If you feel like your job as a lawyer is stressful, you’re not alone.
You’ve probably already heard all of 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.
Where lists like these can be glossed over, there appears to be a reason as to why lawyers are statistically more stressed out than people who work in other fields.
Stressed-Out Lawyers Are in Good Company
As attorney-authors 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.”
When professional gurus preach mantras of “Don’t let your opponents see your weakness,” or “Leave your emotions at the door,” it’s easy to see how your own emotional reality can start to feel like “weakness” or, even a “character flaw” that is unwelcome in your chosen profession.
But, as it turns out, attorneys are still human beings even after they are admitted to the bar and begin practicing law. And without finding ways to deal with work that is stressful in nature, it does not require much of a leap to understand how those 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, you are probably not going to be able to completely eliminate the anxiety that you feel as a result of your job. What you can do, however, is change the way that you react to it and, therefore, how much of your time and energy you will allow it to control.
There are many ways to deal with stress at the office, and so the list presented here is by no means exhaustive (no doubt we’ll be adding to it in the months to come).
Still, the five tips that follow below are meant for all of you rational thinkers out there, as they rely on scientific findings — and you can do all of them without even leaving the office.
Go ahead. Roll your eyes. We’ll wait.
Now that you’re back, as trumpeted by Medical News Today this month, “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
It may sound counterintuitive, but studies suggest that simply 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 that crushing fear associated with an impending trial date or important filing, rather than focusing on your fear of failure as a source of motivation, 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 might help calm your nerves, think again. As it turns out, your favorite power-up may well be part of the problem.
4) Get Some Exercise
You may have to leave the office for this one. Take a walk around the block (unless you can find a way to add some type of exercise equipment in your office). 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 in Lieu of Legal Briefs
Think of it like a six-minute vacation for your brain.
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 your work 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.