As a Clinical Psychologist working with judges, lawyers, and law students, it is clear to me that anxiety disorders are on the rise in this population, and often impair the quality of people’s lives. The practice of law itself can increase symptoms of this disorder due to the high levels of stress, uncertainty, ambiguity, competitiveness, and “win or lose mentality.” By the time a person comes to LAP they often wonder, if the extent of their “worries and concerns” are warranted or if they have exceeded a threshold for what is considered “normal” anxiety. They often reveal that they are finding it harder to manage their day-to-day activities and responsibilities, feel high levels of guilt and helplessness, have increasing levels of low self-worth and low self-esteem, and feel that their self-view as “high functioning problem solvers” is no longer true.
A recent survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association indicated that 39 percent of Americans feel more anxious than they did a year ago. This survey found that anxiety is up among men and women, among adults of all ages, and among people of various racial and ethnic groups. A 2016 ABA/Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation survey in which almost 13, 000 attorneys responded, found that 19 percent of attorneys experience symptoms of anxiety and 23 percent experience high levels of stress. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States or 18 percent in the general population each year. However, less than 37 percent of individuals experiencing anxiety disorders seek and receive treatment. It is also not uncommon for someone experiencing high levels of anxiety to also suffer from depressive symptoms, as nearly half of individuals diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
As individuals in the legal community, we need to really take inventory if we are personally impacted by anxiety and look for solutions to minimize the negative impact it may have in our lives. Anxiety disorders occur for a variety of reasons, not limited to but including, genetics, temperament, and challenging life circumstances.
The following is a list of symptom criteria from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition 2013 (DSM-5) for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry often occurs more often than not for at least six months and is clearly excessive.
The worry is experienced as very challenging to control. The worry may easily shift from one topic to another.
The anxiety and worry are accompanied with at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms:
- Edginess or restlessness
- Tiring easily; more fatigue than usual
- Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
- Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
- Increased muscle aches or soreness
- Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)
Some people also experience physical symptoms including sweating, nausea and stomach or digestive problems. The anxiety and worry often make it hard to carry out day to day activities and responsibilities, and often cause problems at work, in relationships or in other important areas of their lives. If left untreated, people may also begin to experience something called Panic Disorder, in which a person feels like they are having a heart attack or dying and may seek medical treatment thinking they have a physical problem. In some situations, individuals may often overuse or abuse alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications, or other drugs to minimize the ongoing suffering and struggles they are experiencing on a daily basis.
Seeking the help of a mental health professional is important to assess for and help manage anxiety disorders. While anxiety can be helpful in normal amounts to motivate and accomplish goals, it can cause serious impairment, and at its worst, can cause people to feel depressed, alone, deficient, and potentially suicidal. I always advise people that suffering in silence is not the answer and that reaching out to The Illinois Lawyer’s Assistance Program (LAP) to help you access the appropriate treatment is critical to living a healthy and full life. LAP can help determine whether simple mindfulness techniques, including but not limited to meditation, breathing, and yoga may help minimize your symptoms or if other treatment is necessary.
Dr. Diana Uchiyama is an assistant deputy director with the Illinois Lawyers Assistance Program in Chicago, Illinois.
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