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New Lawyers' Update: Mental health in the time of COVID

By Katelyn Reszitnyk, Reszitnyk Law

December 2020

“Stay well!”

“Hope you and your family are staying safe and healthy!”

These sorts of phrases have become ubiquitous in recent months. When we’re wishing each other good health, I like to think we’re not just referring to the obvious. COVID-19 poses a significant concern to physical health, certainly. But the pandemic as a whole has had an even broader impact—on mental health.

Lawyers are hardly immune to this, though I’m sure many of us wish we were. A quick web search tells me that depression and anxiety are prevalent in the legal community, and have been for years. The uncertainty that the pandemic has brought to our profession has surely only magnified this. Right now, we’re in this strange limbo where we are both stagnant and unable to move forward with various aspects of our files, and incredibly active and needing to stay on top of the constant legislative changes we’ve been seeing since March. It’s a lot to take in. Not to mention the “zoom burnout” so many of us are likely experiencing on top of this.

As a new lawyer, I certainly am feeling the pressure. So many clients are in greater need of legal assistance now than ever before. Yet I feel like I am navigating a sea of unknowns, all while still trying to learn myself and expand my network. I’m sure that these anxieties are not exclusive to new lawyers like myself. We’re all in this together, after all. While more experienced lawyers may be more assured in their knowledge of how to practice day to day, they may, for instance, be struggling more with the rather rapid introduction of technology in a field that for so long was reluctant to do so. We’ve all got our new challenges in these times, to be sure.

So… what do we do about it?

Perhaps in some ways I’m fortunate. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression (in varying degrees of severity) for over ten years and have always been quite passionate about making mental health a priority. As such, I’ve collected a large number of coping strategies. I’d like to share a few of these with you now. Not all will work well for each person. But my hope is that even some of you can find one or two strategies that resonate with you, and put them into practice. After all, if we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we hope to take care of our clients?

Put “Me time” into your schedule

It’s so easy to go through our day and determine that we simply don’t have the time. But all this means is that we’re not making ourselves a priority. If you struggle with finding the time to take care of yourself, make some time. Put it into your phone, your day planner, or wherever you keep your schedule. You can even set a reminder for yourself.

Focus on the present moment

There are plenty of different grounding techniques out there that you can use to keep yourself in the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying over the future. One of my favourites is quite simple—sit quietly and try to name five things for each sensation. Five things you can see, five you can hear, five you can touch. Taste and smell are trickier, but can be done too, especially if you’re taking your lunch break!

Minimize use of social media

This can be a hard one, especially when many of us make use of social media for networking purposes. But these days, it’s that much more important. We are receiving a constant stream of information, opinions, graphics, videos… Some of what we see is useful, while much of it only adds to stress and anxiety we’re already facing. It can be so tempting to scroll through social media for a “break”, but resist that urge. At times, what is best for us is simply to go offline. Take a walk instead, or if you really want to keep reading, pick up a favourite book. It’s often helpful to read things we’re already familiar with as it reduces our sense of anxiety—we know how it’s going to end!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Many of us can be too proud to seek help even when we know we may need it. But sometimes, we need to set aside our pride and focus on what is most important. As I said before, we can’t very well be our best for clients if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. But there are plenty of resources out there for those seeking help, even specific tools for lawyers. For instance, the Law Society of Ontario has a fantastic Member Assistance Program which offers access to counselling services in a variety of formats, including over the phone and through video call. Many lawyers are unaware of this resource, but it is absolutely worth taking advantage of, especially at times like these. 

Although these may all seem like simple tips, many of them are forgotten or overlooked. As we try and navigate this “new normal”, we must all remember that our health (including mental health) is paramount.

I’ll sign off with the same words I said at the start, and I truly do mean them—stay well! 

Katelyn Reszitnyk practices Employment Law at Reszitnyk Law. She can be reached at:

Reszitnyk Law

5063 North Service Rd,
Suite 200, Burlington, ON L7L 5H6