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Under Pressure — How Stress From a Legal or Medical Issue Can Affect You

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
August 3, 2022  ·  5 min read

Stress is not a dirty word, nor should it be worn as a badge of honor. It’s a normal and unavoidable part of life, and even the most relaxed person you can think of has experienced it at times.

Stress can be brought on by a variety of factors, but two situations that almost invariably cause it are legal and medical issues. The uncertainty of the outcome, the emotional toll of the process, and the monetary costs involved are some of the triggers. 

If the stress of a legal or medical issue is starting to impact your life to an unacceptable degree, it can be daunting to know how to fix it — but there is help! We’re here to talk you through all things stress — from symptoms and diagnostics to the best coping strategies for your situation.

The science of stress

We’re all familiar with stress, but it can be hard to define when it goes from being our body’s natural reaction to something more serious. In small doses, stress can actually be good for us — it can increase energy levels and alertness while helping us stay focused on the task at hand. This kind of stress is likely what you’d be referring to if you said you were “pumped” or “wired”. It’s when you start venturing into “burnt out” territory that you might need to address the underlying issues that are causing your stress response to flare up.

From a medical standpoint, stress can be caused by any type of physical or emotional stimulus or situation — every person and their triggers are different. There are some types of stress, such as work stress, relationship stress, or bereavement stress, that are a consistent theme across the board. Other stressors relate to specific stages of life, for example aging, pregnancy, parenting, teenage years, or menopause.

No matter the source, all types of stress run the risk of becoming unmanageable or overwhelming when left unaddressed. The following are risk factors for uncontrollable stress.

  • Social and financial problems (including legal issues)

  • Medical issues from physical or mental illness

  • Lack of social support networks

  • Family history of stress

The brain strain

In most cases of stress, the earliest signs are psychological. There are some initial emotional signposts to look out for in the realm of stress. These include:

  • Anxiousness

  • Nervousness

  • Distraction

  • Excessive worry

  • Internal pressure

  • Changes in sleep patterns

Getting physical

So we’ve covered the early warning signs of debilitating stress — but what can happen to your body when you’re under emotional strain? If you’ve gotten to the point where you have suppressed or “powered on” through the psychological manifestations of stress, these physical symptoms can be further proof that it’s time to seek help to manage your condition.

  • Excessive fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Heart racing

  • Dizziness or flushing

  • Tremulousness or restlessness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Hyperventilation or choking sensation

For many people, bodily discomfort can often act as the push needed to address chronic stress. To reiterate, you can potentially avoid these unpleasant side-effects by recognizing the psychological warning signs and acting early. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, it’s vital that you consult with a trained medical professional.

Why legal issues cause stress to skyrocket

If you’ve ever been involved in a legal matter of any degree, you know first-hand that it’s not exactly fun. But why is battling through a legal issue so stressful? Studies have shown the adverse consequences that legal problems can have on a range of health, social, and financial circumstances. A LAW Foundation survey found five different types of negative health and social consequences resulting from legal problems. Respondents reported that their legal problems caused:

  • Income loss or financial strain (in 29% of cases)

  • Stress-related illness (20%)

  • Physical ill health (19%)

  • Relationship breakdown (10%)

  • Having to move home (5%)

Due to the daunting, drawn-out, and often unfamiliar nature of legal proceedings for most people, it’s no wonder that legal anxiety is so prevalent. However, there are ways to protect yourself from the burnout of a stressful legal battle. Seeking strong and reputable legal counsel familiar with your specific situation, asking questions, engaging in research, using stress-coping strategies, and cultivating a strong support system will help you on your journey to justice. 

Breaking the cycle

Medical issues, particularly chronic illness, can cruelly and ironically be one of the biggest sources of stress in a person’s life. Acute illnesses like colds or the flu are something within your control with a light at the end of the tunnel, while more complex medical conditions come with life-disrupting consequences. Some aspects of chronic illness that cause long-term stress include:

  • Having to keep up with time-consuming health management tasks

  • Changes in physical appearance

  • A permanent or temporary inability to work, which can cause flow-on financial stress

  • Loss of control or independence

  • Uncertainty about the future

  • Disability status that can impact your physical and emotional relationships

These are powerful triggers that can exacerbate your existing physical and mental ailments. Stress can impact chronic health conditions in a number of ways — for example by slowing your healing, negatively impacting your immune system, and damaging brain–skeletal muscle communication. This vicious cycle of bodily disrepair is why it’s imperative that you target the stressors within your control as early as possible. Put simply, the added physical and emotional turmoil that comes from chronic stress isn’t doing you any favors. 

Sweet relief

One of the best ways to manage stress in its early stages is by engaging in self-managed strategies. There are many evidence-based tools to help you combat stress in a healthy, natural way. Here are a few things you can do to ease your stress in both a short- and long-term way.

  • Try to identify and eliminate your stressors

  • Cultivate a social support network

  • Fuel your body with good nutrition

  • Physically relax your muscles with stretches, massage, or warm baths

  • Heal your mind with meditation

  • Practice good sleep hygiene

  • Move your body via exercise and physical activity you enjoy

  • Connect with nature

Calling in the pros

While non-medical strategies can be extremely helpful for stress management, sometimes we need a little assistance to bring our anxiety down to a functional level. If you’ve noticed that your stress levels aren’t improving with natural remedies, there is absolutely no shame in seeking medical attention or advice for your condition. The sooner you find a sustainable solution that works for you, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits of more balanced mental health.

When it comes to seeking medical attention for stress, the power is solely in your hands. There are no medical tests you can take to diagnose chronic stress because stress is subjective. Only the person experiencing stress has the ability to say if it is present and how severe it feels. That being said, there are tools that your healthcare provider may use to gauge your stress level and how it’s affecting your life. They may use questionnaires to make an assessment of the situation or even evaluate physical symptoms (like high blood pressure) that can be diagnosed and treated. 

At the end of the day, none of this advice is a substitute for a professional medical opinion. If you are concerned that your stress levels are becoming unmanageable, it’s important to seek professional assistance. 

Help in the hard times

As we’ve covered, your stress levels will vary in day-to-day life — it’s natural and normal to be affected by anxiety to some degree. But when your stress levels start to impact your physical and mental health to a point where your career or income is affected, timely management strategies become a whole lot more important. Early intervention can save you from more severe physical and psychological symptoms down the track, so it’s important to engage in the aforementioned self-managed strategies as soon as possible.

If your symptoms have progressed to physical manifestations of stress, it’s time to get some professional help. Start by making an appointment with a healthcare practitioner who can help you to alleviate some of the more pressing physical symptoms, then ask for a referral to see a mental health professional. Your healing journey may require traditional “talking” therapy or psychiatric therapy, where the use of medications can help with ongoing stress management. 

The support you need 

Both legal and medical issues can have an enormous impact on your stress levels—it’s not a personal failing, it’s just a natural side-effect of being in challenging territory. Finding the right support system to protect you from a legal standpoint is crucial. You want to make sure you find the specific resources that will best help your situation, whether it’s a workers compensation lawyer or some free advice on the next steps to take on your journey to a calmer life. 

Atticus is built with compassion and results in mind. The platform was created by Harvard- and Stanford-trained lawyers to address critical and complex needs, linking victims of hardship with top-quality legal aid without the added financial burden. 

Do you have a stressful legal or medical situation you need help with? Contact the team at Atticus today.

Ready to get benefits today?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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