yourself, and it only takes a matter of minutes. No need to grab a yoga mat or log onto an online course. No need to sit for a half an hour trying to calm your brain so that you can try and meditate, no need to change into your running clothes and head out the door for a run, which as we know, is impossible during your workday, and hey, running may not be your thing anyway. And you don’t have to schedule an appointment to tap, unless you are working with a practitioner.
Don’t get me wrong, I practice yoga, I meditate in the mornings, run regularly and practice relaxed breathing techniques. As I said before, these tools are invaluable and I endorse them wholeheartedly. But when the time calls for it, there’s nothing like five minutes of EFT tapping to relax, calm down and get centered to be able to focus on the matter at hand that demands my attention. When I found EFT eight years ago it was a game changer for me. As an immigration attorney, I cannot recall a single day without some form of work-related stress, and that’s just work. Forget the rest. If you see me in my car at an intersection, there’s a good chance that I will be tapping (if I am not singing along to a favorite song).
The issues cited in the survey above are common to women lawyers everywhere. EFT can help reduce the feelings of being overwhelmed by so much work; frustration because it’s too hard to focus with all of the other demands; anxiousness and fear around job security; anxiousness around financial issues as a result of pay cuts; exhaustion from trying to do too much, or any other negative emotion surrounding our “WFH” experience. It’s another resource to add to your self-care toolbox.
The next time you’re feeling anxious, unfocused, needing to get that file finished up before you get dinner on (however that happens), while your kids are screaming in the background, stop and take a few minutes to do some tapping. Your children will thank you, especially if you share the gift of EFT with them. Kids of all ages love tapping!
You can also join a tapping group.* A recent study found that after just one hour of group tapping, participants’ cortisol ( a main stress hormone) was reduced by 43%! 3
EFT for deeper issues
Because EFT tapping deals with emotions, as we tap on a particular situation that is bothering us, deeper emotions and subconscious beliefs may surface during a tapping session. It is often best to work with a certified EFT practitioner when dealing with underlying issues, especially if they involve prior events from our childhood that can be described as particularly troubling or traumatic. Sometimes it is necessary to work with a licensed mental health professional. In those cases, a referral can (and should!) be made for that purpose.
You are not alone.
Like it or not, there is still a stigma in the legal profession around asking for help, especially for women lawyers. Although this is starting to change (every state has a lawyer assistance program), and there are new online resources available for attorneys around the globe, including organizations like the Lawyers Depression Project4, the fact remains that many of us are reluctant to reach out. We are nervous about appearing weak to colleagues, bosses and clients; and being strong for our loved ones.
Because we are trained as lawyers to be the problem solvers, the ones with the answers, voices of strength and confidence for our clients, it’s easy to believe that our self-worth is attached to this persona, always trying to be that superhero. Until we acknowledge our inner beliefs and work to change the ones that don’t serve us, i.e. being a superhero to everyone, we will be driven by that “inner superhero,” doomed to struggle under the weight of doing too much.
Tapping is a fast, effective and healthy way to reduce feelins of stress, overwhelm and exhaustion. Even more important, tapping helps us give ourselves “permission” to reach out to others and seek help, knowing that we are not alone in our struggles to “keep it all together.”
If you need help
My colleague’s suicide last week is not the first we have experienced in my area. I hope and wish it could be the last, but the statistics show otherwise. My mission is to share techniques that could possibly help prevent the loss of a life. We need to reach out to each other, check in and let our colleagues know they are not alone. If you need to reach out to someone, contact me, contact your state Lawyers Assistance Program, or the support program offered by your local bar association. Visit the Lawyers Depression Project website and take advantage of their community small group weekly support sessions. Know that your fellow lawyers care.
If you are thinking of suicide or have other thoughts of harming yourself, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Sharon Ames, Esq. is a practicing attorney for over 35 years and a certified EFT practitioner with EFT International. She is dedicated to creating inspired lawyers through reducing stress, anxiousness and feeling overwhelmed by the demands of practicing law. She works with clients individually or in groups*, is available for workshops and presentations, in-person or via Zoom. Sharon is not a licensed mental health professional. If you need to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional, and don’t know where to start, Sharon can refer you to a mental health professional or organization.
*During May and June of 2020, Sharon is offering free group tapping sessions to lawyers. If you want to join and experience tapping in a safe space, contact Sharon.
1 McLellan, Lizzy, “Lawyers Reveal the True Depth of Mental Struggles,” Law.com, February 19, 2020; Krill, Patrick R. JD, LLM; Johnson, Ryan MA; Albert, Linda MSSW The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, Journal of Addiction Medicine: January/February 2016 – Volume 10 – Issue 1 – p 46-52
2 The First 100 Years is a ground-breaking history project, supported by the Law Society, the Bar Council and CILExm charting the journey of women in law since 1919.
3 Mind Heart Connect 2020. Stapleton, P., Crighton, G. , Sabot D., O’Neill HM (2020). Reexamining the effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: A Randomized Control Trial. Psychol Trauma. doi: 10.1037/tra0000563