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Lawyers and Stress: How to Exercise for Emotional Health

Patrick Davis

Written by

Patrick Davis


September 29, 2020

To be perfectly clear: stress is not specific to any one gender. Nor is it specific to one industry (even the ABA has a call-out on it.) But because female lawyers are a minority in the field, and because they often face societal hurdles involving equality and parity issues, they definitely should be keenly aware of the role that stress can play in their careers and personal lives.

When it comes to health and wellness, many attorneys think about their physical health more so than their mental or emotional health. They’re concerned about what they eat, keep up with regular exercise, are at least aware of (if not abiding by) guidelines for a healthy amount of sleep.

Mental health addresses a wide variety of issues including anxiety, depression, and burn-out.

But what about emotional health? Emotional health is not something most people seriously consider in the same way they pay attention to physical health. But if you’re stressed out or work in a high-stress industry like law, emotional health is critical to both well-being and success.

As a result, thinking more deeply about stress and creating an emotional health safety plan is actually a key component of career (and personal) growth.

What Is Emotional Health?

Emotional health is the ability to feel, acknowledge, and respond to any emotion you might experience. It’s also about self-regulating how you behave due to your emotions. Emotional health is NOT a bubble bath or a run in the park, but those might be things that you use as a tool to “fill your cup” of emotional balance and calm. But before we get into that, let’s take a look at some key characteristics of emotionally healthy people.

Welcome All Emotions

Emotionally healthy people are able to welcome all emotions as a part of their day-to-day lives. They understand that there are no good or bad feelings, just feelings and how they’re internalized. Anger, sadness, joy, grief, fear etc. are all part of the human experience. If you want to be an emotionally healthy person, you must be willing to accept that you will experience all emotions. You should also avoid labeling those emotions as good or bad.

As part of your emotional health safety plan you should remind yourself that having difficult emotions is a natural and welcomed part of living. You might even want to write that reminder down and post it somewhere where you can see it daily if you’re having a particularly difficult time in life. Leading a full life means filling it from time to time with unpleasant—though completely natural—feelings.

Emotions Tell the Truth

You may have a skill for keeping a poker face in the office or during a conflict but you cannot hide from your own feelings. Emotionally healthy people understand that all of their emotions are giving them data about how a situation is impacting them. If you want to know what your emotions are trying to say, you should include in your emotional health safety plan these questions:

  • Why do I feel this way every time I’m around that person/situation?
  • Why do I feel this way when this particular thing happens to me in the office?
  • What am I really fearful of or angry about?
  • What do I need to feel differently about this situation?

Getting to the root of what your emotions are telling you requires you to be curious and ask yourself the right questions about what you’re feeling in the moment. Don’t be afraid to answer honestly. Remember, you’re the only one who has to know about the true reasons for your feelings. Likewise, you’re the only one who can actively care for your emotional health.

Take Time for Reflection

As part of your emotional health safety plan, you must take time daily to check in with yourself about your emotional state. You can keep a journal of your thoughts or just sit back quietly and reflect. What is the overwhelming feeling that you have for that day? Was there anything that triggered very strong emotions in you?

Once you’ve identified your emotions, take the time to figure out why you’re experiencing these particular feelings. You should go through this process even when you haven’t had an emotionally difficult day because it is also important to understand what makes you feel joy.

Communicate Your Needs

It is not enough to simply feel, recognize, and take note of your emotions. You must also be willing to communicate to others what you need to be emotionally balanced. Granted, in many cases the resources you need are inside of yourself but sometimes you may need things from others. For example, if it makes you anxious to receive reports late from your admin, you need to give them a reports deadline that makes you feel more at ease. As part of your emotional health safety plan, you should have some opening lines and tactics for communicating your needs. Here are some examples:

  • I noticed that you________. I always feel stressed when that happens. Is it possible to do_______ instead? It would make me feel a lot more confident about_______.
  • The ______ is always due on the ___________of the month. When you give it to me one day before the deadline it doesn’t give me enough time to ____________ and that’s really stressful.

These types of statements clarify the problem without pointing fingers or shaming the other person, and it also offers a solution. It’s important that you understand that when you communicate your needs, it’s done in a consistent and respectful manner.

Regulating Your Behavior

When you don’t have a good emotional health safety plan, powerful emotions such as anger can build up and explode at some point because you’ve ignored your feelings instead of taking care of your needs. As part of your emotional health safety plan, you should have tactics you can employ to deliver you from an agitated or depressed state to a state of calm and balance. This might be meditation, exercise, art making, or anything else that brings you joy. Failure to include emotional regulation tactics in your safety plan could jeopardize your job and your career if you’re prone to emotional outbursts.

Avoiding Toxic People

Part of your emotional health safety plan is steering clear of toxic individuals. Obviously at work you can’t completely control who has access to you, but you can sometimes control how much access they have. If you have toxic individuals working in your office, avoid having lunch with them or going to happy hour with them. Keep your conversations short, professional, and limited to the business at hand.

Get Professional Help

Sometimes things happen to us that overwhelm our nervous system and psyche. We might experience a trauma so great that we are emotionally out of control and suffering from anxiety and depression. If you’ve experienced severe trauma, consider seeking professional help. A therapist, or other health professional, can be a powerful tool in your emotional health safety plan because they can help you find new and more effective ways of healing.

Handling stress at work isn’t just about ignoring your emotions, it’s about taking a holistic approach to how you handle your feelings and your overall emotional health.

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