TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Jonathan Steen on Dec 1, 2014

Journal Issue Date: Dec 2014

Journal Name: December 2014 - Vol. 50, No. 12

It’s Time for a Time-Out

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is my favorite movie. Its stop-action animation is visually stunning, the musical score is wonderful, and it combines two of my favorite holidays — Halloween and Christmas. As the story begins, Jack Skellington, tired of his routine as the leader of Halloween Town, wanders away from the town’s celebration after another successful Halloween contemplating his feelings of weariness and lack of inspiration. He suddenly finds himself in Christmas Town and decides to kidnap Santa Claus and take over Christmas. Jack’s friend Sally tries to dissuade Jack from his plans to take over Christmas, but he is too focused on his plans to listen. His misguided efforts are hilarious, but, as you might expect, end in disaster. Realizing that it is not too late to save Christmas, Jack returns to Halloween Town; Santa is freed and saves Christmas. As Roger Ebert described the movie, it is “a feast for the eyes and the imagination.” And with a happy ending fitting the holidays.

The holidays are a season of joy and celebration. A time to gather with family and friends to share fellowship and build fond memories. A time to look back on the year that is concluding and make plans for the new year ahead. While the holidays are a joyous time for many, for others, the holidays can be a nightmare of sorts. Time, energy and, for many, enthusiasm are in short supply. Like Jack, many people often experience feelings of weariness and melancholy as the holiday season approaches, signaling the end of another year. The holidays are packed with stress and can provoke lots of anxiety. Family gatherings can often be very stressful. For those who are experiencing financial difficulties, added financial stress during the holidays can be overwhelming. Increased alcohol consumption over the holidays often leads to poor decision-making. All of these stressors feed into the experience of depression that affects so many people — and in particular, lawyers — during the holidays.

Although sometimes our lives may become out of balance, or our plans go awry, it is never too late to change the situation. There are times when I have felt like Jack and have struggled with lack of energy and motivation. As my sister would say, “my give-a-sh*t” was broken. If stress, anxiety or depression becomes too much for you over the course of the holidays, the best advice I have received is to give yourself a “time out.” Push back from your desk and take a walk outside. Literally take a few deep breaths and try to determine the root cause of your distress and, if possible, modify the situation. Most people are lucky enough to have friends like Jack had Sally to help along the way. Enlist the help of those around you in making your situation better.

If you don’t have a friend like Sally (or just aren’t listening, like Jack), the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) offers free, confidential consultation, referral, intervention, and crisis counseling for lawyers, judges, bar applicants and law students who are struggling with substance abuse, stress or depression. TLAP is also available as a resource for those who may be concerned for others as well.

I have found that another effective way to fend off depression involves being willing to become aware of when your thinking is negative, and then consciously and deliberately thinking positive and happier thoughts. When it comes to the holidays, ask yourself what you can do to make them a little happier for yourself and others. And then act.

Finally, as the new year approaches, I remind you, as I have to remind myself, that in order to be the best, most productive and happiest we can be, we need to take care of ourselves. And we all know what that means. Getting enough sleep, eating well-balanced meals and exercising are a simple recipe for a more healthy and balanced life. While easier said than done, we must choose to make caring for our well-being a priority in our lives.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” ends with Santa visiting Halloween Town bringing some holiday cheer, and Jack, inspired, planning the best Halloween ever for next year. I hope that your holidays are full of happiness and cheer and that your new year is the best ever.

I wish you all a joyful and safe holiday season, and a prosperous and fulfilling New Year.

Jonathan Steen Tennessee Bar Association President JONATHAN O. STEEN is a civil trial lawyer with Redding, Steen & Staton PC in Jackson. He is a past president of the TBA Young Lawyers Division.