• Scott R. Mote, Esq.

Do you have an anxiety disorder? How to know and what to do about it

I wake up at 2 a.m., thinking about what I need to do at work the next day. I should be sleeping, but I cannot fall back asleep, so this makes me even more worried that I will not be my best on the bench the next day. My heart starts to race, and I cannot stop thinking about events that may or may not happen. Will I get to work on time? Will I be prepared? Will my staff notice that I’m less than perfect? Will someone who I ruled against find me and try to harm me? Will I have bags under my eyes? I will probably fall asleep on the bench. I need to keep my poker face during questioning, but people will think that I am biased because I will have trouble keeping my eyes open.


I try deep breathing, but my thoughts keep spiraling and it’s difficult to concentrate on my breath. After several attempts, I fall back asleep until my alarm rings at 6 a.m. The second I wake, the thoughts begin to circulate again. I look like I haven’t slept. I’m going to be horrible at my job today. I’m going to make mistakes I cannot undo. Am I forgetting something? Let me check my schedule and my to-do list real quick. I’m sure my commute is going to be stressful. What if I’m late?


I finally make it to the courthouse and my racing thoughts do not subside. I quickly put on my robe and head to the bench, where many people greet me. All eyes are on me. I’m wondering what they think of me. Do they know how tired I am? Are they upset that I am the judge presiding over their case? Will someone file to run against me? If I lose the election, how can I support my family? What will I do? Can I raise the thousands of dollars I need to run again?


My day goes on, and I am still inundated with thoughts I cannot control.


This is anxiety.


The word “anxiety” is thrown around quite a bit these days. With being stuck indoors because of the weather, illness or because of the pandemic, it is not surprising that this word is used more often than before. But what is anxiety? Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, doom or uneasiness. This feeling can come out of nowhere or it can be a reaction to stress. You might feel anxiety before you make an important decision, before you give a speech or while you are driving. Having anxiety once in a while is a normal part of life. If you have it so often that it is interfering with your responsibilities and your personal life, you might have an anxiety disorder. Learn the signs and symptoms so that you know when to seek treatment to control your anxiety.


Because of the nature of a judge’s job, you are more prone to anxiety disorders than people in other professions. In addition to the example above, anxiety can show in many different ways:

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Sweaty palms

  • Feeling nervous, tense or restless

  • Trouble concentrating/only able to focus on the situation you are worried about (obsessing about something that has not yet happened)

  • Sense of impending danger or doom

  • Trembling

  • Being irritable

  • Muscle tension

  • Heart palpitations

There are different types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and phobias.


General anxiety disorder is much like the example above. People with this have persistent worrying about events outside of their control, they overthink simple things, such as driving to work, and come up with worst-case outcomes. They have difficulty handling things they cannot control or uncertainty, they are unable to relax and have difficulty concentrating. This excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry are difficult to control and interfere with day-to-day activities.


Social anxiety disorder is when you fear to do things because you fear you are being scrutinized or judged by others. It becomes a problem when it interferes with your every day activities. People with this disorder have severe stress and avoid social situations. This can affect relationships, daily routines, work and other activities.


A phobia is an irrational fear of something that poeses little or no real danger. People with phobias experience deep senses of dread or panic when coming into contact or thinking about what it is they fear. It can be a certain place, situation or an object. Some common phobias include social (fear of being judged), agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or crowds), acrophobia (fear of heights), and claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces).


Causes of anxiety

The exact causes of anxiety are not fully understood, but scientists believe many factors are at play, such as brain chemistry, genetics and personality. Life experiences, such as traumatic events, can trigger anxiety disorders.


Because judges are susceptible to secondary trauma through seeing and hearing about horrific situations, such as child abuse, sexual assault or car accidents, they are more prone to anxiety.


Anxiety can be treated

When anxiety starts to interfere with your life, it is time to seek help. As a judge, this can mean that your anxiety is interfering with how you make decisions on the bench. It can interfere with your personal relationships. It can lead to other mental health issues, such as depression. See your doctor as soon as possible, because anxiety disorders can be treated. Your doctor can help you find a therapist that provides cognitive therapy, which is a type of therapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts, dysfunctional beliefs and negative reactions. A doctor can also help you find a medication that will lessen your anxiety.


Your worries may not go away on their own and they could get worse if you do not seek proper treatment.


Preventing anxiety

There are steps you can take to stop anxiety before it starts or to reduce its impact.


Get help early.

Exercise.

Lean on your support system.

Avoid alcohol and drugs.


JAG can help

Sometimes it helps to talk to others who are in a similar situation as you. The Judicial Advisory Group (JAG) is a peer-based confidential assistance group that helps judges and magistrates with personal and professional issues. You can contact any member with a concern:

  • Judge Jack R. Puffenberger, Chair, Lucas Co. Probate

  • Judge Debra L. Boros, Retired, Vice Chair, Lorain Co. Domestic Relations

  • Judge David B. Bender, Fayette Co. Probate/Juvenile

  • Judge David Bennett, Guernsey Co. Probate/Juvenile

  • Judge Beth Cappelli, Fairborn Municipal

  • Judge Patricia A. Delaney, Fifth District Court of Appeals

  • Judge Kevin Dunn, Medina Co. Probate/Juvenile

  • Judge Randall Fuller, Delaware Co. Domestic Relations

  • Judge Paula Giulitto, Portage Co. Domestic Relations

  • Judge Barbara P. Gorman, Retired, Montgomery Co. Common Pleas

  • Judge Howard H. Harcha, III, Scioto Co. Common Pleas

  • Judge Kimberly Kellog-Martin, Logan Co. Family

  • Judge William A. Klatt, Tenth District Court of Appeals

  • Judge Michelle Garcia Miller, Jefferson Co. Common Pleas

  • Judge Denise Moody, Clark Co. Municipal

  • Judge Beth A. Myers, First District Court of Appeals

  • Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice, Eleventh District Court of Appeals

  • Magistrate C. William Rickrich, Licking County Common Pleas

  • Judge Robert Rusu, Mahoning Co. Common Pleas

  • Judge Julie R. Selmon, Monroe Co. Common Pleas

  • Judge Matt C. Staley, Allen Co. Domestic Relations

  • Judge Jason Yoss, Monroe Co. Court

Call us at (800) 348-4343. All inquiries are confidential.


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