In Mental Health Awareness Week LawCare chief executive, Elizabeth Rimmer, offers ten tips to build resilience
We all have mental health, just like we have physical health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act, and it can determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Mental health problems range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life, to stress, anxiety and depression, to serious and complex conditions. It’s easy to dismiss mental health problems as something that happen to other people, but research shows that 1 in 4 of us will experience them each year. And the legal community is no exception.
Many legal professionals are reluctant to talk openly about mental health in the workplace, for fear they may be perceived as weak or not coping with the demands of their role.
At LawCare we know that talking is an important first step in changing the way we think and act about mental health. We want to get the legal community talking about mental health so that if you or someone you know has a problem, you can get support.
More and more legal institutions are recognising why mental health in the workplace matters, and are taking steps to promote it and provide support. But, we still have a long way to go.
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Surviving or Thriving’ and, rather than asking why so many people are living with mental health problems, uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.
Good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem, but having the ability to think, feel and act in a way that enables us to enjoy life and deal with the challenges it presents. It can be easy to assume that ongoing stress is the price we pay to keep our lives on track. It’s time to challenge that assumption.
Many legal aid lawyers may feel like they are just surviving – the funding constraints, demanding case loads, striving to make a difference for vulnerable people and the erosion of access to justice, make for a tough and challenging working environment. It may be hard at times to find the resolve to keep going.
There are no easy answers but the concept of resilience may offer a strategy for thriving rather than just surviving. Resilience is defined as the ability to resist or bounce back from adversity, and in any workplace there will be people who thrive on challenges and difficulties, while others will find it hard to cope with unexpected change or problems.
If someone finds it hard to forge ahead when things go wrong, the good news is that we can all learn how to develop resilience, and it’s not that difficult.
Highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in times of constant change. Most importantly, they expect to bounce back, and feel confident that they will.
That expectation is closely linked to a general sense of optimism, and finding the positive aspects in most situations, is a skill that can be evolved – the right mental attitude to cope, and even flourish, when the going gets tough, can be developed.
Ten tips to build resilience:
- Learn to see challenges, mistakes and failures as valuable learning experiences
- Give ourselves a pat on the back when things go well. Be kind and forgive ourselves when things go wrong
- Don’t give in to negative thoughts. Challenge them, and ask whether they are true or realistic
- Use humour to defuse and downplay difficulties. We can laugh at ourselves and situations
- Be flexible. Recognise that nothing stays the same, especially in the workplace
- Take care of physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. When our physical self is in good shape, we are less fragile
- Take time off work, use holiday entitlements and take breaks during the working day
- Recognise that a bad situation is usually temporary
- Build a support network. Make time for friends and family who offer encouragement and strength. Consult supportive work colleagues
- Don’t extrapolate one bad situation into another unrelated situation. We can’t be good at everything, recognise areas of strength
Attitude and perspective are fundamental to building resilience — paying attention to strengths and how to develop them, learning to accept that things won’t always go well, focusing on what is working rather than what’s not — and we will all be on our way to thriving, rather than just surviving.
LawCare supports and promotes good mental health and wellbeing across the legal community. Calls are answered by trained staff and volunteers, all of whom have worked in the law. Call 0800 279 6888 or visit www.lawcare.org.uk.