The legal profession is well known for causing stress and anxiety. For some people, the inevitable uncertainty and unpredictability of practicing family law make life more exciting and invigorating. For others, it causes depression and burnout. But there are stress and anxiety relief techniques lawyers can follow to alleviate feelings of burnout.
The symptoms of stress and anxiety are generally negative and unhealthy. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just flip a switch when you experience stress and anxiety, and they quickly and easily went away?
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and physiologists have discovered that the brain is extremely malleable and flexible. Habitual thinking strengthens the neural pathways that engage those thoughts and results in continued habitual thinking. In other words, if you think negative thoughts regularly, your brain will begin to connect neural pathways to continue and support those negative thoughts.
For example, when we become overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, the brain creates neural connections to focus on those thoughts. So, altering these negative neural patterns requires certain techniques to interrupt the negative neural pathways and create positive thought patterns. This is done by stimulating different areas of the brain to create new neural pathways, which is known as neuroplasticity.
Here are proven techniques for family lawyers seeking to relieve stress and anxiety – without self-medicating.
Here are 5 Stress Relief Techniques for Lawyers
1. “Pass the Buck” to Interrupt Negative Thoughts
This term has nothing to do with politics. One of the simplest ways to interrupt habitual thinking is to stimulate different areas of the brain. Different areas of the brain control voluntary motor skills of different parts of the body. For example, the part of the brain that controls the movement of your left hand is different from the part that controls the movement of your right hand.
And to interrupt pattern (habitual) thinking, focus on a movement requiring dexterity of your left hand, and then focus on a movement focusing on the right hand. For example, if you take a dollar bill in your left hand and wave your hand around on the left side of your body, and then pass it to your right hand and wave the right hand around on the right side of your body, you will interrupt your negative thinking. It is like hitting the reboot button on your computer. You will probably think, “now what was I so worried about?”
This is just one of the great stress and anxiety relief techniques to practice if they’re ever unsure about how to combat feelings of stress.
2. Practice Hakalau
Hakalau is a Hawaiian term that refers to “expanded vision” and is another stress and anxiety relief technique. It is a technique developed by Huna healers in Hawaii to refocus the mind and create an “open-mindedness” to allow the brain to create new neural pathways. It involves using peripheral vision to create new thought patterns.
Hakalau is extremely simple to achieve. Simply sit with your spine upright and look straight ahead. Then, raise your hands with palms facing forward above your head. As you continue to look straight ahead, wiggle your fingers, and separate your hands until they are at the edge of your peripheral vision. You can then raise and lower your hands along the edge of your peripheral vision as you continue to wiggle your fingers.
You will notice an almost instant change in your mood and stress level. You will also feel calm and relaxed. Continue to move your hands along the edge of your peripheral vision until you are free from anxiety and stress.
3. Activate Your Vagus Nerve
Research has shown that the vagus nerve has a great deal to do with how we feel. It goes from our internal organs to our brains. When we are stressed or anxious, this reduces the energy flowing back and forth between our brain and organs and we feel “bad”. When we activate the vagus nerve, we can create a feeling of relaxation and calmness.
There are several techniques to activate the vagus nerve. The easiest is to activate our cranial nerves which connect the vagus nerve to our brains. To do this, take a position similar to the Hakalau activation above, sitting with eyes looking straight ahead and hands shoulder high at the edge of your peripheral vision. Look to your left as far as you can and count to 60. Then look to your right as far as you can, and count to 60. Repeat this until you feel a sense of calmness and relaxation. It should only take a couple of cycles.
4. Ask Questions to Disassociate from Stressful Feelings
When we are triggered and feel overwhelmed with anxiety or stress, that is because we are experiencing a fight, flight, or freeze (FFF) response to our environment (external) or a memory (internal). This FFF response is hardwired into our brains and is a survival mechanism.
The problem for lawyers is that the FFF response can be triggered by fear of the future or shame of the past. Our rational mind literally shuts down and stops operating. For attorneys that have suffered trauma in their past, or are chronically overworked, this can be a real problem.
A quick way to escape an FFF response is twofold. First, we must breathe deeply. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold for a count of four. As you are breathing, close your eyes and imagine where you are feeling the fear, anxiety, or stress in your body. What shape is it? (Circle, sphere, square, box, etc.). What color is it? Is it hot, warm, cool, or cold? Is it moving or stationary? Then imagine the fear, anxiety, or stress placed in a red balloon and let the balloon float off into space.
By asking yourself these questions about the feeling, you disassociate from it and are released from its effect. You have eliminated the emotional attachment to the memory or circumstances that caused the emotion. You will no longer be triggered by it.
5. Take the Stairway to Heaven the Escape Stress and Anxiety
Stairway to Heaven, otherwise known as self-hypnosis, is another technique lawyers can follow to climb out of stress, anxiety, or fear. Sit with your eyes closed (do not do this while driving or operating dangerous machinery) and breathe deeply and slowly. Imagine your feet relaxing, then your ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, abdomen, ribs, chest, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, fingers, neck, ears, jaw, face, eyes, forehead, and scalp. You must be completely relaxed. Then, imagine that you are at the bottom of the most amazing stairway you have ever seen.
You begin to walk up the stairs. On the first stair, you start to feel more relaxed. On the second stair, you start to experience a feeling of well-being. On the third stair, you start to realize that you are successful and creative. On the fifth stair, you start to feel more and more powerful and in control of your career. On the sixth stair, you begin to appreciate all the challenges you have experienced. On the seventh stair, you begin to realize all the positive things you have learned from your experiences. On the eighth stair, you feel more and more connected to your intuition and creativity, allowing you to solve all problems you are facing. On the ninth stair, you feel confident and resilient. And finally, on the tenth stair, you realize that you are successful with the support of the dozens of people that are your supporters.
These stress and anxiety relief techniques become more effective with practice. The effects are cumulative, meaning that the level of anxiety and stress will keep dropping until they are manageable. Your feeling of relaxation, calmness, and confidence will go through the roof!
For more tools to help avoid lawyer burnout, visit www.lawyerlifeline.net/video.
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