(Illustration by Jon Rienford)

Stress is one of the most prevalent and debilitating diseases in America, and nowhere is it more rampant than in the legal profession. As they say, stress kills, and it does every day in this country. Now, stress is not only a scientifically documented disease, but it is incurable as stress is a necessary part of our human DNA. Humans are reliant upon stress to survive.

While the sources of stress have transformed since the time when we humans were living in caves, hunting and gathering our food, all with the threat of neighboring predators, the physiological response to stress remains the same. When faced with a stressful situation—also known as a stressor or stimulus—the reptilian portion of our brain responds, and instructs our body to fight or flee. Since you cannot control all the stressors in your environment, you need tools to aid you in controlling your stress response.

If you practice law, you are undoubtedly faced with stressors each and every day at work. Whether it is your superior, your assistant, your judge or your adversary, you must consistently address issues, questions, deadlines and construct solutions all the while maintaining a level of civility. Sounds easy, but we know it is not. So what do you do when you are faced with a constant state of flux around you, whether you are in the office, on the road, in depositions or in court? It can leave you feeling out of control at times and hoping (praying) that a break, or some calm, is in your very near future. Well, there is hope for you, and you need not change careers just yet or seek professional treatment. The answer is within yourself, and the remedy is called mindfulness.

This “mindset” is not relegated to yogis or zen-ish folks only … it’s open to everyone, even lawyers. A Ph.D. named Jon Kabat-Zinn has been credited with mainstreaming the mindfulness movement in the United States through the development of his mindfulness-based stress reduction class, which began at UMass Hospital in 1979. Dr. Kabat-Zinn has provided probably the most succinct definition of mindfulness, which he describes as follows: “[t]he awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” See Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Bantam Books, 2013.

The sine qua non of a mindfulness practice is rooted in your control over your breath through meditation. The consequence of this practice is a new (or renewed) ability to be flexible with your emotions and in your interactions with your environment, rather than being fixed and rooted in thinking one way or another. The take-home is that you do not have to mirror the behavior of your adversaries, colleagues or supervisors by engaging in impulsive reactionary behavior. Rather, you can learn to be mindful of the gap between a stimulus and your response by actively practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness requires a measure of devotion to the practice of meditation, but you will begin to notice major changes in your ability to cope with stressful situations, and respond appropriately given your new awareness of your “self” and your “surroundings.” If you need further proof of the short- and long-term benefits of incorporating mindfulness into your legal practice, and for that matter, into your life, I have provided recommended sources for your reference. You will find that scientific studies have long reported the mental, physical and emotional benefits of meditation, to which mindfulness is strongly related. See PennMedicine.org/mindfulness. Benefits of mindfulness are reflected in a reduction of stress-related physiological symptoms including lower blood pressure, resting heart rate, anxiety and depression correlating with a more content and satisfying life experience and a likely extension to your practice of law.

So what are you waiting for? … Start being mindful.•

Stress is one of the most prevalent and debilitating diseases in America, and nowhere is it more rampant than in the legal profession. As they say, stress kills, and it does every day in this country. Now, stress is not only a scientifically documented disease, but it is incurable as stress is a necessary part of our human DNA. Humans are reliant upon stress to survive.

While the sources of stress have transformed since the time when we humans were living in caves, hunting and gathering our food, all with the threat of neighboring predators, the physiological response to stress remains the same. When faced with a stressful situation—also known as a stressor or stimulus—the reptilian portion of our brain responds, and instructs our body to fight or flee. Since you cannot control all the stressors in your environment, you need tools to aid you in controlling your stress response.

If you practice law, you are undoubtedly faced with stressors each and every day at work. Whether it is your superior, your assistant, your judge or your adversary, you must consistently address issues, questions, deadlines and construct solutions all the while maintaining a level of civility. Sounds easy, but we know it is not. So what do you do when you are faced with a constant state of flux around you, whether you are in the office, on the road, in depositions or in court? It can leave you feeling out of control at times and hoping (praying) that a break, or some calm, is in your very near future. Well, there is hope for you, and you need not change careers just yet or seek professional treatment. The answer is within yourself, and the remedy is called mindfulness.

This “mindset” is not relegated to yogis or zen-ish folks only … it’s open to everyone, even lawyers. A Ph.D. named Jon Kabat-Zinn has been credited with mainstreaming the mindfulness movement in the United States through the development of his mindfulness-based stress reduction class, which began at UMass Hospital in 1979. Dr. Kabat-Zinn has provided probably the most succinct definition of mindfulness, which he describes as follows: “[t]he awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” See Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Bantam Books, 2013.

The sine qua non of a mindfulness practice is rooted in your control over your breath through meditation. The consequence of this practice is a new (or renewed) ability to be flexible with your emotions and in your interactions with your environment, rather than being fixed and rooted in thinking one way or another. The take-home is that you do not have to mirror the behavior of your adversaries, colleagues or supervisors by engaging in impulsive reactionary behavior. Rather, you can learn to be mindful of the gap between a stimulus and your response by actively practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness requires a measure of devotion to the practice of meditation, but you will begin to notice major changes in your ability to cope with stressful situations, and respond appropriately given your new awareness of your “self” and your “surroundings.” If you need further proof of the short- and long-term benefits of incorporating mindfulness into your legal practice, and for that matter, into your life, I have provided recommended sources for your reference. You will find that scientific studies have long reported the mental, physical and emotional benefits of meditation, to which mindfulness is strongly related. See PennMedicine.org/mindfulness. Benefits of mindfulness are reflected in a reduction of stress-related physiological symptoms including lower blood pressure, resting heart rate, anxiety and depression correlating with a more content and satisfying life experience and a likely extension to your practice of law.

So what are you waiting for? … Start being mindful.•