5 things judges can do to cope with isolation and loneliness
Being a judge can feel as if you are under constant scrutiny. The lack of privacy in your personal life can lead to stress and isolation, inside and outside of the courtroom. When you go from being an attorney to a judge, your life changes in a dramatic way. Many people may not realize the changes you must make.
You have to remain neutral at all times, which means that you might not be able to associate the same way you used to with attorney friends.
Your family is in the spotlight, which means you need to educate them on the importance of being fair and impartial and you need to keep them safe.
You might worry about going out in public, even to the grocery store, as people might judge you on what you are buying. You might think twice or have to drive out of your county if you want to go to church, buy a certain book, alcohol, or magazine, for fear that others will label you as biased.
Because you are the judge, you might feel as if you have no one to talk to or relate to.
These are only a few scenarios that affect a judge’s everyday life. Some judges isolate themselves, which limits them from being able to enjoy their family and/or leisure time. Some might go to work, go home and go to bed without enjoying any after-work activities. This can lead to depression.
It’s no doubt that the current state of the world has many people feeling stressed and anxious. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, judges were already working in an anxiety-filled setting. They deal with high expectations, they have multiple deadlines, and they deal with people problems, such as divorce, child abuse, crime, etc. Now, judges are faced with a new normal and how to make it work.
In 2019, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) released the 2019 National Judicial Stress and Resilience Survey, which identifies the primary sources of judicial stress. Of the 1,034 judges who were surveyed, 50.3 percent said that isolation leads to their stress. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety.
To prevent this, judges must understand loneliness and isolation. They should also know that it’s ok to feel like you are not ok. These feelings are valid. We are living in an unknown environment, and it is normal to have these thoughts. If these feelings start to interfere with your life—e.g., you start sleeping too much, you cannot get your work done, you are irritable with your family and co-workers—then it might be time to ask for help.
Use the following Loneliness Scale to see if you can relate to any of the thoughts. If you find that you relate with some of the thoughts, try limiting your screen time, creating structure, connecting with others, staying active, and being creative.
What is loneliness?
The UCLA Loneliness Scale is a 20-item scale designed to measure one’s subjective feelings of loneliness as well as feelings of social isolation. If you associate with any of these thoughts, you might be experiencing loneliness.
I am unhappy doing so many things alone
I have nobody to talk to
I cannot tolerate being so alone
I lack companionship
I feel as if nobody really understands me
I find myself waiting for people to call or write
There is no one I can turn to
I am no longer close to anyone
My interests and ideas are not shared by those around me
I feel left out
I feel completely alone
I am unable to reach out and communicate with those around me
My social relationships are superficial
I feel starved for company
No one really knows me well
I feel isolated from others
I am unhappy being so withdrawn
It is difficult for me to make friends
I feel shut out and excluded by others
People are around me but not with me
Obviously, it is not healthy to feel lonely. People who have high scores on the UCLA Loneliness Scale are more likely to have job burnout, chronic illnesses, physical inactivity, and early death.
Ways to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation
If you are feeling lonely, try to act on some of the following suggestions. Even though we are asked to stay at home as much as possible, there are things you can do to help combat your feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Limit your screen time
It’s no surprise that most of the news during this time is not good news. Our news and social feeds are filled with stories about crime, racism and uncertainty about the coronavirus. When you surround yourself with bad news, it is bound to have a negative effect on you. Search for positive stories in the news, instead of just scrolling through news of the day. Limit your time on social media and news sites and spend your time doing more productive things.
As a judge, you are used to structure, so it is important to create the same type of environment at home. Try to set a schedule and stick to it. Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. This will help keep you from veering off in the wrong direction, such as wondering what you will do each day or how you will finish your work each day.
Connect with others
Connecting with others might seem impossible at this time, but it is not. With technology, you have so many ways to talk to friends and family. Call a friend or a relative. Use apps such as FaceTime and Zoom to create a virtual family get-together.
Note that connecting with others does not just mean with your family or colleagues. Try connecting with others through online groups that have the same interests as you. For example, if you are interested in or have a passion for a certain topic like football or ancient history, find an online group and share your thoughts with others.
Exercise can instantly boost your mood, and there are plenty of ways to exercise in quarantine. Many online sites have free workouts you can easily do at home. You can take a walk around your neighborhood or in a local park. You can even be active while working on your house, whether it’s through cleaning or mowing your lawn.
Try not to get into the habit of binge-watching TV or spending hours without moving. Remember that a body in motion stays in motion!
There’s a reason why there is a back order on home improvement supplies. Many people are using this time to work on their homes: painting the garage, cleaning the basement, building a tree house in the backyard, re-decorating the bedroom, etc. Take this time to do something creative. It doesn’t have to be a home improvement project. You could try painting, writing poetry, learning photography, crocheting or restoring an antique car or motorcycle. Being creative gives you a sense of purpose and can lead to feelings of accomplishment and pride.
OLAP can help
If you feel like isolation and loneliness are hindering your life, please call the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program. We can help you get back on the right track.