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COVID coping: Random acts of kindness benefit you, your colleagues | Joan Rataic-Lang

Friday, February 12, 2021 @ 10:25 AM | By Joan Rataic-Lang

Joan Rataic-Lang %>
Joan Rataic-Lang
Leo Buscaglia said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” 

“Dr. Love,” as Leo Buscaglia was known, would have approved of a professional development program held on Feb 5. It was called Managing the Second Wave: Mental health, resilience and resources. Full disclosure, my association, the Toronto Lawyers Association, handled logistics for this event and LawPRO organized the panel. The collaboration resulted in over 1,600 legal professionals from across Canada and a few points in the U.S. and even Germany watching. The number of attendees affirmed with the organizers that the topic was timely and important. Feedback like, “I have been a lawyer for 30 years, this is the best CPD I ever attended” confirmed that the presentation was meaningful, hopeful and effective. That made me want to share. 

The speakers were people who know what a significant issue mental health is in the legal profession and who have a desire to improve the situation with sound advice and support. Law Society of Ontario treasurer (president) Teresa Donnelly has made mental health a priority during her term. Doron Gold is a staff clinician at Homewood Health, the provider of the Ontario legal profession’s Member Assistance Program. He is a registered social worker, certified professional coach and psychotherapist, as well as having previously practised law for 10 years. Orlando Da Silva is a known to many of us because he has publicly shared about his about his own experience overcoming depression. From 2014 to 2015 he served as president and CEO of the Ontario Bar Association.

During this tenure, he championed a Canadawide mental health and wellness campaign targeted at the legal profession, speaking publicly. The panel was rounded out by Mahwash Khan, communications counsel, chair, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group, LawPRO and Juda Strawczynski, director, practicePRO, LawPRO.

The program was 90 minutes. All I can do is share some of the advice that resonated personally with me. I recommend you watch the video and look at the materials to fully benefit from this program and, if you are in Ontario, get your CPD.

For those in leadership positions Doron reminded us, “Be the boss you always wanted to have.” Qualities that we all appreciate in our leaders are empathy, vulnerability and authenticity. Being empathetic means being able to put yourself in another’s shoes and understand and share their feelings. 

This following advice might be harder for legal professionals. “Set an example for co-workers and employees by discussing your own concerns, stresses and mental health and the steps you are taking to protect your resilience during these times.” If you model vulnerability it makes it easier for others to acknowledge how they are feeling and recognize that they may be in need of assistance too.

The human connection cannot be stressed enough. Treasurer Donnelly reminded us that while we cannot physically be in the same place, that does not mean we cannot reach out to people. Call a friend, take time to chat with a colleague, check up on an elderly relative. We have to be safe, yes, but we can still reach out to people.

Watch for the warning signs amongst your colleagues and staff. 

Now is not the time to forget about yourself. We cannot deal with our emotions if we do not recognize them. We cannot beat ourselves up over those feelings; we’re human, we need to accept them. Empathy can be outward looking in your relationships with others, but you can also show yourself empathy. Just as you would not judge others, do not judge yourself.

The body and mind cannot function properly without a good night’s sleep. Exercise relieves stress, while also helping with getting the restful sleep we require. But how to do any of those if the mind will not give you peace? Use the 5-4-3-2-1 method to regain control when anxiety threatens to take over. Use your breathing to reset. Practise gratitude to encourage positive thinking. Limit your news watching to 30 minutes a day; that’s all you need to stay on top of things. Same can be said for social media, help yourself from being overwhelmed by negative information. Stop doom-scrolling!

And if you can’t do it all alone and don’t want to turn to friends or family for help, do you know what your employee assistance program can do for you? In Ontario the Member Assistance Program is a confidential service funded by and fully independent of the Law Society of Ontario and LawPRO. 

Finally, celebrate Random Act of Kindness Week. Why? Read the full explanation from  Psychology Today and go back to my opening quote from Buscaglia. What is truly surprising is that you will feel even better than the person who is the recipient of the act of kindness. Now isn’t that the kind of virtuous circle you want to be a part of?

Joan Rataic-Lang is executive director and library director of the Toronto Lawyers Association.

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