Dear Lawyers. You do so much. You do so much for others, your clients, your co-workers, your partners, and the courts. It’s all on a deadline and rarely are there enough hours in a day. Slowly your feet start to swell, your knees crack, your lower back gets tight, and your shoulders and neck feel so crunched up you can barely move them. Every day, we give so much time and emotional energy to our jobs. Whether we’re litigators, transactional attorneys, or doc reviewers, people count on us to be perfect. And that’s stressful.
The New York Times reported in February 2016 that 1 in 3 attorneys have an alcohol problem, 28% suffer depression, and 19% show symptoms of anxiety. (The study was conducted across the country with a substantial sampling of participating attorneys.) (See, NewYorkTimes.com, “High Rate of Problem Drinking Reported Among Lawyers,” February 5, 2016.)
We have intense lives and exhausting jobs. But there are better ways to cope with anxiety, depression, and the daily crippling pressures of the law. There are many daily rituals we can practice that can reduce stress, decrease physical pain and tension, and benefit our nervous system so that rather than running to the bar after work (if we even wait that long), we leave work feeling calm and healthy.
It’s so simple: movement and breath. Even in short doses, the practice of yoga, meditation, and conscious breathing can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and decrease your heart rate. (See, MayoClinic.com, “Fight Stress and Find Serenity,” November 5, 2015.)
Here are a few simple exercises you can do to help with stress throughout the day.
Scenario 1: You finish a meet and confer telephone call and within seconds, opposing counsel sends you a “confirming” fax that misstates the entirety of your conversation and gives you ex parte notice on the issues you thought you just resolved. So frustrating!
What you can do: Mountain pose and shoulder rolls. Stand up and walk away from the harbingers of bad news, the computer and telephone. Find a place you can stand comfortably and unobstructed. Relax your hands at your sides. Stand up tall and feel your spine lengthen. Move your toes and feel them root into the ground. (For me this was easy because I always took my shoes off the second I came in the office from court.) Raise your shoulders up to your ears, pause, then let out a long breath as you release your shoulders to a neutral position. On a steady inhale-exhale pace, breathe through your nose as your roll your shoulders back in circles as many times as it takes to feel them and your chest open. Come to rest. Give yourself at least 5 deep breaths in this standing posture until you feel your pulse calm down. Open your eyes, get some water, and send that reply fax. Total time: 3 minutes.
Scenario 2: You stayed up all night to finish an Opposition to an MSJ. You provided details instructions for copying and personal service and have it all ready for your assistant when she walks in to the office. You’ve got an all day depo and are not in the office to oversee completion of the project. You return to the office at 4:00pm and see the Opposition in the outgoing mail, i.e. not out for service. Your assistant tells you she thought it was better that way because it would save the expense for the client. Now your Opposition is late and you’ve got more work to do!
What you can do. Child’s pose. First, take a deep breath and hope against hope you have a nice opposing counsel that will waive the late service. (Maybe one day, you can return the favor.) Second, tell your assistant you will discuss this when you’ve calmed down. Go to your office or somewhere private. Bring your knees to the floor and your hands to your hips. Keep your knees about hip width apart. Breathe steadily in and out through the nose. From here, raise your arms up and over your head as you lower your bum towards the ground. It will nestle between your heels. Some people can lower all the way down but be mindful of pressure or pain to the knees. You may place a towel or pillow under your knees for cushion. Now, relax the thighs as you lay your chest towards the floor with the arms reaching forward. Relax the center of your forehead on the ground. The neck should remain long and neutral. Relax and breathe. Widen the distance between the knees to the extent you are comfortable. Even for a few moments, opening the hips can release deep-held frustration, anger, and resentment. Child’s pose is active yet submissive. You are opening your body yet calming it with little resistance. Stay here 5 breaths. To come out of this posture, press your hands into the ground pushing up to raise your torso, again being mindful of the knees. Now you can talk to your assistant without veins protruding from your neck. Total time, 2-3 minutes.
These are just a few simple, mindful exercises you can do at work to relieve stress. Incorporating a yoga practice into your weekly regimen has so many benefits from stress and anxiety reduction, cardiovascular improvement, cognitive function, and it also relieves symptoms of depression. (See, Sonima.com, “Health Benefits of Yoga,” June 8, 2015.)
If you are going to keep giving so much to others, why not do something good for yourself and add yoga to your life?
Angel M. Baker is a California Licensed attorney and Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Instructor. She’s has over ten years of active litigation experience and now practices law on a freelance basis and provides yoga instruction to attorneys and other professionals. For more information, visit: www.yogiangel.com