Off the back of the Workplace Wellbeing webinar series, hosted with Amanda Mead and Dr Leila Davis in November 2020, InfoTrack again spoke to the pair about implementing actions and take-home tips to establish strong work/life balance. Today, Amanda shares her personal journey to uncover a more balanced life and Dr Leila reveals a 5 day challenge that you can set yourself to achieve happiness and fulfilment.
ITK: What made you realise lawyers needed support with work/life balance? Tell me your story
AM: I set up my own law firm out of law school and had a 2-month-old child on my hip and I felt the pressure to set up a law firm straight out, so that was quite a ride. From my own experience, I realised quite quickly that you need support because you just can’t do everything. And if you do try and do something yourself, you’re not going to do it as well as a professional. So for me, things like getting a bookkeeper or an accountant, that can save a lot of time and headache, so you can just focus on the things you really want to do like be a lawyer. I think just reaching out for support so you have more time and you can use that time for being a lawyer or spending more time with your family so you aren’t going home and then having to deal with writing the accounts or trying to figure it out as you go. It’s the attitude of “ok I’m just handing that over” and then you can be more present.
I set up Law Firm Solutions, because I noticed there wasn’t a lot in the way of support for lawyers. I noticed that lawyers need help and they also need a little bit of education around how they can be better off reaching out for help rather than trying to do it on your own and that that’s ok.
I would go into Court and I noticed that people would ‘armour up’ – they go into Court and put their armour on and it’s because they have to put on this front – “I’m strong, I’m going into bat for my client,” and unfortunately, they tend to carry this through their whole life. They forget to take the armour off. So, it’s about re-educating lawyers on ‘you are human’ funnily enough, and it’s ok to reach out and it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s actually a sign of strength, to put your hand up and say “actually I do need support here.” Instead of just struggling along. You can see it in lawyers everyday. So many have come to me in tears, they’ve got an issue and they don’t reach out. It’s a problem and I want it to change. That’s my goal with this is to make a change happen. I know there are others out there trying to do the same thing and I’m just trying from my end to do as much as I possibly can.
ITK: What made you reach out to Dr Leila?
AM: I actually saw her on LinkedIn and we did communicate and we just hit it off. We both had the same vision. We wanted to help other people, especially professionals. Dr Leila’s background is in mental health and working with solicitors and barristers and she has done so for over 20 years. So for me, it was just a no brainer – bearing in mind I wanted to help lawyers with their mental health. We created a 6-week online course together – Boss in Law – so that lawyers could easily and discreetly access support to start to become more aware of things. Before I met Dr Leila I hadn’t heard of Imposter Syndrome and I hadn’t really thought about perfectionism. Sure, I knew that there was anxiety and I was having panic attack issues but the question was “Why was this the case?” The more I spoke with Dr Leila, the more I realised that she had the answers that was more than just going to bed on time or going for a walk on the beach. She was helping people understand and become more aware of Imposter Syndrome and the fact lawyers might keep themselves small and not reaching out. And perfectionism where they are trying to do everything so well that they are just getting overloaded.
I really wanted an answer. I was searching for it, for about a year after seeing what was happening to everyone around me. I was starting to struggle as well and I wanted answers so I reached out to Professor Gordon Parker from Black Dog. He said to me “It’s women of [Amanda’s] age who run their own business and have a family at home, who end up burning out.” It’s like I’ve got two jobs. Everyone was starting to talk about burnout at work and I wanted to investigate why was that happening? You can’t just say work less because that’s not the answer. You can’t just say go to the beach, that’s not the answer. That’s why Dr Leila and I really hit it off - we had the same vision of helping other lawyers.
ITK: What are some of the signs of stress and burnout?
AM: I think when someone starts to withdraw and isolate and you don’t hear from them so often and they just seem a little off. It’s good to ask those questions. I actually did a Mental Health First Aid course so that I could identify the signs better and what was interesting in doing that course was it made me actually look at myself a bit more first. I do recommend all people, including lawyers, do a Mental Health First Aid course because what that does is help you identify in others if you think they might have a problem so you can ask them the question “you seem a little off today, are you ok? Do you want to talk about it?” Just knowing how to go about that.
When people do the Mental Health course, I imagine a lot of people might think “wow I never knew that” and maybe even identify that within themselves, they might have an issue so that they can then reach out. I know for me with the panic attacks and anxiety that was something that started to kick in around COVID time. I know a lot of people have struggled with COVID on top of all the other stresses of being a lawyer.
I speak to people around the world and I know people are really struggling with the uncertainty [of COVID] or the financial stress. When lawyers sign things over to other people, you see the weight lifted off their shoulders because it’s not their problem anymore. Whereas so many lawyers who run a law firm might just bury their head in the sand.
There are so many areas that we need to work on and ultimately you need to dig deep within yourself. Sometimes it helps to think about your childhood and sum up your childhood in one word. I shared my story with Dr Leila and it was very much about my experience as an only child. I was very focused on “I can do this on my own and I don’t need help.” It wasn’t until I fixed that, then things started to change because then I would reach out for support.
ITK: What are some tips that you want to share with others?
AM: It’s interesting to look at lawyers, those who have been in the role for 20+ years and they have the ‘lawyer stoop’ – they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. I’d like to encourage lawyers to do law differently. To take time for themselves (however that looks) and they will have more joy in their life. You’ll then see it in their posture. You’ve got one life – this is it. What do you want from it? I know for me, I want to be present for my children, I want to be able to get to the beach on the weekend. I don’t want to have to have my head in the books and on the phone, missing out on that quality time with my family. Everyone has something different that might be important to them.
Tip-wise: I think it’s about creating awareness. Until you know you’ve got an issue, you won’t reach out. It’s about identifying those red flags – those times when you’re waking up in the morning feeling exhausted or when you get home from work and you’re grabbing a glass of wine. Unless you’re aware you won’t make a change.
There are little things, like a 5-minute meditation. That’s how my world started to change. It sounds really simple. I would then wake up feeling not exhausted, because I had slept well – got a deep sleep, which reduced my coffee intake and reduced the snacks I was craving throughout the day, so I was eating healthier. Dr Leila’s 5 minute heart coherence changed my world. It helped me to choose healthier options.
Separate from that, Dr Leila helped me with my self-worth and setting or establishing boundaries. Once I set boundaries, it was amazing how my world changed. Because people around you, who like control, don’t like that. So suddenly your whole world changes because those people who might have not respected a boundary just fall away. So, you are left with people who do help support you in a positive way. It’s really important to:
- Be clear on what it is you want,
- Set your boundaries,
- Create micro-habits or healthy habits.
Look at the things that aren’t normal for you – those are the warning signs. When I tell my story in Court with colleagues, it often brings them to tears – most often because it causes them to open up as well and say “me too, I’m struggling. I don’t know who I can turn to.” We need to start being more open and honest about what’s going on for us because we are all strong capable people. I’ve run a law firm and I’ve set it up with a 2-month old. Then I set up a business supporting lawyers, but it was because I could see my way back. I recognised that something had to change and when I was looking for support, there really wasn’t much around. My pivotal moment was meeting Dr Leila. As a lifestyle coach, I knew all the healthy things to do but you need more than that now.
You have to be ready for change though. You get to that point where you just know. If you carry on as you are, what’s the cost? The cost is huge if you can’t function, you can’t take care of your family or yourself. When you’re starting to have those panic attacks and feeling uncomfortable in your own skin – sometimes it sneaks up on you and you don’t know what it is until someone shares that it’s a red flag. Maybe then, you need to reach out. That’s why I shared my story saying, “this is what happened for me. Maybe it’s happening for you too.”
It’s not a weakness reaching out. It’s a strength. If we start to get that message out there. It probably took me about 6 months of people asking that I finally admitted “I need some help.” My partner at the time told me “The strength is in the reaching out. If you do something now, you won’t need to be dealing with the same thing in 6 months time. You’ll start to feel better.” It’s kind of tricky but I think people just need to get honest with themselves. I know I did in order to make a change in my world. By working with Dr Leila, I’ve learned about what other people need as well. I speak to lawyers, I know what their issues are and I’ve experienced it myself.
ITK: What are some of the boundaries you set for yourself?
AM: For me, because I’m a lawyer it’s all about justice and equality. So now, anything that doesn’t match that in my world, falls away. For instance, I now have a new partner because I’ve opened myself up to receiving help, my new partner is able to help me. I don’t have to do it all. I have support in my life.
I think I was pretty good with business but I think in my personal life, which is a huge chunk of your life, I really needed to fix that. With my personal life getting better, my business life is better. I’ve got more time, I’ve got more energy, I’ve got more joy. I’m passionate rather than exhausted. That has all come about because I had something unacknowledged from my past that I didn’t even know was a problem.
ITK: Since starting this journey, what have been some of your goals? How have you gone about achieving them?
AM: I do touch base with Dr Leila every single week, generally for helping others but it does also keep me on track. She’s my accountability buddy. It’s easy to go backwards. I really recommend having someone to reach out to ongoing. I actually think all lawyers should have a psychologist that they speak to once a week. I think this should be a standard. The police have them. I’m always trying to help my clients with the huge challenges they are facing – that’s why lawyers put on the armour. It’s like I can’t engage with the emotion (as a lawyer) but then you have to take the armour off, once you get home to your family, because you’ve got a real world. You have to help your client get the result that they want. You have to think, “what can I do about the challenges my client faces?” rather than getting involved in the emotion. We’ve got to hang the armour up as well because our client’s world is not our reality.
It’s important to check in with an accountability partner and share how you are going and if you’re on track. Whether good or bad – it’s just to touch base. I wish that was something that had to happen for lawyers.
We all need to become more aware. More aware of our workmates, more aware of ourselves and to be honest. Then you can really start to help yourself in a positive way. That’ really important. How much is your life and happiness worth to you? How can you live the best life for you right now? Also consider what is the cost of not reaching out? By being our best selves we can help each other more. Awareness is key.
Dr Leila Davis is highly aware of the impact of stress on her body. She shared a small snippet of her story and asks, “Do you know the real price of stress?”.
LD: I visited the optometrist recently for a routine check-up. I get anxious about it because I have a stress related problem in my left eye which has diminished my vision a lot and may progress.
It started when I was 37, had a small baby, a really stressful job and lived in an incredibly stressful place - London.
Over the years it has flared up and more recently it’s been quiescent as I’ve been so much better at managing my stress.
Stress is the epidemic of our time. Chronic activation of the stress response increases blood sugar and blood pressure, shuts down blood flow to the gut, contributes to obesity and makes us hyper vigilant and anxious.
None of this is good for our body or mind. It sets off an inflammatory cascade which we are beginning to understand underlies much chronic disease.
The good news is we can be very deliberate about managing our stress and triggering the bodies relaxation response. If you’re feeling like Amanda or Dr Leila, it might be beneficial to help trigger your relaxation response. Amanda and Dr Leila will be presenting a 5-day challenge as part of InfoTrack’s complimentary CPD webinar month from March 22-26 at 9am AEDT.
What is the challenge about?
Wellbeing at Work Series II – 5-day challenge
Start each day this week learning new techniques that you can take away and implement anywhere at any time. Dr. Leila Davis and Amanda Mead will help legal and conveyancing professionals stay on track with short, sharp actions for a strong and successful 2021. How? By tackling devices, diet, exercise, sleep and stress, to safeguard our mental health.
What will be covered in the 5-day challenge?
- Day 1 - Digital detox- Do you manage your device/s or do they manage you? This challenge will support you to take control of your tech and free up precious time for high quality inter-personal connections.
- Day 2 - Diet and exercise - Learn how to optimise what you eat and when, to feel energetic and enthusiastic and find support for a manageable daily exercise routine.
- Day 3 - Meditation and breath work- Have you found your off switch? In this epidemic of stress it's never been more important to learn how to trigger your relaxation response. This is an opportunity to learn new wellbeing tools to counteract stress and create calm.
- Day 4 - Happy habits- What do you love to do? Learn how to implement a dose of happiness to your day as you go about your normal daily routine.
- Day 5 - Gratitude - Did you know that you can overcome your own negativity bias and create new neural pathways that lead to contentment? This challenge will teach you actionable steps to shift from shame and blame, to gratitude, love and appreciation.
Earn 2.5 CPD units in practice management and business skills when complete the 5-day challenge. You will be supported to set up a healthy daily routine to decrease stress, stop the cascade of stress hormones and build the conditions for positive mental health. Your body will thank you for it. Register for the complimentary 5-day challenge now.
Additionally, Dr Leila and Amanda run a six-week online course 'Boss in Law' which aims to help lawyers go from feeling tired, stressed and sore to feeling like you are "winning" in both your home life and work life and feeling like you can be present for your partner and/or children. Enrol in the course and receive an email each week with the course material and homework booklet.
About Boss in Law:
- Are you a passionate and successful lawyer but finding that work is wearing you down?
- Are you reaching for alcohol most evenings?
- Do you feel irritable and anxious, and worry this is affecting relationships with your loved ones?
- Or have you been checking Beyond Blue for the symptoms of depression?
Law is a difficult profession. It is adversarial, time and goal driven. The occupational hazard is overwork and self medicating to keep on top of things. As a result, mental illness is rife in the community.
If you recognise yourself here and are ready to improve the way you work and live, Boss in Law is a great way to start.
- Build confidence
- Find your inner calm
- Recognise and move beyond limiting patterns
- Find support to take the next courageous steps in life
- Build a solid platform of healthy habits across the four pillars of health- diet, exercise, sleep and stress reduction
- Feel empowered to make better decisions for yourself.
Start now and feel the effects for the rest of your legal career. Click here for more information.