Dr. Teresa Albizu is the founder & co-president of the R-A Pinnacle Group. Formerly, Dr. Albizu served as a...
Dr. Gerardo (Gery) Rodríguez-Menéndez is co-president of the R-A Pinnacle Group. He currently serves as Founding Chair of the...
Christopher T. Anderson has authored numerous articles and speaks on a wide range of topics, including law firm management,...
Why should we care about stress and well-being when stress is part of the job? Within the legal profession, stress can be high and attorney wellness is so important. So how do we recognize the symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety and how can an individual disengage?
On the Un-Billable Hour, host Christopher Anderson is joined by Dr. Teresa Albizu, founder and co-president of the R-A Pinnacle Group and Dr. Gerardo (Gery) Rodríguez-Menéndez, co-president of the R-A Pinnacle Group as they discuss attorney wellness, how to see the signs, strategies on how to cope with stress, and when an individual should seek help.
The Un-Billable Hour
Attorney Wellness and Taking Good Care of You
Intro: Managing your law practice can be challenging. Marketing, time management, attracting clients, and all the things besides the cases that you need to do that aren’t billable. Welcome to this edition of The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast. This is where you will get the information you need from expert guests and host Christopher Anderson, here on Legal Talk Network.
Christopher T. Anderson: Welcome to The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast helping attorneys achieve more success. We are glad you can listen today on the Legal Talk Network.
And today’s episode is about you. As I have told you in previous episodes, we have talked about your marketing and your sales, we have talked about how to hire people and train them and retain them, we have talked about how to make work flow through your business. We have even talked about how to rent an office and certainly about your numbers and metrics and finances and accounting.
But it’s all really about you because we talk about this podcast as being about building a law firm business that works for you, and today we are going to talk specifically about you.
The title of today’s episode is ‘Wellness and Taking Good Care of You’, and my guests today are Dr. Teresa Albizu and Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez. They are Co-Presidents of the R-A Pinnacle Group, a firm that focuses on leadership development, education consulting, and management consulting.
Dr. Albizu has served as a higher education leader for over 20 years. She held a faculty appointment teaching courses in marriage and family therapy and maintained a private mental health practice focusing on relationship issues.
Today, Dr. Albizu works with professionals on leadership development, executive coaching, and also serves as a wellness consultant to businesses and law firms.
Dr. Rodríguez-Menéndez currently serves as the Founding Chair of the Postdoctoral Master’s in Clinical Psychopharmacology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Dr. Rodríguez is also a licensed psychologist and he is Board-certified in Clinical Psychology and a fellow of the American Academy of Clinical Psychology.
And with them today we are going to discuss the important topic of wellness, and particularly wellness in the legal profession.
And of course I am your host Christopher Anderson. I am an attorney with a singular passion for helping other lawyers achieve success with their law firm businesses as they define it. In The Un-Billable Hour we are dedicated to helping lawyers achieve freedom through their businesses and our guests help you learn more about how to make your law firm business work for you, instead of the other way around.
Before we get started, I do want to say a thank you to our sponsors, Answer 1, Solo Practice University, Scorpion and LAWCLERK.
Answer 1 is a leading virtual receptionist and answering services provider for lawyers. You can find out more by giving them a call at 800-Answer 1, or online at www.answer1.com. That’s www.answer1.com.
Solo Practice University is a great resource for solos, no matter how long you have been practicing. Make sure you check out solopracticeuniversity.com and learn how to run your practice better.
Scorpion crushes the standard for law firm online marketing with proven campaign strategies to get attorneys better cases from the Internet. Partner with Scorpion to get an award-winning website and ROI positive marketing programs today. Visit scorpionlegal.com/podcast.
LAWCLERK, where attorneys hire freelance lawyers. There are no sign up or monthly fees. Only pay the flat fee price you set. Increase your profits, not your overhead. Learn more at www.lawclerk.legal.
And today’s episode of The Un-Billable Hour is Wellness and Taking Good Care of You and again my guests today are Dr. Teresa Albizu and Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez or Teresa and Gery, Co-Presidents of the R-A Pinnacle Group.
Doctors, welcome to The Un-Billable Hour.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Well, thank you Chris, we are glad to be here.
Christopher T. Anderson: Thank you for coming.
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Absolutely Chris.
Christopher T. Anderson: Awesome. So we will roll right into this. I mean this topic of talking about you. In The Un-Billable Hour we so often talk about the technicalities of the law firm business, about getting their marketing working, getting their sales improved, getting their systems and their hiring and their numbers and their metrics all figured out, but once in a while we do circle back to talking about growing the professional, because one of the things we understand at The Un-Billable Hour is that before professional growth comes personal growth has to come, and that’s one of the topics that we cover. So we are so lucky to have you guys with us.
And one of the things that we are focusing on in our talk with you today is about wellness. So the first question I had for you is, I have been seeing a lot in the American Bar Association and really around the country in other forms as well, wellness being discussed in a way that it never really was before, why do you think that lawyer well-being is receiving so much attention today?
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Well, Chris, the legal profession really has known for many, many years that its students and its practitioners are really not thriving in the profession, but little has been done about it.
So back in 2016, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation joined forces to conduct a study, wherein they interviewed 13,000 active practicing lawyers, and the findings were a bit worrisome.
So for example, of those surveyed, 36% of attorneys qualified themselves as problem drinkers, 28% reported struggling with some level of depression, 19% said they were struggling with anxiety, and 23%, that’s about a quarter of the population, was suffering from stress. So these are very high indicators of mental health challenges.
And in particular, one salient result of the study was that young lawyers in the first 10 years of practice and those working in private firms experience the highest rates of problem drinking and depression. So I think we need to take a look at this data. This is an excellent study and we need to take a look at this data so that we know what is it that we need to do to really pinpoint the strategies that would prove most effective in helping attorneys as they transition into the profession with the young lawyers and as they continue to thrive in the profession itself.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, I don’t like to often talk about how long it’s been since I was in law school, but I have got to believe that one of the issues that we are dealing with too is that some of these habits start even before they are admitted into law school. But I think one area I would like to explore, because we think about lawyers this way, but different professions have different reputations. We know that medical doctors work really hard and long and have high stress rates and associate some of them with maybe having some of the same problems and other professions. I know architects, when I was in school architects were the ones that were working all through the night.
You just gave out some statistics regarding the legal profession, what do you know about how those compare to other professions and to the general population?
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Well, as it regards to depression, whereas the study shows that 28% of the attorneys report struggling with depressive disorders, that compares to 15% of physicians and 11% of nurses and about 9% of artists and entertainers.
Now, major depressive disorder has a lifetime prevalence of between 10-15%; however, there is a gender difference as well. So in terms of point prevalence, meaning at any one time, 5-9% of women are reporting feelings of depression, whereas 2-3% of men are.
Christopher T. Anderson: And do you ascribe that to actual incidents or to willingness to report?
Dr. Teresa Albizu: That is actual incidents based on data gathered by studies done of practitioners providing clinical services.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So that’s really interesting. So something that jumped out to me was that in fact the legal profession as a whole is doing really poorly compared to the general population and to the other professions, like the legal profession seems to be struggling as much or more than anybody else.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Yes, that certainly seems to be the case, and that is important to take a look at, because the idea is to figure out how all this is impacting your performance as an attorney and how certainly is impacting yourself, as well as your relationships.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right. And quite honestly, I mean when you think about this from an ethical perspective or from a professionalism perspective, if we are at 28% having problem drinking and similar percents having depression and stress, then we are also not serving our clients to the best of our abilities if we are ignoring this problem and not taking care of it.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Yeah, that certainly would be correct. In fact, the Task Force Report did a really great job at discussing why should we care about stress and well-being in the profession and they concluded and identified three very compelling reasons.
So first, lawyer well-being contributes to organizational success and that is regardless of the setting where law professionals work, so whether in law firms, private business or corporations, nonprofits, government, if your cognitive functioning is impaired by stress, legal professionals would be unable to perform at their highest levels of competence.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Right. So in other words, lawyer well-being is good for business.
Christopher T. Anderson: Indeed. So one of the things, the first — in fact, the first statistic that you cited was about problem drinking and I think it also probably relates to other substance abuse as well. I certainly know that when I was just entering law school and I had gotten some summer jobs and among the lawyers in those firms there was substance abuse that exceeded alcohol.
But drinking, the legal profession is also sort of known as a hard drinking profession. When we are thinking about this as a problem, how do you define the difference or how do we know the difference between substance abuse and substance dependency and why does it matter?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Well, I think that the first thing is to actually understand what a substance is. So a substance can be a legal drug such as alcohol or nicotine and in fact, the drug with the highest user to dependency ratio is nicotine.
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure, yeah.
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: A drug can also be an illegal recreational drug, but it can also be a prescribed drug. Technically, a substance can also be a toxin. So when we are talking about substance abuse then, what we are referring to is that the person is having a maladaptive pattern or a lot of difficulties in terms of their daily life marked by one of the following, one or more of the following: Failure to meet a major role obligation, use of the substance when it’s physically hazardous, such as driving a car, for example, legal problems, such as a DUI or assault charges stemming from the use of the substance, and then social or interpersonal difficulties, and this is really insidious.
Meaning, it takes a while and then what ends up happening is that certain substances, very gradually you have a much more severe pattern of behavior over time. And so then we are talking about dependence, which has all of the characteristics of substance abuse.
However, there are two key criteria here. One is tolerance; meaning that the person needs more of the substance in order to achieve the desired effect of intoxication or that there is withdrawal. And so then when a person withdraws from the substance, if they don’t have sufficient amount of the substance in their system, then the signs of withdrawal typically are the opposite of what an acute intoxication is.
So if a person begins using a lot of alcohol and then continues that pattern of behavior, then naturally there is a progression from substance abuse to substance dependency over a period of time.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right. And I think the continuum, actually the way you described it, actually starts with substance use which may not be problematic, right?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Correct.
Christopher T. Anderson: But then you said it turns into abuse when you start seeing the criteria that you laid out, not meeting their work obligations or putting themselves in risky situations, like DUI you mentioned, and then the dependency when it actually is causing them problems if they withdraw from the substance and the increase in the amount. So that’s like this big continuum.
I guess, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a problem when it turns to abuse and dependency is just really an extreme part of that, would you agree with that?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Exactly, yes.
Christopher T. Anderson: All right. So what I would like to do here is we are going to take a short break, but we are talking with Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez and Dr. Teresa Albizu about attorney wellness. We have just started the conversation talking about substance abuse and dependency, but we are going to be going much deeper and talking about depression, anxiety and stress here right after we hear from our sponsors.
We will be right back.
Advertiser: LAWCLERK is where attorneys go to hire freelance lawyers. Whether you need a first year to perform legal research or a seasoned attorney to assist with a complicated appellate brief, LAWCLERK has hundreds of freelance lawyers with every level of experience and expertise. There are no sign up or monthly fees, only pay the flat fee price you set. Increase your profits, not your overhead. Learn more at www.lawclerk.legal.
Is your firm experiencing missed calls, empty voicemail boxes and potential clients you will never hear from again, enter Answer 1, Virtual Receptionists. They are more than just an answering service. Answer 1 is available 24×7. They can even schedule appointments, respond to emails, integrate with Clio, and much more. Answer 1 helps make sure your clients have the experience they deserve. Give them a call at 1-800-Answer 1 or visit them at answer1.com/podcast for a special offer. That’s answer1.com/podcast.
Christopher T. Anderson: And we are back on The Un-Billable Hour talking about Wellness and Taking Good Care of You with Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez and Dr. Teresa Albizu or Teresa and Gery as they like to be called, and we have been talking so far about substance abuse and substance dependency as obviously the opposite of wellness. They are real problems, surprising to me the incidents of these problems in the legal profession compared to the general population and other professions.
But now I want to turn our attention, if you will, to depression because that was another one that was really far above on the general population and certainly above some other professions. Let’s first of all understand what it is, because I think the word depression is kind of thrown around imprecisely among not only lawyers, but just around everybody. What do we mean when we are talking about depression in the legal profession?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Well, I can refer to what we are talking about depression when we are talking about a psychological disorder. And so there we want to differentiate between the normal blahs that everybody gets dysphoria versus a clinical depression that is causing a significant impairment with regards to interpersonal, social, occupational or academic functioning.
Now, depression will vary its manifestation according to age. So it’s very different in pediatric cases than it is in adults. Similarly, in the elderly, depression can present quite differently. However, generally speaking, we are talking about a period of depressed mood in which there is a real loss for enjoyment of life activities. And that extends for a minimum of two weeks.
And then I typically teach SIG-E-CAPS to my students, which is an acronym that you can easily remember and it’s four of the following because many people will see depression, it’s so common among friends and among family and among co-workers.
So the signs are suicidal ideation, S. I stands for interest, loss of interest. G stands for excessive guilt. E stands for a loss of energy. C, concentration difficulties. A, decreased appetite, person does not want to eat. P stands for physical agitation or retardation, meaning that a person finds it very difficult to move. It’s very common to see that persons with a clinical depression have problems getting out of bed and then S stands for sleep difficulties. So SIG-E-CAPS.
And when we see that a person, a colleague is not doing well, it’s really our ethical obligation to go and ask our colleague how they are doing and just say is everything okay and so then just listening can be very healing in and of itself.
Christopher T. Anderson: So you are saying ethical obligation not just among mental health professionals, but among attorneys, they should be asking this question.
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Sure. If you have a colleague that you see is having a lot of difficulty and it’s impeding their work performance, as a colleague it is often beneficial just to lend an ear and see how the individual is doing. If there are some serious signs, then one might go to one’s supervisor, but certainly one will see this in our co-workers and also persons who we know outside of work.
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure. I mean like, for instance, I think a lot of my listeners; in fact, more than 50% of the attorneys in the United States are solo practitioners, meaning they are working as the only lawyer in their business, but they certainly interact with and know other lawyers in the profession. So this would really extend to sort of the Bar, right, your colleagues in the business and knowing what’s going on with them and being willing to step in.
How do you step in, like how do you — you are looking kind of depressed today probably isn’t the right way to lead the conversation. So what would you recommend?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: No, just an open-ended question, is everything okay?
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: And so then listening to what they have to say, which is the critical thing, and if they are saying, look, I’m really having difficulty getting out of bed and they say several of these indicators, I’m feeling very guilty or I’m having a lot of difficulty just enjoying my family, enjoying life, then it’s okay to ask a person have you had any thoughts of harming yourself, and listening to what they say and rather than try to judge what you’re trying to do is to gather the person’s experience so that you’re not a mental health professional but you want to know whether or not a person might need a referral to a professional.
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure, sure, so you’re listening and looking for those clues as to whether or not to refer them. Is there a point in time where it makes sense if they’re not going to take that referral to stage a higher level of intervention?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Well, there’s only so much that you can do but if a colleague tells you that they’ve been thinking of harming themselves and by all means I would take that to a higher level for intervention.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Yeah, I think that, Chris, there’s a lot that we can do as we work together and rather than looking the other way or saying it’s not my problem, oh poor so-and-so doesn’t seem to be doing well, we have a duty to lend a hand to our fellowmen and especially our co-workers, we work with them, our work is impacted by their work, our relationship is impacted by how they’re feeling.
So, if they’re feeling sad, there are many signs. People seem not to smile as much, seem to have a weary face. We know how to recognize some of those things, and it’s okay to say you seem sad today, is there something going on that I may be able to help with? And, when you engage in that conversation, like Gery said, you can suggest that a person seek assistance. You know that the Bar Association has the Employee Assistance Programs, they have many resources available to attorneys, but in particular, if you’re working within a firm or you believe that their fellow attorney is suffering from some sort of impairment impacting their duties, on their work, and their relationship with others within the firm, is your duty to go to your supervisor and report it and say we have to find a way to help so-and-so. It’s not to engage in punitive action, it’s to engage in proactive, helpful reaction.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, yeah, indeed. So we’ve talked about alcohol and other substance use, abuse and dependency and a little bit about depression how to recognize it and how to help. The third thing that I wanted to bring out was the other third sign that you talked about when we started this, we talked about drinking, depression, anxiety and stress. I wanted to talk about stress then we’ll talk about anxiety in a moment, but what do we mean when we say stress in the profession because let’s face it, this is a stressful profession.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Yes.
Christopher T. Anderson: We are working with people at the worst times of their lives in a lot of circumstances and/or helping them with a situation that is going to impact the rest of their lives. So it is stressful, but what are we talking about, we are talking about stress that interferes with wellness.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: So, like you said, Chris, there are different levels of stress. Eustress, which is the normal or positive kind of stress, which is —
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: That’s E-U, E-U stress?
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Eustress, exactly.
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Yeah.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Right. So it’s provoked by happy things like getting married, it’s a happy occasion, but it comes with a little bit of stress as well for many different reasons, right?
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Moving to a new position, a new job, also is a happy occasion but it brings certain levels of stressors. But stress in general is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat.
So when you sense danger whether it’s real or imagined, the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid automatic process, and that is what it’s known as the flight-or-fight response.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: So, that is — well it’s called a Stress Response. Now, this is your body’s way of protecting you. So when working properly it helps you to stay focused, energetic and alert, but in emergency situations, stress can actually save your life, like giving you a little extra strength to defend yourself, so, for example, when you slam your brakes to avoid an accident.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Yeah, that’s a good thing. Now, stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work or drives you to study for an exam when you rather be watching TV.
But beyond a certain point stress stops being helpful and it starts causing major damage to your health and to your mood, to your productivity, your relationships and the overall quality of your life, and that is where we need to be very, very alert because what happens is that we become so familiar with the feelings of stress that we begin to normalize it, and that is when we are feeling symptoms of chronic stress, which they are persistent stressors in our lives.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: And we tend to normalize them and feel that it’s okay to be stressful, and that enduring stress in some way is courageous, when in fact the courage comes in being insightful and aware that you are indeed in that place where you are suffering high levels of stressors and that you do need to do something about it.
So it shows up for you in different ways because signs and symptoms of stress can show physically, behaviorally and certainly cognitively. So the idea is that you know what they are, how to recognize them so that you know when is it that you have to engage in doing something about it.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right, right. What are some of the long-term impacts of stress, like what are the health damages that can happen?
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Well, in fact, there are some cases that show that physical signs can pervasively disturb your sleep and cause insomnia or other sleep problems. You can certainly start feeling very deep muscle pain, and tension in your back that requires then medical attention. Digestive problems with constipation or diarrhea or stomach upset and nausea, and there’s some studies that show that there’s a correlation between levels of stress and cancer, and certain other medical conditions.
Christopher T. Anderson: My goodness.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Yeah.
Christopher T. Anderson: Wow. All right, well so, what I’d like to do is we’re going to take our second break here from the program because we do want to hear from our sponsors, but when we come back I’ve been talking right now with Dr. Teresa Albizu and Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez about attorney wellness. We’ve talked about substance abuse, we’ve talked about depression, now we’re talking about stress.
I want to come back and talk about anxiety and the relationship between anxiety and stress, and then let’s turn the corner a little bit because we’ve talked about all these problems, I want to talk about ways that attorneys can use this information to cope, to improve their wellness, and to help each other. So, we’ll come back and talk about that in just a moment.
Advertiser: Feel like your marketing efforts aren’t getting you the high value cases your firm deserves? For over 15 years Scorpion has helped thousands of law firms, just like yours, attract new cases and grow their practices. As a Google Premier Partner and winner of Google’s Platform Innovator Award, Scorpion has the right resources and technology to aggressively market your law firm and generate better cases from the Internet. For more information, visit scorpionlegal.com/podcast today.
Ready to create and build your own solo or small firm practice, need a nuts and bolts education on the 360-degree experience of starting a business, there is only one online destination dedicated to helping you achieve your goals, Solo Practice University, the only online educational and professional networking community dedicated to lawyers and law students who want to go into practice for themselves, more than 1,000 classes, 58 faculty and mentors. What are you waiting for? Check out solopracticeuniversity.com today.
Christopher T. Anderson: And we are back with Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez and Dr. Teresa Albizu of the R-A Pinnacle Group and we’re talking about attorney wellness.
When we took the break we were just finished talking a little bit about stress and the symptoms and damage that it can do your health to have long term stress in your job. So, I wanted to come back and say — just ask first of all about the relationship between stress and anxiety because that was the fourth factor we were going to talk about. Like what’s the difference between stress and anxiety so that we can understand how these would affect us differently?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Well, when we speak of stress as Teresa was mentioning, stress is a physiological and an emotional or psychological experience. Now there are three main components in a stress response. One is hormonal, and so you’ve got these adrenals glands that sit right on top of your kidneys, and when you feel stress, your brain sends a signal to them to release in particular norepinephrine and cortisol.
Norepinephrine is extremely important in that fight-or-flight response that Teresa was talking about just as is cortisol, and norepinephrine is going to speed up your heart rate, it’s going to increase your blood pressure. It’s going to increase blood flow into your muscle areas, so that you’re ready to run or to fight as the situation demands.
Cortisol regulates your metabolism, it also regulates your blood pressure, decreases your inflammation, but over a long period of time, if you’ve got increased blood pressure or what’s happening then is that the blood is really creating harm in terms of the pressure against very delicate capillaries and blood vessels. You’re going to have an increase in blood sugar with elevated cortisol levels and increase in blood pressure, increase in probability to type 2 diabetes, and that’s why this stress response is so important.
In addition, you have over-activation of the autonomic nervous system, which is that second component, so the first, I said is hormonal, the second is autonomic, and again, when you are thinking of the sympathetic nervous system, you’re thinking of that fight-or-flight response and then you have the behavioral aspects or observable actions that a person engages in.
Now, when we’re talking about anxiety, which is a reaction to the stressor, there were feeling either a person is feeling apprehension, tension or sometimes dread, sometimes the person does not know the source of their fear, it’s a free-floating type of anxiety or in other instances, it’s exaggerated to the actual element that is producing the anxiety in the individual, for example, fear of public speaking, for example.
Christopher T. Anderson: Because there’s no actual danger, but it still creates a stress response?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Exactly, but it is sufficient enough that it interferes with our daily functioning. Now, there are many different types of disorders that fall into that general family of anxiety disorders, but that’s a general description of anxiety per se. When we’re talking about fear on the other hand, we’re talking about having a rational basis for the fear or the physiological response. There is an actual threat against us.
Christopher T. Anderson: Wow, okay. And so, how then do we talk about anxiety, how could they deal with it, like how do you get away from the anxiety that’s caused by this long-term exposure to these inputs?
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Well, you can’t get away from the stressors and so then one thing is the stressor but what you can control, you don’t have any control really or limited control over the stress or what you do have control over is your response to that particular stressor.
So we like to say event plus response equals outcome. So there are certainly adaptive ways to deal with anxiety and with stress and there are maladaptive ways to deal with anxiety and with stress. So, in terms of the adaptive ways that’s when we’re talking about strategies for stress management and being able to identify the sources of stress is of critical importance but engaging in true relaxation techniques, and when people think of relaxation, they tend to think of sitting in front of the TV and popping open a beer and watching a favorite program, but that really is not relaxation, that’s more like mental vegetation.
Relaxation has to do with mindfulness, it has to do with getting your body in a physiological state, so if you have stress and stressors that place you into a physiological state, you can influence that particular state.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay, so I mean, just like — I mean, that’s important I think to understand because I think like a lot of people understand — I’m just going to include myself, right? That this is a stressful profession and that stress is bad and sometimes we feel stressed, we want to feel unstressed.
But few people I think take that action of doing something affirmative, like you said, pop it a beer and watching a movie or going and hanging out with your friends or maybe going for a run, but not really wellness-focused. How can people learn to do that?
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Yeah, and you’re absolutely right, Chris, with that. And this is one of the greatest challenges that we face when we provide wellness services, especially to attorneys or other high-stress demand professions.
And that is that many of the things that you can do to deal with stress and anxiety are common sense strategies. However, the problem with us is that we don’t seem to be commonly practicing common sense, right? So we know for example that physical exercise, should be number one on your list for many, many difference, because it releases neurochemicals in the brain that a concentration and it is very beneficial for reducing stress.
Relaxation techniques, from simple relaxation of the body like stretching to more complex progressive relaxation exercises, so of tensing your muscles and then releasing the tension, but you have to pay attention and you have to do it.
Breathing is super-underestimated, but taking deep breaths. When you are in a charged, emotionally charged situation, inhale deeply and then let it out and as you exhale, your exhalation will be a little bit longer in time than your inhalation was. And doing this three or four times, right, before then you decide what is it that you’re going to do, say or the way that you’re going to react makes a huge difference.
For law professionals, time management, believe it or not, is a big stress buster. So there are specific strategies, how do we clarify priorities, how do we set goals, how do we evaluate how our time was spent, how do we develop an action plan, right? And, then how do we overcome procrastination when stress takes the best of us and messes up our focus and at the end of the day, we figured we haven’t done half of the stuff that we were supposed to have done?
So, there’s certainly many strategies that we can engage in to deal with stress and anxiety. We need to really learn what those are and we also need to practice them in a manner that allows us to assess, which ones are the ones that are working best for us individually, because the fact that there are many of them, doesn’t mean that we have to do them all or that all of them work the same way on everyone.
Does that make sense?
Christopher T. Anderson: Not only does it make sense but the key I think for me the hopefulness and that the key to this is that they are learnable.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Exactly.
Christopher T. Anderson: It’s not that this is like we’re just describing the woes of the legal profession and well, guys, good luck with that.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Exactly.
Christopher T. Anderson: These are learnable coping mechanisms. As we come to the top of this show or the end of the show, I should say, what I’d like to do is just like let’s do one strategy that we can learn here and then we’ll give away for people to get in touch with you if they want to learn more.
What would you recommend a strategy is for disengaging from work at the end of the day?
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Well, in terms of disengagement we find that a period of reflection at the end of the day and making a list of the day’s accomplishments, some people find to be beneficial. So you need to understand what works for you. Some of these suggestions may work for you, others may not, but take away what you will find helpful.
I always think that it’s very important to look at the calendar of the next day and know what awaits you, and so then, that way you are not thinking, when you leave you don’t have any free-floating anxiety about when is my first meeting tomorrow morning.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: All right, Gery, when you leave the office and you’re on your way to either catch the train or get in your car, you continue constantly ruminating about what’s going to happen the next day. I think it’s very important that we put into perspective before we leave the office, what did I do that really accomplished my main goals and what is it that I’m going to tackle as I come in tomorrow morning.
That clears your brain and your mind and even your heart of any heaviness about anticipating the next day.
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez: Well, actually I think that you’ve hit it right on the head, Teresa, and that transitioning from work to home is a process and so then, the worst thing is to begin ruminating about what happened during the day and how you handled a certain challenge that came up, how that challenge was handled. The personality dynamics, I mean, if that’s what you’re thinking about before you get home, you’re just going to bring that with you home, which is the opposite of what you want.
So as you are disengaging, it means to leave the day behind in terms of the workplace.
If at all possible, put your email on silencer so that you don’t have that constant ringing when you come home, anticipate the joy of sharing with your spouse or partner and family members before you get home so that your mind is on that aspect and not a problem that happened during the day, because again, when you open that door, you want to give your family your very best and you probably spend more waking hours with your co-workers than you do your family.
So that time that you have with family is really precious and you need to prepare ahead of time for when you get home so that you can really enjoy their presence.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: And may I say that we all go through moments, certain challenges that just bug us to an extreme. And so when we’re going home and we’re disengaging if we find that we need a little bit of a sounding board and we feel that coming home and having a few minutes to chat with our partner, our spouse, a family member about it, may place things in a little bit of perspective for the next day, that’s okay.
But do yourself a favor and time it, give yourself 15 minutes at tops to talk about an issue that happened or how do you see this, I’m having a problem with this, how do you suggest perhaps that I consider that or the other? And then after the 15 minutes, boom, case closed. Now, we’re going to have our time together and focus on our relationship on the evening, on the dinner and so on and so forth.
Christopher T. Anderson: This is great because one of the key things about The Un-Billable Hour is that we work with all of our listeners to help them build a law firm that works for them, and it certainly works better for you if you can come home and be with your family and not stuck back at work in your head.
So, I think these are great strategies, and unfortunately, it’s also — we’re out of time because we could go — gosh, we could go on, this is so much, so much useful stuff here. Thank you so much, Teresa and Gery, I really appreciate you being guests.
Dr. Teresa Albizu: Thank you. Oh, it’s been our pleasure, and yeah, like you said, there’s so much more to talk about and we hope that if at least your listeners have been able to take a little bit out of this time with us together, I think we’ve done a good job.
Christopher T. Anderson: Great. So in a moment I’m going to ask you to tell them how to get in touch with you if they want to learn more, but right now, I’m just going to have to say that this does wrap up this edition of The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Business Advisory Podcast.
Our guests today have been Dr. Teresa Albizu or Teresa and Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez-Menéndez or Gery, Co-Presidents of the R-A Pinnacle Group. And if they do want to learn more, how can they get in touch with you or learn more from what you’ve got online for them?
Christopher T. Anderson: Fantastic. Again, Gery, Teresa, thank you so much and this is Christopher Anderson. I look forward to seeing you next month with another great guest as we learn more about topics that help us build the law from business that works for you.
Remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or on iTunes. Thanks for joining us. We will see you again soon.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
Thanks for listening to The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast. Join us again for the next edition, right here with Legal Talk Network.
Best practices regarding your marketing, time management, and all the things outside of your client responsibilities.
Tom Lambotte discusses the key tenets of his Optimize Method framework for lawyers.
David Neagle shares tips for developing a mindset that can help bring businesses through difficult economic circumstances.
Kimball Parker discusses solutions to common problems faced by law firms struggling to adjust to remote work.
Scott Wallingford discusses strategies for maximizing per-client profitability in your law firm.
Marco Brown highlights the importance of prioritizing billing for your law firm.
Clio’s Jack Newton discusses his new book and the lessons he’s learned over the last ten years studying successful law firms.