Are You A Burned Out Lawyer? (TFLP 073)

Jan 18, 2021

If you’re a lawyer and you’re feeling burned out, this episode is for you.

I share about burnout, how it works, how it relates to our nervous system, and why it’s so important for lawyers to understand the root causes of burnout.

What lawyers often don’t realize about burnout

There are some common misperceptions amongst lawyers about how burnout works.

Many lawyers think that burnout is primarily a mental state. In other words, burnout is perceived to be primarily a feeling of being tired, bored, aggravated, and/or exhausted.

However, at its root, burnout is a physiological condition where your nervous system has been overtaxed.

The role of the nervous system in burnout

We’ve talked on the podcast before about the really important role that our nervous system plays in how we experience the world and our jobs.

In episode 037 with Dr. Jan  Newman, we talked about how our nervous systems don’t distinguish between “There’s a lion, run!,” and a stressful email, confrontation with opposing counsel, or awkward interaction with a partner.

All of these stressors cause your body to release adrenaline, and your body can’t tell what type of stressor is causing your stress response.

The release of the adrenaline is a physiological response governed by your nervous system, not your conscious mind.

When lawyers get burned out

Why does this matter? Burnout occurs when your nervous system is overtaxed. And your nervous system gets overtaxed when you exist in an environment that repeatedly activates your fight-or-flight response without allowing you to complete the stress cycle.

The problem I often see is that people think that burnout is an emotional or mental state that can be fixed by thinking more positively, or going on a vacation. But because burnout is a physiological problem, these aren’t the solutions, and therefore they don’t fix the problem.

One of the results of burnout is that it decreases your window of tolerance, i.e., your capacity to experience stress without your nervous system becoming disregulated.

You can’t think your way out of burnout.

So what do you do about lawyer burnout?

There are a few things that you need to remember if you’re experiencing burnout.

First, you can’t think your way out of burnout.

Second, because burnout involves your body and nervous system, you need to get to the root of the issue, which is your nervous system being disregulated by stressful events that your body has been unable to fully metabolize and integrate.

Finally, the way that you handle burnout is by figuring out a way to help your body feel safe and to process all of the stressful events that have impacted your nervous system.

In this episode I also share about:

  • My own experience with burnout.
  • My number one recommenation for how to start dealing with burnout.
  • My thoughts on why burnout is so difficult for lawyers to deal with.

Resources on burnout:

Mentioned in this episode

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