As a trial and appellate attorney for over 11 years I have experienced my share of stress. During my early years as an attorney I also learned to become an expert worrier.

As attorneys one of the most important skills that we must develop is predicting all of the potential outcomes in our cases. Most of the time (if not all of the time) we must predict scenarios that entail negative outcomes. We must inform our clients of the potential risks, harms, and pitfalls of taking certain courses of action. In doing this for our clients, we must be highly attuned to thinking of as many worst-case-scenarios as possible.

When we do this, we end up in what I call “negativelandia,” a place where we are unable to turn off our important “negative-scenario” spotting skill. Remaining in negativelandia for too long, however, will magnify our worries and cause stress.

As a profession, we are incredibly sleep-deprived and sleep-deprivation is closely correlated with stress. We abuse alcohol at rates that are 3-5 times higher than the general population and 28% of attorneys report struggling with some level of depression. Additionally, between 40-70% of disciplinary proceedings involve substance abuse and depression.

Many of these issues stem from not knowing how to effectively manage our worries and stress and instead we repress our concerns with alcohol, drugs, or other habits that are not good for our health.

Below are some strategies and resources that will assist you in reducing worry and managing stress, have a positive impact on your health, and improve your overall influence as an attorney. By learning how to put on the oxygen mask on yourself first, you will notice a powerful change in your ability to help others do the same.

REDUCING WORRY

If there is one common thread amongst attorneys is that we worry. We worry about the outcome of our cases. We worry about the growth of our law firms. We worry about our finances. We worry about our family. We worry about our health. We worry about our future. We worry about our past.

Continuous worrying is not good for our health and can lead to anxiety, stress, depression, premature aging, fatigue, and if it is very serious, even suicide.

One of the first, and most effective, strategies that I learned to reduce worry came from Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Carnegie goes over a 4-step process that if you learn to repeat over and over can be very beneficial. I highly recommend his book, but if you do not have time to read it, here are the 4 key questions that you ask to reduce worry:

Question #1: What is the problem that I am worrying about?

Every worry stems from a problem that we are concerned about. It is very important that you learn to identify the problem with specificity. Fear and self-doubt may come up as you clearly identify and put words to the “ugly monster” of a problem, but the clearer you are in this process, the better off you will be when it comes to identifying the causes and solutions of the problem.

Question #2: What is the cause of the problem that I am worrying about?

Next, it is important that you identify the cause of the problem. What exactly is creating the problem? What are the circumstances and/or people that are creating the problem that is worrying you?

Question #3: What are all the possible solutions to the problem that I am worrying about? This next questions is more of a brainstorming session where you identify all of the possible solutions. You already know how to identify potential negative scenarios, this requires that you identify solutions that will solve the problem and yield a positive result.

Question #4: What specific solution am I selecting in order to resolve the problem? This last task requires that you pick on of the solutions that you identified from Question #3 and that you implement that strategy to resolve the problem that you are worrying about.

This 4-step process is very powerful. It takes several tries to get it down right, but once you get the hang of it you will notice a change in your ability to manage your worries. This definitely continues to be a tool that I use often with my high performance coaching clients to overcome difficult professional and/or personal challenges.

MANAGING STRESS

Excessive stress limits both our ability and willingness to learn. When we are stressed our attention allocation shifts, and our mind and body want to reduce the level of stress we are experiencing, which causes us to lose focus. Also, if we do not know how to channel stress in a healthy way, we can lose motivation to accomplish a particular task.

Excessive stress limits both our ability and willingness to learn. When we are stressed our attention allocation shifts, and our mind and body want to reduce the level of stress we are experiencing, which causes us to lose focus. Also, if we do not know how to channel stress in a healthy way, we can lose motivation to accomplish a particular task.

Stress causes muscle tension and progressive muscle relaxation involves that you sit or lay down, close your eyes, and starting with your hands, tense them, hold for 6-8 seconds and release. Then, you progressively work on tensing the muscles in the rest of your body, including arms, shoulders, neck, head, back, legs, feet, and toes. Do this exercise as many times as you need it and even 5-10 minutes of this activity on a stressful day will be very helpful.

Deep breathing is another incredibly powerful tool that activates the relaxation response (which is the opposite of the stress response). While there are a lot of deep breathing techniques, a helpful one is the 4-4-4-4 breathing technique. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat this pattern for at least 5-6 minutes while sitting or laying down. This breathing technique will channel more oxygen to your brain, reduce tension, and automatically start providing you with a different perspective.

As additional resources, it is important to develop mindset tools to manage stress. The tool that I work on most consistently with my attorney clients is developing self-awareness. Awareness involves a variety of skills, but two key books that I recommend to strengthen self-awareness are Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and The Power of Now.

There are of course other tools that you can use but they require more time, such as exercise, meditation, yoga, therapy, etc. I selected these particular tools for the busy professional who often does not even have time to get up from her chair, who has a ton of filing deadlines coming up, and must get through the next 10 assignments as efficiently as possible. You can use the tools in this article while sitting at work, traveling, or at home, they are just as effective anywhere that you decide to do them.

Best of luck as you implement these tools to reduce worry and manage stress and if you need additional support please do not hesitate to reach out: imaternow@gmail.com.

Fernando Flores, Esq.

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Fernando Flores Esq.

Fernando Flores is an attorney and a high performance coach. As the founder of iMATER NOW, he works with attorneys and law firms to help them develop personal and professional skills that improve holistic well-being (including the social, physical, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional dimensions).

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Phone: 1.510.854.8005 Email: fernando@1fernandoflores.com Website: 1fernandoflores.com iMATER NOW: imaternow.com Bar Exam Game Plan: barexamgameplan.info/create-your-plan-now