It is common knowledge that with the practice of law comes plenty of practice dealing with stress. One would be hard pressed to find a lawyer who describes his or her job as “low stress.” Most lawyers are likely aware of the dangers and discomfort of persistent high stress, and most also know, at least in theory, about the importance of engaging in practices to counter, combat or reduce stress – practices such as exercise, meditation/ deep breathing or engaging in relaxing or pleasurable activities. Yet for many lawyers taking care of themselves is often a neglected area of life. The reality is that managing stress is an ongoing work in progress. It requires a commitment to routines and strategies and practice. In a world full of instant gratification and quick fixes, the truth remains that managing our wellbeing takes real time, effort and commitment.
It is certainly understandable when stress is at its highest that there may be little real or apparent energy left to devote to established wellness practices, let alone time to create and start new ones. Ironically, occasions when stress is at bay or at a more simmering level can prove the most advantageous time to focus on and commit to a wellness routine.Taking the time and energy when it is available to establish and commit to a wellness routine can pay dividends, particularly when stress starts to kick into high gear. Once such a routine is established, it can become a source of refreshment and renewal. When stress levels starts to rise, those who have been faithful to some kind of wellness routine will likely find deeper reserves of stress relief within than they otherwise may have found.
For those who have been taking care of everything but themselves lately, or for those who could use a stress management tune-up, consider the following steps to a better stress management routine:
Get Motivated – Pay Attention to Taking Care of Yourself
It is too easy to continually put off making important but seemingly not urgent changes in our lives. In making any change, it is important to wake yourself up, to contemplate and get deeply anchored by the reasons for doing so. This is particularly relevant to those who do not currently have any quality wellness routines in place. The first big hurdle in developing a wellness routine may be just paying attention to the issue. For those who want to renew their commitment to a wellness routine, periodically reminding yourself of the benefits of taking care of yourself and the costs of failing to do so, and really letting these factors sink in, can be just the catalyst needed before taking action. Forming a vivid picture or, better yet, finding a real picture or phrase or something you can have in front of you each day, as a reminder of the benefits and risks associated with taking care of yourself or failing to do so, can provide the fuel to get you going.
Choose Your Strategies – Look Inward and Outward
After getting motivated to start or revamp a stress management plan, a next step can be to step back and ask yourself what would be the optimal routine(s) for you to adopt.For this, it can be useful to take an honest look within yourself for what would be most doable and most helpful. You can ask yourself, “What doable strategies would make the biggest difference in my day-to-day and long-term wellbeing?” Perhaps a simple relaxation routine in the evening for five to 10 minutes when you come home would allow you to dial down tension from the work day and help you transition to your home life. You might imagine the most comfortable place for you to consciously designate as your “relaxation station.”
In addition to looking within, you may benefit from looking around you to discover what others who are successfully taking care of themselves are doing. People love to share their successes, so asking co-workers or friends who seem most adept with handling stress in a healthy fashion can also provide you with helpful ideas for your own routines.
Prepare and Commit – Make Specific “If-Then” Plans
For lasting change, preparation and commitment to positive practices is key.One thing lawyers know about is the importance of preparation to succeed at work. Managing stress requires preparation as well. If you want to begin a meditation routine, for example, the chances of your succeeding are greater if you take the time to consider when, where and how you will make this happen. Just saying, “I’ll start meditating next week,” while well intentioned, will not likely do the trick. A more successful strategy may involve, for example, choosing a meditation CD, picking a quiet location in your house and knowing when you will do this. The more you can imagine and set up all aspects of your plan ahead of time, the better. Deciding exactly when the routine will take place makes the routine more likely to become a routine. Research has shown the increased level of success that follows from making specific if-then plans. If-then planning can also help to address anticipated obstacles to your usual plan. Some examples of if-then planning include:
If it’s a fair-weather weekday at 6 a.m., I will get up, put on my walking shoes and go for a half-hour walk.
If it’s a rainy weekday at 6 a.m., I will put on my walking shoes and hop on the treadmill for 30 minutes.
If it’s lunchtime, I will take five minutes before leaving to close the door and do deep breathing.
If it’s lunchtime and I can’t possibly take five minutes to do my deep breathing, I will at least take three to five conscious, cleansing breaths.
Work With an Accountability Partner or Coach
I’m a coach, so I am biased toward coaching, but any accountability arrangement can be highly effective to help you stay on track. Working with someone to help you visualize your desired future, set realistic goals and anticipate and deal with obstaclescan greatly increase your chances of following through. Research has borne this out. The simple act of telling someone (especially a supportive someone) that you will do something, and having them hold you accountable for this, exponentially increases the chances of your doing it.
Monitor and Periodically Review
While it can be useful to commit to the same routines for ease and consistency, you may wish to check in with yourself periodically to adjust your routines. Just as many lawyers routinely consider the best allocation of funds in their 401(k) plan, you may want to readjust and re-evaluate what you are doing to keep yourself as well as possible. As long as you stay committed to taking some action(s) toward maintaining your wellness, you can feel free to experiment with what works and fits best with your life at any given time or circumstance.
Sticking with any optional routine can be difficult. In the design of your wellness plan, don’t forget to set up periodic rewards for yourself for staying on the path to wellness. If you have an accountability partner, this can be a fun way for you both to add to the incentive to stick with your plan. Consider creative, fun ways you may reward yourself over time. Many lawyers can be hard on themselves. Honoring your own dedication and persistence to something as important as taking care of yourself by building in rewards makes sense and can enhance the process. Consider harmless indulgences you could use as rewards to help you along the way.
Don’t Let Taking Care of Yourself Take a Backseat
If you feel too self-indulgent about devoting real time and energy to your wellness routines, then perhaps it would help to view the concept of taking care of yourself as an ethical obligation to your clients. You not only owe it to yourself and your loved ones, but also to your clients and your employer to keep your whole self in top form, so you can stay mentally fresh, energized and focused to do the work well.
Karen Shapiro is a lawyer who currently works as a certified life coach through her company, Insight & Action. She helps individuals make positive changes and manage stress in their personal and/or professional lives. Contact her at 610-642-4313 or Karen@InsightandActionCoaching.com.