Dani Berry - Hi, and welcome to Grace Under Pressure: Tips to Combat Stress in the Practice of Law. This one hour program discusses the science of stress and resilience, and offers several strategies to combat stress in the legal practice and to prevent burnout. The objective of this course is to provide tools that will increase lawyer competency by learning to identify stress and appropriately respond to stressors.
My name is Dani Berry, I am a lawyer, and I am formally a very, very stressed out person who did not usually find grace under certain pressures. And over the course of my life and career, I had to step back, take inventory of what was going on in my life and learn skills to reduce my reactivity when I was stressed. There is no first aid kit for hurt of the heart. There's no first aid kit for how to respond to your neurobiology and how your body fires and functions. And so, many of us haven't learned how to deal or communicate with others about our emotions and about things that stress us out. And we need a little help on this, and so I'm here to share what I have learned and the skills, and tips, and tricks that I use in order to reduce my stress and reduce my reactivity when I am stressed. The one thing that I have learned is that stressors exist and we really can't do anything about that so it's better to learn how to react and respond to stress. I'm gonna offer a voluntary challenge as we get started. The challenge is to put away your cell phone for the next 60 minutes. Put it out of sight, out of reach. Don't just turn it over, put it away. Second part of this challenge, again voluntary, but if you'd like keep a notepad and put a mark, little dash mark, every time you think of your cell phone in the next 60 minutes. We'll talk why at the end and how that will help combat stress.
The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being has the following quote, "To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer." Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to wellbeing. The studies reveal that too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance abuse. These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyer's basic competence. The research suggests that the current state of lawyer's health cannot support a profession dedicated to client service and dependent on the public trust. I'm gonna say that last sentence again because it's so important. The research suggests that the current state of lawyer's health cannot support a profession dedicated to client service and dependent on the public trust. Uh-oh, sounds like we have some work to do.
The life of a lawyer has long been accepted to be a stressful life full of deadlines, demands, uncertainty, and the looming threat of malpractice. There are days spent sitting in front of a desk, or in a courtroom, or conference room. You might have weeks that are half-full of luxurious lunches and half-full of no lunch. Last minute urgent requests and late night marketing events add to an already full schedule. And we're stressed out. You add on the demands of personal life, urgency, healthy, exercise, raise exceptional children, tend to pets, and we're often left in a continual state of stress. Clients turn to lawyers for sound guidance and representation, not an overly stressed out lawyer. The constant instream of requests can overwhelm even the most level-headed among us. For of us already stressed outside of work or more susceptible to stress, the demands of the profession may feel overwhelming and burnout can happen. We know stress in the legal practice will happen, how we respond to the stress is all we can control.
We're gonna talk about the term wellbeing a lot today, and wellbeing is not work-life balance. That is a term that I have abandoned, it's a term that sets people up for failure because work-life balance is unachievable. I like to look at integrated life, looking at life across all life dimensions. And looking at it as a continuous process, it's a practice. And we divide, the National Task Force, the ABA National Task Force has divided wellbeing into a set of dimensions. We have emotional, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, physical, and social. You'll note, there is no work and no life as a 50/50. So, if you begin to look at all these different buckets, it's kind of how I look at them, or dimensions, they're not gonna be evenly full all the time. There might be times where you have to dedicate more energy and more time into one dimension. And as you work on each dimension, you may master one more than the other and the other then requires more attention. And so over time, you work to have an overall constitution that is in balance across all of the life dimensions.
So, when we look at the chart, the little bubble chart, it shows you what each dimension, how each dimension is defined. So, if you look at occupational, it's not just having a job, making money, it's cultivating personal satisfaction, growth and enrichment in work, and financial stability. If you look at the emotional dimension, recognizing the importance of emotions, developing the ability to identify and manage our own emotions to support our mental health, achieve goals, and inform decision-making.
There's an interesting study that came out recently from Brene Brown, and she talks about how she's surveyed thousands of people over a course of years about what emotions they can identify when they're in that particular emotion. And over all of the people, the average number that folks could identify were three; happy, sad, angry. There are so many more emotions in life, and the more we can identify, the more comfortable we are and living in an emotional body. There are other dimensions here that we can see, spiritual, which is not worship but developing a sense of meaningfulness and purpose in all aspects of life.
So again, when you look at this chart, it's focusing on different things. And depending on your life season or where you are in life, it may be time to focus on certain aspects more than others. For me personally, I have a pretty good handle on physical, the physical dimension, and the intellectual dimension. And so, I have to work on the other dimensions a little bit more. I have to spend more time and energy to make sure that my social connection is shored up, and to make sure that I have a sense of meaning and purpose, a spirituality in my life. And so, this is an individual exercise for everybody. When we talk about stress, stress first occurs in the body before it's perceived by the brain. And so, you may recognize times where you've felt something, felt something in your body before actually seeing it, maybe walking on a path and a snake comes across and you sense that before you actually see that. And that is in line with how your brain and your body process stress, your body actually reacts quicker than your visual centers can see. And so, when you look at stress, how do you feel? How do you feel in your mind? How do you feel in your body? Is there things, are there things that you're doing that's causing you stress? This is what my dad would call self-inflicted stress. Are you thinking about potential problems in the future? Are you worrying about a case, or a billable, or your family?
So, when we talk about stress, you know, I'm focusing a little bit right now about some negative aspects of stress, but stress is not unhealthy per se. And that's the good news, mild to moderate levels of stress that are within or we perceive are within our capacity to handle, it's not overwhelming to us, to our brain. That level of stress can actually result and have positive results, can result in a sense of mastery and a accomplishment. When stress is perceived as a positive, manageable challenge, the stress response can actually enable performance. Think about an athletic event, or you're prepared for the case, you're going into court, but you of that surge of energy in your body, that's not necessarily negative. It becomes negative and when we have things that are occurring in our body like cognitive decline, strained relationships, that includes personal and professional, anxiety, alcohol abuse, burn out. All of these things arise as stress becomes overwhelming, and we perceive the stress as unmanageable.
So, if you look at the symptoms of stress or recognizing the symptoms of stress, there's a little chart here and it talks about these initial symptoms, anger, anxiety, trouble concentrating, teeth grinding, muscle tension. Those are all physical cues that we are under stress. Our bodies are communicating to us maybe we need a break, maybe we need to slow it down a little bit. When we look at lawyers specifically, there are studies about lawyer wellbeing and the finding is that we're in a crisis.
A 2016 study of 13,000 practicing lawyers found between 21 and 36% qualify as problem drinkers. This is well above the average population. 28% struggle with depression, 19% struggle with anxiety, and 23% struggle with stress. Other difficulties that were reported include but were not limited to suicide, social alienation, work addiction, sleep deprivation, and job dissatisfaction. Most notably though in the study, the study found that younger lawyers in the first 10 years of practice and those working in private firms experience the highest rates of problem drinking and depression. This is is different from what the thought was before this study. Before the study, the thinking was the longer you stay in private practice, the more likely you are to develop addiction and depression and have negative consequences of stress. This isn't it true, it's actually occurring in law schools, it's actually occurring for our brand new attorneys. There was a 2016 study of 15 law schools and 3,300 law students, and it found that 25% qualified for being at risk for alcoholism, 17% experienced some depression, 14% experienced severe anxiety, 23% experienced mild or moderate anxiety, and 6% reported serious suicidal thoughts in the past year.
This is the state of our lawyers, we have to do better when it comes to lawyer wellbeing. So, let's talk a little bit about the nervous system. When you are stressed or when your body perceives stress, the nervous system fires, and this is automatic. There's really nothing you can do to prevent it from firing. So, what do we do once it's fired? This is called the stress response. I think most of us have probably heard of fight or flight response, some of us maybe fight, flight, or freeze, that's the triggering of your sympathetic nervous system. I used to teach yoga, I'm very much into yoga, we talk a lot about the parasympathetic nervous system, which is rest and digest. So, if you're yawning, if you're relaxed, your heart rate's slower, that is when you're in your parasympathetic nervous system. If you've got a fast heart rate, you're sweating, you kind of have the feelings in your body, dry mouth, you're likely in fight or flight.
So, this is all happening in your brain. Your amygdala is perceiving danger when you're under stress, and then it sends a signal automatically to the hypothalamus, other part of your brain, that communicates with the rest of the body and activates that sympathetic nervous system or the flight or flight, I'm sorry, the fight or flight response. Adrenal glands will trigger, adrenaline pushes into the bloodstream. That's why you get the increasing heart rate, pulse rate, breath rate, blood pressure, all of that. Your lungs open, all of this energy is diverted to the brain and to your essential organs, preparing for whatever is going on. And this was really important for us in the day of caveman, right? When we were hunters and gatherers, when we would face real dangers, real tigers, not just paper tigers, our body would have to trigger this response to be safe.
This, the deal with our system, our body system is it hasn't been updated, and so it responds by triggering that sympathetic nervous system even if you're getting a paper tiger, right, or seeing a paper tiger via email. So, your brain can't distinguish between the real tiger and the paper tiger. And so, it's possible just by getting an email that your sympathetic nervous system is triggered. And actually what's occurring is people have so many little stressful events that are occurring throughout the day that your sympathetic nervous system is constantly triggering, so you constantly have this cortisol and adrenaline dumped into your body and so you're staying in this heightened state of stress.
So, I created this little style, case style, for the circuit court of the central nervous system. And when we look at the central nervous system, we can break it out into the condition mind or the beginner's mind. And when I have this little reaction, 14 milliseconds, that's how long it takes to trigger that nervous system. Okay, so the nervous system is triggered, your body goes into action, and this is before your visual fields see anything, right? So, let's go through an example. Imagine you have your cell phone, so don't pull it out, but imagine you have your cell phone and you just got a text from your assistant and she says, "It's an emergency, check your email." Let's pause here. Does me just telling you that trigger your nervous system? For some of us, we might have felt our heart rate go up a little bit, that you can picture yourself, you can put yourself in that position and cause anxiety and stress. But imagine it is true. You get this text from your assistant, you go and you check your email. There's an email from a law clerk, the judge's law clerk, and it's asking why you didn't attend the hearing that was scheduled for 10:00 am this morning? What's your reaction? Where does your mind go? Does it go to, "I cannot believe my assistant messed this up," or does it go to, "That plaintiff's counsel is such a jerk, I bet they were supposed to tell me or they didn't," or does it go to, "I'm such an idiot, I can't believe I messed this up. I shouldn't be practicing law, I'm a terrible lawyer." That's the condition mind. Those are all stories.
Your facts, what you know right now is that you missed a hearing. If you take the time to pause, approach the situation with a beginner's mind, what does that mean? Means coming, responding at the situation, coming to the situation for the first time. Your facts are you got an email, you don't know what happened and so you need to investigate, you need to find more facts. Once you have those additional facts, you'll be able to make a conclusion about what happened. And hopefully, that conclusion will be grounded and not emotional. The reactions we talked at the beginning, blaming someone else, your assistant, opposing counsel, or admitting defeat, or that you must have screwed something up, those are conditioned responses. Those are responses that our brain has developed over time, they're stories that we tell, it's automatic in our brain. So, we have to stop and say, "Hmm, I don't know that any of that is true." And if I react on this stress and I yell at my assistant, or I send her a nasty email, or I send an nasty email to opposing counsel, or I send it to the court and blame someone else and that's not true, that's not gonna give me the intended response that I want to this situation. And so, taking of the time to pause is very important. When we pause and we consider and develop a reaction to a stressful event as opposed to just responding, quick-firing whatever we feel. When we consider our reaction, that's actually a form of mindfulness. And the ABA has stated that mindfulness promotes civility in the law. So, mindfulness is really just being present to what is, recognizing when your brain is spinning a story, and attending to the present moment without judgment, without blame, dealing with the facts at hand. And as attorneys, I think we're well equipped to do this.
You know, the practice of law is a practice, mindfulness, it's a practice responding as opposed to reacting to stress takes practice. Viktor Frankl, well known. If you don't know anything about Viktor Frankl, look him up, he's a Holocaust survivor and he has a real famous quote, "Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom." I used to have a hard time finding the space. And one of my first coaches, I remember telling him when I was going through my divorce that sometimes when I was so stressed out dealing with my husband and so reactive, I really felt that there was no space and that I couldn't help my reactivity, which was usually yelling. Even though I hated my behavior, did not like how I was behaving, I felt like I couldn't stop it. Around this time, I was also learning how to play tennis. And so, he gave me the analogy of think about when you first started playing tennis and you played with somebody who was much better than you, how fast that ball seemed to be coming at you and how hard it was for you to see it and respond to it, to hit the shot back over the net. But over time and with practice, the ball, it's still coming at the same speed, but my perception is is it's slower because I have practiced, I can see it, and I can get into a stance and then I can respond to it, I'm no longer reacting. And that's how it is. If you are having a hard time finding that space then you just need to work a little bit harder to find it because I promise you it's there. Whether that's sitting on your hands, whether that's having a mantra or something that you say to yourself so that you don't react, whether you physically get up and leave your computer if you recognize that you're stressed out. There are things that we can do, but it can be uncomfortable, especially at first. Over time as we practice, the stimulus is the same, the stressor is still there, but we have more space, we can see it better, and then we can choose our response.
We talked a little bit about the beginner's mind and when you at kind of the mind as a pie chart, we could divide it into things that I know, things that I don't know. I'm sorry, things that I know I don't know and things that I don't know that I don't know. Say what? What are you talking about? Things that I don't don't know that I don't know is the hardest category, and is actually the largest category of stuff out in the world. So, let's start easier, things I know. I know how to practice law, I know how to swim, I know how to walk. These are things that you can identify. I know how to cook. Things I know I don't know, you can also identify these. I know I don't know how to smoke ribs, I know I don't know how to speak Chinese. These are things that I don't know that I don't know. I'm saying, sorry, things I know that I don't know. The larger category is the hardest. And if you think evidence in a case, it kind of reminds me of the time I went when I was a young lawyer to a mediation. And the mediator said to me, "How certain are you that you would win this case?" And I said, "10 out of 10." And my boss looked at me, he goes, "You never say 10 out of 10. It's always a nine out of 10 because there are things that you don't know you don't know, surprises." Think maybe like a V8. Maybe you knew that you had to eat eight vegetables a day, but you didn't know that you didn't know that you could just drink a V8, should have had a V8. And once you know that, "Oh my God, there's a juice out there that has the eight vegetables, all my vegetables in a day, I don't have to eat them." It can change your perspective on vegetables, right? Same with evidence in a case, same with life.
Once you know you may respond differently, it could be that you didn't know that assistant had cancer. She was doing a really good job keeping it private, she hadn't missed any work, but you noticed she'd been tired. You noticed that maybe she had had a couple typos, or had some uncharacteristic errors and you had no idea. And so, maybe you approach her with hostility, "Why are you messing this up? This is unlike you," or you blame her for something. And then she tells you, "I'm sick." You're like, "Oh, I just didn't know, I didn't know. I had no idea." So, those are those things that you don't know what's going on with another person, you don't know what's going on on the other side, you don't know if you have all the information and so you sometimes have to proceed with caution. But coming from a place of not knowing, coming from a place of I'm not 100% right, I am open to other evidence, I am open to other facts, I am open to another solution. It can do a lot when it comes to civility, it can do a lot when it comes to dealing with other people on the other side, and it can change your perception and your strategy, right? So, strategy with dealing with people, strategy in life, all of that happens when you take a pause, you don't react immediately, you override the urge to react or overreact. This is a core concept of professionalism in the law, civility, how we treat others. Overreacting and blaming never works out. It's really never in line professionalism, but taking the time to pause and consider one's reaction to a stressful event or something that's uncomfortable promotes civility in the law. And what's another tip to combat stress in the practice? Sit up straight. Well, what does this have to do with anything, Dani? We talked earlier about the physical dimension, right? The physical dimension to wellbeing. That includes exercise, it also includes paying attention to the physical body and how it reacts to stress.
So, if you consider our previous example. You get an email, you get text on your phone and then an email from judges chambers inquiring why you're in no-show for court this morning. Say you looked at your email and your calendar, you found nothing about a court appearance this morning. How does your physical body react to this email? It most likely curls in as though we're protecting our internal organs, head down. My yoga teacher calls this slumpasana. If you look at that posture, it's the same posture as the withdrawal response or the flight response. Get me out of here, I'm in danger, I need to protect my body. Sitting at the computer, responding to stress negatively can look like the same thing in our body, which is really amazing. So, notice your posture, sit up straight. When you're folded in on your body, it's triggering your nervous system. We don't wanna mimic the physical response to stress, which includes the lowering of the head and neck, raising the shoulders to the ears, rounding of the back to protect your vital organs. Even some of us might lift our hands up to our head or to our ears when we're stressed.
So, to counter this, this stress response, we need to use our physical body. And we use our physical body to ground down equally through the feet, extend through our sideways. So, what does that mean? That means sit tall. We're gonna roll our shoulders up and then back so that your shoulder blades are down on your back, and then breathe. Put your hands palm down on your thighs. If you can, breathe through your nose, both inhaling and exhaling. When we breathe through our mouth, it can also trigger a stress response. So, we wanna breathe through our nose, breathe as deeply as we can. If possible, you want your exhale to be longer than your inhale. And what this does is it opens up our sternum, which is the part on your upper chest, right? Right before you get to the shoulders, your upper pecs, and it increased the amount of oxygen in your lungs that goes to the brain. So, when you're stressed out, you wanna stand up, sit up straight. When you walk into a courtroom and you're feeling stressed out. When you know you're about to speak, take five seconds. The court will not know it, imposing counsel will not know it. Press down in your feet, stand up tall, roll your shoulders back, take a deep breath. This will help calm your nervous system, it will help transfer you out of fight or flight into the rest and digest. It will help your brain think clearer, and you'll be less reactive. So, posture, paying attention to how you carry yourself can help with stress.
The next tip, tip number three kind of piggybacks on tip number two, which is to find power in breath. So, when we're seated, or we're standing up straight, or you could be even laying down on your back, we wanna open up our lungs. And our lungs actually go all the way up to the top of our collarbone, if you can believe it. So, when you're taking a full, deep breath, you wanna try and get all the way up into your collarbone. And then when you exhale, you wanna go so slowly and squeeze the breath out. Your ribcage draws into the center of your body and your lower abdomens contract. You squeeze all the air out and then start a breath again, first with your belly, filling it up like a balloon, expanding your ribcage, and then all the way up if you can breathing all the way to those collar bones. Again, if you can breathe through the nose that will help relax your nervous system. When we through our mouth, we're triggering stress, and so it doesn't help us kind of get into that rest and digest and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Breathing from the nose in and out really sends a signal to the brain that it's okay to release the tension. That's why it's so important. Understanding that everybody has their limitations and we can't always do that, but when possible, breathe through your nose. When we get into the rest and digest response, the body's able to calm down after a danger or a stressful event has passed. So, if we activate the sympathetic nervous system and we're in fight or flight, our bodies are only meant to stay there temporarily. Okay, so they're meant to stay there as long as we need to outrun that tiger. It's not meant to stay there for eight hours a day. So, we wanna get into the rest and digest response, and we wanna be able to do that so we can tell the body it's okay to calm down, the danger's past, the stressful event is no longer here. So, one way that we do that apart from breathing and apart from grounding down, mindfulness and meditation is by activating the vagus nerve. So, the vagus nerve is a nerve that runs through your nervous system. It goes from the brainstem all the way into every major organ.
So, it's really the mind-body connection, so we wanna hack the vagus nerve. One way we do it is with breath. And so, we activate the vagus nerve by breathing, we can also do it by tapping. To engage it we have to work with our out-breath, our exhale, and encourage our heart rate to slow. So, the bigger difference in your heart rate when breathing in, your heart rate is one number and then breathing out the higher, the vagal tone, The research shows that a high vagal tone makes your body better at regulating your blood glucose levels, reducing the likelihood of diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. So, low vagal tone on the contrary, low vagal tone has been associated with chronic inflammation. So again, inflammation is one of those things where we hear just negatives, chronic inflammation, too much inflammation, but inflammation can have a useful role in helping the body to heal after an injury. It can also have a damaging role to organs and blood vessels if it persists when it's not needed. So, if we're in this chronic stress, if we're always in the sympathetic nervous system and we're not getting into the parasympathetic nervous system, then we're living in chronic stress and we probably have unhelpful inflammation. One of the vagus nerve's job is to reset the immune system and switch off proteins that fuel inflammation. We have low vagal tone, it means this regulation is less effective, and inflammation can become excessive. So, like chronic stress, it can cause disease, so can inflammation. And those sorts of things lead to diabetes, heart disease, other chronic conditions. And so, it's important to get this under control if you can. And so again, to hack the vagus nerve, we wanna do it through breath by practicing these long slow exhales and encouraging vagal tone.
Another way that we can access the vagal tone is through tapping. Tapping is a practice where in... I'm sorry that I don't have a slide for tapping, but if you look at the slide with the vagus nerve, how it runs through your body, if you follow that and just tap with the tip of your four fingers, I use my right hand. I just go from the left side of my neck, down around my heart, through my sternum, and back up. You can go into the lower part of your body if you like, that triggers your parasympathetic nervous system. And when you are feeling stressed, when you are in the moment, that tapping or simply placing a hand on your heart can help trigger the vagus nerve, can help calm that body. Breathing, tapping is useful and helpful and can get you where you need to go, but if you couple that with mindfulness, you're even more likely to get there. The ABA Task Force recommends mindfulness meditation specifically.
So, you take the mindfulness practice with the breath practice. And again, it's really just paying attention to your breath. But the ABA Task Force recommends mindfulness meditation as one way to improve lawyer wellbeing. So, what the ABA Task Force says is that mindfulness meditation is a practice that can enhance cognitive reframing, and thus resilience, who doesn't want more resilience, right? By aiding our ability to monitor our thoughts and avoid becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Research has found that mindfulness can reduce rumination, stress, depression, and anxiety. It can also enhance competencies, including increased focus, concentration, memory, cognitive skills. It reduces burnout, increases your ethical and rational decision-making. It does a lot. And you may be thinking like, "What? I don't understand how mindfulness or mindfulness meditation can do all of those things." And I get that, but I've been through it and I do this and mindfulness is my practice, I love it. And I do meditation, but different forms of meditation, it doesn't always have to just be sitting.
So, let's talk a little bit about that. Mindfulness meditation is really encouraging you to focus objectively. So, focus on the facts, not the story without judgment. So again, judges judge, we do not, we are analyzing the statement of facts and the summary judgment motion, okay? So, we encourage to focus objectively without judgment on our thoughts as they pass through our mind in order to achieve a state of calm. So, I know that sounds a little woo woo, but really what it means is when you are stressed or when you're not stressed and you can practice this 'cause it really helps then when you are stressed. When your mind starts to wander, and the studies show I think we spend 47% daydreaming, mind wandering, our mind is going to the future or to the past, or it's fantasizing, ruminating, it's not in a state of flow, it's not really something that your body is happy or your brain is happy in. So, what we do is we come to the present moment and we focus on what is. So, instead to being stressed out that I'm doing this presentation and I don't know if my notes are all right and in order, or whatever I could be telling myself or worrying about right now. The facts of my situation are I'm sitting at my desk, I'm grateful that my dog is laying quietly next to me. I have actually four computer screens up, two of which are dealing with this presentation. You know, and there are some kind of other things in my environment, but that's what's occurring right now. There's no problem here, nothing's happening. And if there is a problem, I'm telling myself this that as a story, it doesn't exist.
So, mindful meditation, sitting with our thoughts, recognizing they're just thoughts and letting them come and then letting them go, right? So, they'll come into our mind and then they float away like a cloud. The more that we can do that and recognize those thoughts, those feelings, those emotions come and go, the less reactive we're gonna be over time as they pop up. It's just how it works. So, if you decide to engage in a mindfulness practice or a mindfulness meditation practice, I'm gonna give you a couple tips. Everybody's practice is unique and everybody's practice is personal, and it's a practice. So, take time, find what works for you, don't judge yourself. There's no right way or wrong way to do this. For me, I like to find a quiet place to sit and to meditate, meditating in the same place promotes a deeper practice. I also do a lot of walking meditation, so I just walk. I don't listen to anything, I don't talk to anybody on the phone, it's just me time. I also do a lot of puzzles, and I've done puzzles since I was a teenager. And I did it really after I stopped, I was a swimmer, and so I was swimming six days a week. And when I stopped that I could tell my mind was really busy and I reflect now and can see that that was a way for me to occupy my mind. And I still do that, I just have puzzles laying around. They really mean nothing to me, my dog eats a lot of the pieces as I go. But when I sit there and I'm going through it, it really is a way of clearing my mind.
So, that's mindfulness, getting quiet, clearing your mind. You wanna find somewhere some place if you're going to do the sitting meditation, sit comfortably. If you're in a chair, you want your legs uncrossed. You want your feet grounded, right? So, be strong in your feet. So, if you're sitting in a chair, pushing your feet like you're gonna stand, but don't stand up and then kind of relieve some of that pressure, but keep the pressure in your feet. That's grounding through your feet. Then roll your shoulders back again so that your lungs and your sternum are open. If you're not gonna sit in a chair, you can sit on a blanket or a cushion on the floor, but you wanna make sure that your hips are above your knees. Okay, if you sit cross-legged, you can put something under your knees to make that comfortable. You can also sit in, it's really sitting on your heels, it's called virasana pose, but put a block or something underneath that. So, if that's more comfortable to sit that way, you can do that. So, once you get comfortable sitting, you could also do this standing. If you're standing, don't close your eyes, but if you're sitting, you wanna close your eyes. If that is uncomfortable, have a soft gaze, look kind of in front of you, about six feet, but down, don't look up. You wanna see where your head is placed in position to the rest of your body. And your shoulders, you want your shoulders over your hips, you don't wanna be leaning or pivoting forward or backwards. Once you get set, put your hands on your thighs, breathe in and out. Breathe in through your nose if possible, breathe out through your nose. We've talked about the long, deep breath. If you can get at least to a count of four, you can start there, it's called box breathing. The military uses it, it's how it trains its fighter pilots to stay calm. And so, that practice is breathe in for four, pause for four, breathe out for four, pause for four, over and over. It's a wonderful practice if you find yourself in the moment of stress, What's our next tip? Our next tip, number four, is to get physical. This does not have to be something big. I have started goal setting. And my goal for physical activity is 30 minutes five days a week. I usually do more, but I do less if what I'm telling myself is I need to exercise for at least an hour this many days a week at this time, so I don't do that anymore. What I do is I look at the first eight hours of my day. My goal is to get 30 minutes of exercise within that first eight hours of the day because I know that's when I have less mental friction, meaning less resistance to doing that. That may work for you right when you wake up. You may be somebody who needs that the second eight hour chunk of your day, whatever works for you, set a goal, don't make it a big goal, and just hit that. Since I started my 30 minutes a day goal, I do it typically about five days a week, usually for 35 to 45 minutes. And lately, that's been been walking my dog. And I know that I'm only doing it for a little bit of time so I'm taking more hills instead of taking the longer route.
So, more and longer isn't necessarily better, set the goal for you, but you need to get up and move. It's important to do that every day if you can, but multiple times a week. If you need accountability, you can set goals, you can get an iWatch, you can get a Fitbit. Your actual smartphone can tell you if you carry your phone as you're exercising. Go walk around the office, it may be a time for you to listen to an audio book or do something else, or it may be an opportunity for you to take quiet time to yourself and use it for mindfulness meditation. Tips to get steps in or exercise, walk around the office, park far away, take the stairs. All of those sorts of things. There's been research lately. Well, there's always research on physical activity, but there's been research saying walking is great, it's all you really need, prevents a whole host of diseases. Just get up and walk, get that heart rate up, it's not hard to do it with walking. As we get older, things like yoga, really great for our bodies. Tennis has been found to be really great for the brain. Yard work, I love to do yard work. All of those things get you up and get you moving, and that's all great for your body. What we find in the research is that many lawyers are failing to prioritize their physical activity, and this is actually harming our mental health and our cognitive functioning. So, in addition to the physical aspects and what it does for your body, think about what it does for your mental emotional wellbeing as well. So, physical exercise is also associated with lower levels of anxiety, increased energy, improved brain function, improved cognition. There are studies that show that physical activity stimulates new cell growth in the brain, and then can also offset the negative effects of stress. There's science around walking and moving forward as you are actually in the action of moving forward, it's much harder to ruminate and to have a mind full of stress, right? And so, as you're actually walking forward, it helps clear your mind. And so, if you can do that without stimulus, without headphones, without a phone conversation, and take a walk until you feel your body relaxing, you will get to that point where you can actually feel the stress decrease.
Physical activity also makes you feel good. There's research that found that physically active people feel just as good as those who don't do sports, but who earn $25,000 more a year. So essentially, you'd have to earn a lot more to get the same happiness boosting effect that sport or physical activity has. If you can believe that, that's a real study. So, if you wanna feel like you're making $25,000 more a year, start exercising. Again, at least 30 minutes a day, you can break it into smaller sessions if you want, and just know that it increases your mood, coordination, stronger bones, muscles, helps with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, aids weight management, all of this from walking. So, as we incorporate exercise throughout our day, we can keep our mind elevated and our body energized and be more available for our clients, and our family, and for ourself. You also might try standing, getting a standing desk, you can do stretches in your chair, and things of that nature. Again, the goal is to move.
Okay, and now we're getting so the final part of our presentation, the cell phones. So, tip number five to reduce stress is to power down your cell phone. So, if you took me up on my challenge and you put away your cell phone, you can take it back out. I would prefer you wait a couple minutes so you listen to this part, or if you took the second a part of the challenge and tracked your hash marks for how many times you thought of your phone, just think how much mental space is your phone taking? A lot. A lot more than we think. There is a New York Times article that reported that your cell phone is likely causing chronic stress in your body. This is an intriguing article and it talks about, well, the name of the article, I'll give it to you, Putting Down Your Phone May Help You Live Longer, New York Times, April 24th, 2019. And if you think about your phone, you look at your phone because something's there, right? You get a text, an email, so you look, or maybe you're just picking up your phone to check out something, right?
Look at an internet site, just doing whatever on your phone, but there's always something stressful waiting there for you. There's always an email, bad news notification, you know, push notification on something. And so, your phone is likely raising your level of cortisol. And by chronically raising the level of cortisol, which is our body's main stress hormone, our phones may be threatening our lives, or I'm sorry, our health and shortening our lives. This article talked about studies finding that your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you can hear it, and when you even think about it. So, you were thinking about your phone and it is elevating your stress hormones. That is a classic stress reaction. It feels unpleasant, might create anxiety, and your body's response is to check the phone to make that stress go away. I'm sure we can all relate to this, but while you do that and you're checking your phone to make the stress go away, you may feel soothed for a second, but it's probably gonna make things worse in the long run. Because anytime you check your phone, you're likely gonna find something else stressful waiting for you, leading to another spike in cortisol and another craving to check your phone or to deal with it to make your anxiety go away. This cycle, especially if it's continuously reinforced, leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels. It means you are living in this sympathetic nervous system, you are living in fight or flight. Your body is not, it does not have the opportunity to rest and digest. It is not getting into the parasympathetic nervous system enough, that is causing chronic stress reactions and illness by your cell phone.
So, what do we do? Well, I don't think you can get rid of your cell phone, I tried to undo my work notifications and email from my cell phone. It worked for two months, and then there was an emergency and I wasn't there and all this conflict and it didn't work, but it was a good experiment. I think that actually caused me additional stress.
So, what do we do? We need to take regular breaks from our phone, we need to turn off non-essential notifications. You do not need to know every time there's a breaking headline on every single news agency. You do not need to know every sent time you get an email on every single one of your emails, Gmail, iCloud, work, whatever. You don't need all that. you may think you do, but I challenge you to reduce and delete your non-essential notifications, delete apps you don't use, resist impulses to use your phone. These are all suggest ways to counter the stress response. You can also consider turning off your phone while working on tasks that require significant brain power, such as writing briefs or transactional documents. This cell phone issue's hard, but we need a break from technology. And we also need to model this behavior for the younger generation. We don't need to be available all of the time, life will go on, I promise. So, as we conclude the presentation, we went through five tips to reduce stress in the law. I'm just gonna go through those real quick. First one is to take a pause, don't react. When you are stressed, you wanna react to alleviate that stress, please take a pause first, come up with a stress response. Sit up straight. Notice how you might be mimicking a stress response in your posture. We wanna have an open sternum, we want to have as much oxygen in our lungs and in our brain as we can. Find power in breath. Practice breathing, practice mindfulness, hack that vagus nerve. Use these tools to help reduce stress before it happens and as you're in the moment. Get physical. Physical activity helps reduce stress and increase brain power, it's that simple. And then power down, get rid of your cell phone, just put it aside for a little bit. It may be threatening our health. Lawyer wellbeing is imperative. It's imperative to counter the stress facing our profession, and it influences ethics and professionalism.
Remember that wellbeing is a practice and it's a continual process, but if you do it, you'll have increased competency, responsibility, and positive work-life choices, and integration. I urge everyone to give these tips and tricks a try, and I thank you for your time today.
Dani Berry - Hi, and welcome to Grace Under Pressure: Tips to Combat Stress in the Practice of Law. This one hour program discusses the science of stress and resilience, and offers several strategies to combat stress in the legal practice and to prevent burnout. The objective of this course is to provide tools that will increase lawyer competency by learning to identify stress and appropriately respond to stressors.