“Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath.”
Natalie Goldberg - Writer of Writing Down the Bones
The importance of mental health and mindfulness
Wherever you look, you see books, magazines, and articles on mindfulness. The ubiquity of mindfulness courses and information points to its polar opposite issue: the proliferation of stress and its impact on mental health and wellbeing.
In a culture that has elevated being busy as a badge of honor, the shadow side is that we, as a nation, are deeply stressed and worn thin. Stress has left the parameters of traditional fields such as medicine and law enforcement, to develop deep and unseen roots in corporate environments and law firms. Places where at face value may not seem stressful, but that hide a dark underbelly.
According to The National Law Review, 96% of legal professionals at law firms in the US and Canada suffer from significant stress in their profession. In the last few years, the legal field has started to take mental health and stress more seriously, often developing programs and incentives for the attorneys to bring mindfulness practices to their daily routine. Some law firms bring meditation and yoga to the office.
But is that enough?
Changes to reduce the negative effects of mental health
Addressing the short and long-term effects of stress and its role in mental health needs to be a two-prong approach: individual and cultural.
Law firms and corporations need to start investing in incentives that help legal professionals educate themselves about mindfulness practices that will help them deal with the daily stressors of their field. The link between healthy and happier employees to productivity, job satisfaction, and the overall bottom-line is no longer an idea but a current reality. But making the investment journey requires patience and time investment, as the results may not be as immediate as our culture of quick turnaround expects.
The second approach to better mental health and the diminution of stress is linked to culture: of the company and our country. The legal profession has an added challenge in this respect because they traditionally have several contributing factors that lead to high stress and mental illness:
- Tight time constraints and deadlines;
- High expectations of expertise, success, and billable hours;
- Constant scrutiny and critical judgment of work by opposing counsel/courts
- Inherent conflict-driven nature of the legal process; and
- Depletion of physical, mental, and emotional energy, professional cordiality, and work environment camaraderie.
These are some of the factors that slowly chip away at the emotional, creative, and mental resiliency of those in the legal profession. To improve this situation, both parties must take to task the responsibility of bringing to light the need for discussion and development in not just of professional expertise, but also the acknowledgment of the needs of the individual.
Those involved in tending to the collective health of the culture of a company or firm need to be aware that mindfulness isn’t a palliative measure. It may bring relief to start, but what is often needed in addressing the root causes of the increase in stress and its effects on mental health. This will require courageous and perhaps uncomfortable conversations to take place.
Here at T-Scan, we believe that fostering partnerships with our clients is more than a transaction. We strive to be companions to their work, and in our own way, contribute to decreasing the stress of the job at hand. That’s the T-Scan way.