5 Scientifically Based Stress Management Tips for Anxious Attorneys

by Sep 11, 2018

If you feel like your job as a lawyer is stressful, you’re not alone.

You’ve probably already heard the statistics — that lawyers are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than most other professionals, and that they also experience substance abuse and depression rates that are more than double those of the general population, etc.

There are reasons why lawyers are more stressed out than people who work in most other fields. Attorney Dan Jaffe, who practiced for years as a criminal defense lawyer before founding LawLytics dives deeper into the topic in his evocative piece called “Can Lawyers Be Happy?“, which is worth a read.

Stressed-Out Lawyers Are in Good Company

As attorneys Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford point out in their 2016 book, The Anxious Lawyer, “Many lawyers have been conditioned to constantly strive to be perfect, and feel as though they live in a world where they’re constantly failing.”

And while traditional professional advice might have lawyers believe in tall orders such as “don’t let your opponents see your weakness,” and “leave your emotions at the door,” without tending to the reality of the emotional toll of lawyering, it’s easy to see how your own reality can start to feel like “weakness” or, even a “character flaw.”

Without finding ways to deal with work that is stressful in nature, daily stresses can begin to mount and, eventually, to creep into your personal life and alter your views on success, the world, and life in general.

Managing Your Stress at Work

As an attorney, it’s impossible to eliminate job-related anxiety and stress. But you can change the way that you react to it and, therefore, how much of your time and energy you give it. There are many ways to deal with stress, and the tips below rely on scientific findings and can be done at work (whether you’re working from home or at an office).

1) Meditate

According to Medical News Today, “the science on meditation is clear.”

Meditation has been put to the test in thousands of studies over the last several decades and the results are interesting. Practicing meditation — which the authors of The Anxious Lawyer define as “simply a form of mental training” (though numerous traditional methods come paired with religious beliefs, philosophies, and rituals) — has been proven to improve focus, reduce stress, improve emotional regulation, and even to have a positive effect on your physical health and longevity.

Sit still for a few minutes a day (Karen Gifford says she began her daily practice of meditating with just two minutes a day), close your eyes, and try to focus on the physical sensation of your breathing. When your mind wanders — and it will wander — return your focus to your breath and continue on. It’s that simple.

Keep up with the practice and you’ll improve (mindfulness is hard). Eventually, you will likely start to see effects in a number of areas of your life, including your ability to calmly and rationally deal with stressful situations as they arise.

2) Visualize Success

Studies suggest that visualizing success in a process or action can actually be almost as good for improving performance as physical practice.

Visualization has been shown to work as a method of sharpening one’s intellectual acumen, as in the case of computer scientist Natan Sharansky, who mentally honed his skills at chess during nine years spent in a Russian prison before ultimately beating world-champion chess player Garry Kasparov after his release. Even strength training can be bolstered through the practice of positive visualization.

The next time you’re feeling stressed visualize yourself going through the process and succeeding before digging in to get the work done.

3) Put Down the Coffee and Pick up Some Chamomile Tea

For many, it’s the standard go-to on a stressful day. However, coffee is a stimulant. And, according to Christopher N. Ochner, assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “any stimulant carries with it the side effect of anxiety, which obviously ruins your concentration.” That’s because both caffeine and anxiety lead your body to produce cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone.

Chamomile, on the other hand, has been used for hundreds of years as a nerve tonic, relaxant, and sleep aid, and it’s also been proven to help “significantly” with moderate-to-severe symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

So, if you’re feeling jittery and think reaching for a cup of coffee, make a different choice, as coffee may be part of the problem.

4) Get Some Exercise

Take a walk around the block or even around the office (or your house). Do some squats, pushups, or a couple of yoga movements. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood for many verifiable and scientific reasons.

According to the Mayo Clinic, engaging in physical activity pumps the “feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins” to your brain, which ultimately produces the effect commonly known as a “runner’s high,” though you can achieve the same effect through any form of physical exercise.

Exercise also serves as “meditation in motion,” according to the Mayo Clinic report, in that focusing on a physical activity allows you to forget about other stresses you may be facing. It can also help reduce symptoms of depression, improve your sleep, and lower your blood pressure — all of which can contribute to a more peaceful state of mind.

5) Read Fiction or Non-Law Focused Non-Fiction

A study by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex suggests that reading is the best and fastest way to combat stress (beating out walking, drinking tea, or listening to calming music). In that study, just six minutes of reading was shown to reduce stress by as much as 68 percent.

Apparently, psychologists believe reading works well as a stress reducer because the act of reading completely occupies the human mind and distracts us from external stresses. And that, in effect, eases tension on the heart and other muscles.

In short, next time you’re feeling the stress of practicing law creeping in, make an effort to get away for a moment (physically, mentally, or both), get your mind and body to a more relaxed place, and return to your job with renewed energy and perspective.

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