A Year of Challenges and Gifts

By Eileen Travis, Executive Director, Lawyer Assistance Program
Living through the pandemic has challenged us in ways we never would have anticipated. For most, it was losing everything that was familiar and having to adapt to a whole new routine. Experiencing feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, fear, isolation, grief, and loss, as well as self-medicating with food, alcohol, and other substances became the new normal.

Adjusting to working remotely was easy for some, difficult for others. Establishing boundaries between work and life was a daunting task. Some did it well, while others found themselves working harder and longer. Families living and working in cramped quarters – often with children attending virtual classes – encountered additional hurdles. Difficulty concentrating and focusing on work or school was prevalent among lawyers and law students.

Women were more likely than men to report symptoms of anxiety and/or a depressive disorder during the pandemic. Communities of color were disproportionately affected. Black and Latinx adults were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorders than their White counterparts.

Some of us became ill with the virus; others lost loved ones. At times our grasp and sense of control seemed tenuous.

So much has changed that it’s easy to focus on the struggles and not recognize some of the positive effects surviving a traumatic event has had.

We learned that as rates of mental health and substance-use issues soared, it was okay to reach out for help, and many did. Even now there are long waiting lists for an appointment with a mental health professional.

After making the initial adjustments to working remotely, some found more time for self-care. Self-care became the mantra for maintaining physical and mental well-being in order not just to survive, but to thrive. We discovered new ways of communicating and interacting with our peers, clients, family, and friends. We took time to reflect on what really is important in our lives. We practiced gratitude and learned to let go of the nonsensical. We learned to accept ourselves and others with compassion and grace.

When we have the opportunity to slow down, we can have more empathy. An article in the Washington Post reported that since the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, approximately 15 to 26 million Americans (of all races and backgrounds) have taken to the streets to protest police violence and advocate for Black lives, garnering more media coverage than any other protests in the last 50 years.

We understood the importance of building and strengthening our resilience.

We learned that we are a community, responsible for ourselves and each other.

Right now, the world seems alive again. Nature is in full bloom. Getting vaccinated helps so we can feel more comfortable spending time with family and friends, giving and receiving the hugs we longed for during all those months of social distancing.

Transitioning back to the office can also be a source of stress and anxiety, but we can mentally and physically prepare for it. Expect that it may seem strange at first. Things may not look or feel as they did over a year ago. Make sure you are well rested and well nourished. Practice deep breathing if you feel anxious. Go outside for a walk. Call someone you trust and share your feelings. Ask yourself what you need and want to be safe, and keep others around you safe. Find ways to support a healthy work-life balance.

Let’s look to each other for guidance and support as we work to create the new “new normal.”

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a mental health or substance-use problem, please reach out for free and confidential help.

Confidential helpline: 212-302-5787
Eileen Travis, Executive Director, etravis@nycbar.org