Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Self-Care & Burnout

The increase in uncertainty, combined with the loss of socialization and normalcy during the pandemic can cause irritability, sleeplessness, lack of concentration, and hyper-vigilance.  More people are suffering from mental health challenges including increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.  A CDC survey found that 41% of Americans are struggling with mental health consequences of the pandemic, and we are suffering more than people in other countries.

Scientists have discovered that fear, a short-lived reaction to certain threat, and anxiety, persistent heightened arousal and apprehension of uncertain threat, are processed by the same brain regions.  Certain and uncertain threats activate a common brain network including the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). 

When people feel unsafe and coping strategies are unavailable, such as a regular routine, a trip to the gym, or time with friends, we can succumb to burnout.  While self-care may have been thought of as pampering, it has become self-preservation.  It may help to:

  • Limit news and social media;
  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings;
  • Recognize when emotions need extra attention and seek help; and
  • Set boundaries and say no.

Serving others in a culture of overwork can make it extremely difficult to set boundaries.  Many lawyers are people pleasers, and working from home is making it more difficult to get away from our work.  Setting boundaries will help you make decisions that are best for you, not just the people around you.  Inventory your values: who do you want to spend time with and what do you want to spend time doing?  Audit your activities: are any of them making you feel angry or resentful?  Evaluate your invitations and opportunities: how would you respond if this event was tomorrow, not a week or month from now?

Takeaway:  A tip on boundary setting from Ozan Verol, law professor and author of Think Like a Rocket Scientist, is that whenever you feel like putting the needs of others ahead of your own, consider: “The price you pay for pleasing other people is betraying who you are.”


Seraphina Seow, Therapists Predict how this Year will Shape our Mental Health, Huffington Post, Oct 10, 20,

Sam Romano, Mental Illness Awareness Week: Here’s What you Need to Know, CNN, Oct. 9, 2020,

University of Maryland, Fear and Anxiety Share Same Bases in Brain, Neuroscience News, Oct 19, 2020,

Paige Smith, In 2020, Self-Care is Becoming a More Radical Act, Huffington Post, Oct 26, 2020,

Carolyn Castrillon, 10 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries at Work, Forbes, July 18, 2019,

Ozan Verol, Inner Circle Newsletter, Oct. 27, 2020.

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