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2020/12/01 Articles

Developing an Aptitude for Coping With the Pandemic

Claims Prevention Department
Guylaine LeBrun
Claims Prevention Lawyer and Coordinator

Judith Guérin
Claims Prevention Lawyer

December 1st, 2020

Without a doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic has redefined the way we practise law. New rules at court, teleworking and the increased use of technology are just a few examples of the changes in our practice. You might even feel as if you have to relearn how to practise your profession. These changes are likely to increase the stress experienced by lawyers, and may strain their ability to adapt. 

Coping skills refers to “skills a person has learned, developed, and practices that enable them to problem solve and make decisions on demand”.[1] They promote better stress management, autonomy and self-awareness.[2]

In addition, a person’s coping skills influence their overall health (physical, mental, professional and personal) as well as their degree of resiliency. Howatt and his colleagues (2017) define resiliency as “the capacity to deal with and push through different degrees of adversity”.[3] They add that “[h]ow well a person matures their resiliency defines their ability to recover from stressful experiences and overcome hardship to function well and succeed in life”.[4]

Moreover, gaps in coping skills compromise the ability to solve problems and to make healthy and effective decisions.[5]

In light of the foregoing, it is reasonable to believe that a lack of coping skills can have a negative impact on the management of one’s professional practice. It is therefore relevant to focus on this concept. Thus, the purpose of this text is to discuss some possible solutions to increase your coping skills so as to help you strengthen your resiliency and manage the stress related to the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19. Here are our suggestions:

  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits: Among other things, this means having a healthy diet, doing physical exercise and maintaining a good sleep hygiene. In fact, each of these habits helps improve your overall health and provides you with the energy you need to fight stress.[6]
  • Seek social support: A study of the determinants of psychological health at work among Québec lawyers[7] reveals that social support outside of work (family, friends, etc.) increases well-being. That said, this is often the sphere of our lives that we neglect when we are overwhelmed. Although it is currently difficult to meet in person, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or set up virtual meetings to maintain a dynamic and solid social network. At the professional level, weekly virtual problem-solving meetings help to break deadlocks in problematic files and avoid procrastination.[8]
  • Take regular breaks: Taking 5- to 10-minute breaks in your day helps increase performance and maintain your concentration.[9] Likewise, whether you’re teleworking or at the office, don’t neglect meal breaks to recharge your batteries and start the second half of the day off on the right foot.
  • Set goals for yourself: Establish realistic personal and professional goals and then, on a regular basis, take action to help you reach your goals.[10] In fact, psychologist Dan Crystal notes that successful lawyers take their ambitious goals and break them down into realistic, attainable ones. This allows them to maintain a sustained sense of efficacy and motivation.[11]
  • Learn one new thing every day: In times of stress and uncertainty, it can sometimes be tempting to cling to old habits, policies and procedures in order to keep our heads above water and get everything we need to do done faster. Of course, there are advantages to relying on our experience and past procedures. That said, in the current context, certain procedures or ways of doing things are proving outdated and require updating (e.g., digitization of files, protection of confidential data, meetings with clients, etc.). That’s why you shouldn’t overlook the importance of learning in order to better adapt. Give yourself the right to experiment with new things. For example, try out new software that promotes collaborative work or try using information technology to maintain a link with your clients. In fact, in an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi reveal that a learning-focused vision achieves goals faster and more sustainably than a task-oriented vision.[12]
  • Keep a journal: At the end of the day, take a few minutes to write down in a journal what worked well and what didn’t work so well.[13] For the more negative elements, consider, without blaming yourself, what could have been done differently. Write down these possible solutions in your journal. The goal is to allow you to turn the page and focus on continuous improvement.[14]
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present moment in order to accept one’s feelings and thoughts in a non-judgmental way. As for meditation, it consists in emptying one’s mind. It is a way of practising mindfulness.[15] John Paul Minda and his colleagues (2017) conducted a study of 46 lawyers who agreed to participate in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program.[16] Study participants reported fewer depressive symptoms, anxiety, stress and negative moods. Moreover, the program increased positive moods among participants as well as their psychological resilience. In addition, meditation transforms many parts of our brain that we use in our daily practice. In particular, American researchers have found that the practice of meditation increases the grey matter in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory and learning. Furthermore, the daily practice of meditation can reduce the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain related to anxiety and stress. Lastly, mindfulness allows for the better management of our emotions.[17]
  • Cultivate a positive self-talk and external discourse: Paying attention to your self-talk boils down to training your brain to think more positively[18] so that you don’t let panic overwhelm you in the presence of a stressor. When a stressful event occurs, think about why you became a lawyer or accepted the mandate. In other words, find a purpose for what you’re doing.[19] Some even push the concept further and suggest that we pay attention to the words we use since they play on our interpretation of a situation. In this regard, Harvard graduate Stephen R. Covey, founder of FranklinCovey and a management consultant and writer, is among those who urge us to watch what we say. He suggests that we replace reactive language with proactive language. For example, replace the sentence “I can’t do anything about it” with “Let’s look at different options” or the phrase “I have to” with “I prefer to”.[20]
  • Do activities that you enjoy:[21] Doing activities that you enjoy helps you detach from your work or a more problematic file. In addition, you will increase your energy to better face the challenges of your practice.
  • Cultivate gratitude: People who have good coping skills and resiliency have learned to focus on the positive and what they have.[22] So, at the end of the day, why not think of something positive that happened that day. You could also jot it down in your journal.

In short, the pandemic has significantly changed the practice of law. That said, by investing in our coping skills, we will undoubtedly be in a better position to face the challenges of our practice more serenely.

 

[1] Howatt, W., VanBuskirk, K., Chin, E. and Davids, J. (2017). Why supporting employees to develop their coping skills and resiliency is good business, Morneau Shepell, p. 4. Found at: https://www.morneaushepell.com/permafiles/88880/why-supporting-employees-develop-their-coping-skills-and-resiliency-good-business.pdf

[2] Id.

[3] Howatt, W., VanBuskirk, K., Chin, E. and Davids, J., supra, note 1, p. 11.

[4] Id.

[5] Howatt, W., VanBuskirk, K., Chin, E. and Davids, J., supra, note 1, p. 1.

[6] Howatt, W., VanBuskirk, K., Chin, E. and Davids, J., supra, note 1; Robinson, J. G. (2020). 8 tips for lawyers on how to build resilience, ABAJOURNAL. Found at: https://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/how-lawyers-can-build-resilience?

[7] Cadieux, N., Cadieux, J., Youssef, N., Gingues, M. and Godbout, S.-M. (2019). Rapport de recherche : Étude des déterminants de la santé psychologique au travail chez les avocat(e)s québécois(es), Phase II - 2017-2019. Rapport de recherche, Université de Sherbrooke, École de gestion, 181 pages.

[8] McGregor, L. and Doshi, N. (2017). There are Two Types of Performance – but Most Organizations Only Focus on One, Harvard Business Review. Found at: https://hbr.org/2017/10/there-are-two-types-of-performance-but-most-organizations-only-focus-on-one

[9] Robinson, J. G., supra, note 6.

[10] Palmiter, D. et al. (2012), Building your resilience, American Psychological Association. Found at: https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience

[11] Crystal, D. (2018). When Procrastination Rears Its Ugly Head. Washington State Bar Association. Found at: https://www.wsba.org/Resources-and-Services/Lawyers-Assistance-Program/Self-Care/Procrastination-Article

[12] McGregor, L. and Doshi, N., supra, note 8.

[13] Howatt, W., VanBuskirk, K., Chin, E. and Davids, J., supra, note 1.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Minda, Cho, Nielsen and Zhang (2017). Mindfulness and Legal Practice: A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Mindfulness Meditation and Stress Reduction in Lawyers. Found at: https://osf.io/y34wj/

[17] Dr. Vivien Brown, Le puissant pouvoir de la méditation sur votre cerveau, Selection Reader’s Digest. Found at: https://www.selection.ca/sante/vivre-sainement/le-puissant-pouvoir-de-la-meditation-sur-votre-cerveau/

[18] Howatt, W., VanBuskirk, K., Chin, E. and Davids, J., supra, note 1.

[19] Robinson, J. G., supra, note 6.

[20] Covey, S. R. (2013). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster.

[21] Robinson, J. G., supra, note 6.

[22] Howatt, W., VanBuskirk, K., Chin, E. and Davids, J., supra, note 1.

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