When COVID-19 hit, I did not have co-workers in my home (2-legged or 4-legged), I did not have small children or elderly parents to take care of and I did not have to homeschool my children while running my practice. I was used to working remotely so the transition to my home office (aka my living room) from my co-working space in downtown Cincinnati was pretty seamless. There weren’t big changes in my day-to-day life except that my activities and networking events shifted from in-person to online, my travel and conferences were postponed, and my client meetings became conference or zoom calls.
However, the number of emails, text messages, and calls on my cell phone increased dramatically. I soon realized that because I didn’t have the natural boundaries (or interruptions) that I had before, my practice became my solace in the crisis. After my morning coffee, I’d sit at my desk and stay there until well into the evening, only stopping for dinner and then returning to my desk. I had no other distractions to save me from my working self. The calls and emails were constant. I felt an internal pressure to keep abreast of new legislation, updates to SBA programs, and PPP loans, as well as the avalanche of other information through emails, blogs, and whitepapers regarding the ever changing landscape.
A large portion of my clients are small, family-owned businesses – many became entrepreneurs after the last recession that resulted in corporate downsizing. Today, many of my client calls center around uncertainty related to: contracts, leases or mortgages, small business loans, business continuity plans, supply chain interruption, remote work, employee management and reduction in workforce – the list goes on and on. As a business attorney, I want to have the answers and be able to help businesses be as successful as they can be. But these days, I either don’t have the answers they seek, or the answers I have on one day no longer apply the next day due to the daily changes we face.
Since, I, like most of my colleagues, pride myself on being a partner to my clients, this inability to support them in the way I once did is incredibly challenging. As attorneys, we often take on the stress of our clients as well as having a higher stress level of our own in this profession. Combining this with the unspeakable events our communities have experienced in the last few months, the collective grief is immense. Such prolonged and unresolved stress has a long-term effect on our physical and mental health. Now, more than ever, we need to develop new patterns and practices for effective stress management to benefit our clients and ourselves.
Here are some tips and activities I’ve been utilizing for stress management:
1. Eat a healthy and balanced diet. I re-discovered my love of cooking, which has been therapeutic for both my mind and body.
2. Exercise regularly. After gyms were mandated to close, instructors and trainers instituted various online and virtual classes. I reconnected with my yoga and Pilates practices and when I wasn’t in “class,” I would turn to my other favorite activity for exercise, walking. Our Firm’s Marketing Manager Emily Griesing put together a short video series of “5 Stretches to Release Tension” that you can do easily at home with no equipment required. Take advantage of this time to make yourself feel like you.
3. Develop and maintain good sleep habits. Establish and maintain normal bedtimes and morning routines. Sleep is restorative and absolutely necessary for stress management. It is also good for basically everything else.
4. Develop compassion skills. Compassion skills allow us to be more empathetic towards our clients while refraining from taking on their stress. It is very easy to become overwhelmed with the magnitude of the suffering of others – especially in our current environment. Without this skill set, emotional fatigue and burnout ensues. As we learn compassion skills for our clients, we also need to develop and apply those same principals to ourselves. By exercising self-care and self-compassion, we can offer ourselves the same grace, kindness, and gentleness that we give others in our lives.
5. Quiet the mind. According to scientist and meditation teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, “mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” By adopting a mindfulness practice, we can hold our experiences in balanced awareness and allow the stress to shift away from us, which decreases stress and anxiety while increasing focus and concentration. Mindfulness helps retrain our brain and forces us to pause – a novel concept for attorneys like myself. I’ve discovered many helpful resources for bringing mindfulness practices into my life these past few months from fellow attorney Gary Powell’s “Legally Mindful” app to Brene Brown’s new podcast “Unlocking Us” to old faithful apps like “Calm” and “Headspace.”
By adopting new routines and instituting mechanisms for balance, I feel a bit less frazzled and more equipped to resist the urge to be a sponge for the crisis we are all facing. We have no idea when the end will be and how it will unfold, but we all must transform with our world that has been unalterably changed.