Isn’t MSJDN all about lawyers? Lawyers create stress, they don’t relieve it! But, attorneys are actually uniquely well-suited to talk about stress relief. At the end of the day, we fix problems for a living and stress is just one more problem waiting to be solved.
The first step to problem-solving as a lawyer is easy: Identify the problem. Simple, right? Unfortunately, this is not always as easy as it should be. When you are sitting at your desk (or kitchen table) trying to slow down your breathing, it isn’t always obvious what exact element of your day is causing you to hyperventilate. Is it the brief your boss is expecting to be letter perfect by 8:00 a.m.? Is it the fact that your deployed spouse hasn’t called or emailed in five days? Maybe that note from your daughter’s teacher about her recent spate of anger issues at school is weighing especially heavy on your head? Not so easy to pick just one, is it? As military spouses and lawyers, we lead complicated lives and our problems certainly aren’t any easier. The more problems we have, the harder it is to take a step to fix any of them. All too often, you find yourself at a standstill because you don’t know where to start.
Here is where your training as an attorney comes in. Treat your problems like you would your client’s. If you can’t identify just one problem to fix; try writing them all down on a piece of paper. This may stress you out temporarily if the list is a page (or so). Push through and write them all down. Read this list and embrace it. They are your problems and you cannot shy away from them. Go ahead and cry for five minutes. Have a piece of chocolate. Run a mile or do fifty burpees. Be “emotional.” Strength is being honest with your feelings; not hiding from them.
Step two is to roundtable ideas on how each problem can be solved. Interview yourself. Pretend you are your own client. What are the reasonable steps you can take to address a problem? Be concrete. Write down specific actions you can take in order to address the problem. Start small with things you are positive you can accomplish. While giving the commencement speech at UT Austin last year, U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven stressed the importance of starting each day by completing a task, “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.” Similarly, take a productive step to address one small problem, then another, and you have created a pattern of success and achievement that will inspire you going forward.
And, we’re done right? After all, we’ve identified the problem and concrete steps to solving it. Wait. You’re not done. Here is where we get into the meditative side of stress relief. This is usually not a big part of attorney training. But, if you’ve ever practiced yoga or visualization techniques, it will seem familiar. Find your quiet space – maybe it is the beach, the mountains, the gym, the couch, the 2 block radius around your office where you get your daily dose of vitamin D from the sun – wherever you go to find inner peace. Empty your mind of all doubts and worries. Repeat a mantra that speaks to you. Here are some possibilities: “Make it work.” “This too shall pass.” “Keep calm and carry on.” “Tomorrow is another day.” “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” “It’s okay to be imperfect; perfection is overrated.” “The children will be asleep soon.”
If you’re worried that you don’t have the time to take a quiet space for yourself because you’re too busy at work or with family, think about how much better you are at your job and with your family when you are happy and relaxed. A little bit of selfishness isn’t just acceptable, it’s a good thing. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of all the responsibilities in your personal and professional life. And, ignoring stress won’t make it go away any more than dodging service of a complaint will make a lawsuit go away. Take advantage of your legal training and de-stress the lawyerly way with measured steps and a plan.