How To Avoid Burnout

How To Avoid BurnoutThis week we welcome back guest writer Hillary Vaillancourt to talk about what to do if you’re facing burnout as a law or bar student.

Going to law school, studying for the bar exam, and practicing law (or doing much of anything, frankly) has been a stressful experience since 2020 began over a year ago. To say the least, right? Law school and the bar exam are stressful enough to begin with let alone without the added issues 2020, and now 2021, bring to us.

I can relate. Since the end of 2019, I have taken the bar exam, changed jobs, almost lost my brother to a mysterious illness, renovated a house, started my own law practice, moved into a new house, been pregnant, gave birth, had my stepson move in with my family, and had a newborn…all during the pandemic, and all while caring for a toddler.

Honestly, one thing I can say with certainty is I fully understand stress.

Here’s the thing about stress: when you don’t even realize it, it can become too much. It piles on incrementally until one day you don’t feel like doing anything. Not one thing. But, that stack of papers, those practice exams, none of that goes away so easily. You still have to do your job, take care of your family, and get through your day. Now into 2021, stress is still going to be around.

But, there are healthy ways to deal with stress so you don’t get burned out to a crispy crunch.

What Does Burnout Look Like?

The first step in avoiding burnout is to understand what it looks like. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental fatigue that’s brought on by prolonged periods of stress. Basically, what many of us felt throughout 2020.

Burnout manifests as a feeling of apathy, not wanting to or able to meet demands, feeling emotionally drained, feeling overwhelmed, anxious. You may not feel as creative as you otherwise would. Your attitude may lean more towards cynicism even if you are usually the most positive person. This cynicism can also be reflected as feelings of hating your job, hating law school, hating the law, doubting yourself (maybe more than usual).

Signs of burnout can also include physical ailments such as headache, stomachache, gastrointestinal issues, physical exhaustion, and being more susceptible to illness, including the common cold.

At a time when staying healthy is so crucial, the last thing you need is to be run down and even more at risk for getting sick. Here are a few ways to prevent burnout or treat it if you’re already experiencing symptoms.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are crucial to preventing burnout. I belong to a few women-lawyer groups on Facebook, and fairly regularly, attorneys post stories about clients texting them on weekends, in the middle of the night, and on holidays.

For my part, I had a client text me on the Sunday after Christmas wanting to know if I had a chance to draft their estate documents yet, only five days after I retained the client. I’d love to say this sort of thing is rare, but it seems this is becoming very commonplace.

I’ve learned to not respond to messages sent outside of my working hours. Otherwise, every waking hour becomes a working hour. It’s just one example of setting boundaries.

Going to law school, studying for the bar, and practicing law are stressful experiences. Boundaries are essential to avoiding burnout in each scenario.

Self Care

Self-care has become such a buzz word. We’ve all heard it, but probably not enough of us actually practice self-care.

I can tell you what self-care isn’t. It isn’t taking a regular shower. It isn’t going to the store by yourself. Moms, I know you hear me! Taking a regular shower is a basic need. Going to the store sans children is still work. Self-care is, however, taking action to preserve your health.

Recently, I hit a point where I needed to take a step back myself. That list of things I mentioned at the beginning took an obvious toll on me eventually. In a stupor late one night while nursing my daughter, I did a little Amazon shopping and ordered a journal, adult coloring book, and colored pencils.

In the evenings, when my husband gives our children their baths, I take some time to zone out and color or write. We also purchased an inexpensive treadmill so I could jog during the dark, cold months where I live. Getting active, being creative, meditating, doing things you enjoy, are all great ways to combat stress.

These are examples of self-care. But, there are so many more options. Think about the things you enjoy and do more of what you love. That is self-care.

Don’t Over-Extend Yourself

Pandemic or not, there will always be times of stress. That’s part of life. It’s important to learn how to deal with stress in a healthy way so you can thrive, live your best life, and love what you do.

Start by setting good boundaries. Say no to projects if your plate is already full. And, if it needs to get less full, let some things go. Figure out your top priorities and stick to projects that reflect your passions. If none of these suggestions helps, or if you are needing additional help, please reach out to a counselor. You are not alone. Help is available.


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About Hillary Vaillancourt

Hillary Vaillancourt is a lawyer and writer at The Vaillancourt Law Firm, LLC. She has experience in a wide variety of matters including food law, education law, real estate law, family law, criminal law, contracts, and estate planning. She earned her JD from New England Law|Boston and is licensed in Virginia.

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