I was working on a post about lowering your lawyer stress level by creating space in your life. And I’m still going to write it, because I don’t know a lawyer who isn’t stressed and in need of mental space and peace.
But now, with the added stress of all the trauma being re-triggered by the Supreme Court nomination sh*#show on Capitol Hill, I decided it was more important to give some quick, effective tools so all you stressed-out attorneys can decrease your stress level from a 10+ to maybe an 8 or a 7.
Here are 5 things you can do right this minute that will help you feel calmer immediately. They aren’t the whole solution by any means, but one of these should be able to help you calm down some and function a bit better for a little while. Use these techniques often throughout the day as needed.
Yes, you probably also need to seek help from a therapist or a career coach to address the deeper issues, but sometimes, we need to de-escalate the stuff in our heads more than anything else.
- Breathe. Yes, that feels impossible. Do it for 30 seconds or a minute anyway. (If you can get to 3 or 5 minutes, that’s even better.) I mean, it’s not like it’s going to hurt you!
Focus on the feeling of air filling your lungs, and then follow your breath out. It’s not a performance, so don’t worry if you notice those breaths are a bit shallow and rushed. That’s fine. Don’t fret if your focus drifts off frequently; it’s very normal. As soon as you notice you’ve drifted, just refocus. No judging yourself, OK?
If you are getting consistently distracted, maybe count as you inhale, and count as you exhale. The important thing is to breathe purposefully for a few minutes. The best part is that you can do this any time, anywhere.
- Grab a piece of paper and a writing utensil, and do some simple Zentangle. All you need to do is draw a smallish square, and then 2 lines of any shape to divide the square into 3 parts (no need to be equal sized). Then make the same pattern in one section, another pattern in section 2, and a third pattern in section 3. This is not an art project, so no need to judge your end result. The calming part comes from making a pattern repetitively. If you like the end result, well that’s just a bonus.
You’ll see lots of resources about Zentangle out there, many with “rules” about paper size/type and the color of ink you should use. If those appeal to you, great! But don’t let any alleged rules stop you from doing something right now. You don’t need to get special supplies. A sheet of copy paper and whatever pen or pencil you have at hand is fine.
- Close your eyes and listen to some soothing music for at least 5 minutes. Music is highly personal, so follow your own instincts about what feels soothing. I personally find Native American flute music quite calming, but that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
If you need suggestions, try Calmsound.com. They specialize in nature sounds, which are almost universally soothing. You can play individual tracks for free from collections, or just purchase and download a collection that appeals.
- Watch some funny videos. One of my favorites is the series Purina made a few years ago for an ad campaign, “Dear Kitten.” Cute cats, occasional dogs, and witty narration.
If Dear Kitten isn’t your style, find videos that make you laugh until you need Depends, or watch some other animal videos that encourage your inner ‘DAWWWW.
- Use your favorite meditation app for 5 minutes. If you don’t have a favorite meditation app, you can look on YouTube for mindfulness meditations. One of my personal favorites is this one, F*ck That: An Honest Meditation, which is NSFW. This one is particularly good for those times that opposing counsel is driving you to the edge, and your own colleagues seem to be conspiring to push you over it.
You can figure out which of the 5 tips here works best for you by simply rating your stress level from 1 to 10 before you do an exercise. Then compare that number to how stressed you feel afterward. If you lowered your stress even 1 point, you’re headed in a better direction.
Now, I’d be a terrible coach if I didn’t mention that:
- staying off social media,
- keeping your daily news consumption to an hour or less,
- getting out in nature, or
- taking a walk
are also really excellent ideas for lasting stress reduction, if done regularly. But you may not be able to execute those in 5 minutes or less.
High stress levels don’t usually drop dramatically with a single tool, unless that tool is a drug. I’m not against anti-anxiety medications, at all. But many of you don’t have them right this minute, don’t want to take them, or they make you loopy and you’re at work so you can’t take them.
Give these tips a whirl, and let me know how they worked—or didn’t—for you.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has a treasure trove of stress reduction tips and tricks, since she’s tried nearly all of them at one point of another. Need some help with your own lawyer stress? Contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a discounted sample session.