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Being a lawyer can sometimes be a stressful job with tight deadlines, client expectations, climbing the career ladder not to mention balancing life outside of the office. I should know, I used to be one of these lawyers. I developed stress related issues and anxiety because of it. I was afraid to disclose how I was feeling to anyone out of fear of what my colleagues might think of me or that I would be seen as “weak” or “too soft to be a lawyer” or I wouldn’t get any briefs if they knew. I thought “I’m strong, I can handle this myself”. I now realise how distorted that thinking was. I thought enough is enough and decided to seek help and come up with productive ways to manage stress. I hope by sharing my story that other legal practitioners who are perhaps suffering in silence can see that there is no shame in seeking help or talking about how we are feeling to a trusted person. It is a very common issue amongst a lot of people. Today I am a happy and healthy lawyer and a life and executive coach enjoying my life to the full. Proof that life goes on when you hit a bump in the road and that asking for help and taking care of yourself is a sign of strength.
When I decided to seek out holistic ways of managing stress which would enable me to bring calmness to my life one of the things I discovered was mindfulness. If you had of approached me five years ago about mindfulness I would have probably laughed it off. “I don’t have time to meditate”, “those things don’t work”, “I need a quick fix”. Of course I found out the hard way there is no quick fix, you have to put in the work.
Nowadays mindfulness is something that I practice daily. It has had a profound positive change on me. I became calmer, less stressed and my anxiety was significantly reduced. I rarely lose a night’s sleep and my high stress zone days are a thing of the past as I use mindfulness as a way of bringing myself and my attention into the moment without catastrophizing things or situations.
What exactly is mindfulness?
Put simply, it is “Paying attention; On purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” - Jon Kabat Zinn
Mindfulness is about being in the present moment and being non-judgemental towards are thoughts and tuning into ourselves. Creating awareness of our bodies and being present in the moment. Anyone can do it, you do not need special skills just a willingness to practice and learn about it. The more you work out a muscle the stronger it gets; it is the same for the brain and mindfulness. When you start your journey in mindfulness it is normal for the mind to wander at the start but like everything else the more you practice it the more get better at it. When you are fully present in the moment you start to notice things and nature in a different way. You become more aware of yourself and your surroundings.
The beauty about mindfulness is that it can be practiced virtually anywhere. I practice mindfulness if I am on public transport, driving, in a conversation, listening, eating, walking and whenever I get the chance to.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness reduces anxiety, stress and burnout. Scientific research has found that physical changes were present in the brain in a group of people who practiced mindfulness for 8 weeks for approximately 30 minutes a day. In the group that practised mindfulness there was an increase in the grey matter of the hippocampus (responsible for learning and memory) and a reduction in the same grey matter in the amygdala (a region connected with stress and anxiety). Research continues to be carried out on the area of mindfulness and the findings are fascinating. Mindfulness has also been known to boost creativity and problem solving, not a bad skill to have as a lawyer right!?
So why not give it a try! . You can attend mindfulness classes after work or perhaps on a weekend, or try an app. Making time for yourself and self-care is not selfish and a big part of our over all wellness.
Ursula is a lawyer, coach, and LawCare volunteer. You can find out more about Ursula’s coaching work, training and speaking events on www.ursulacullen.com Follow Ursula on Instagram or Twitter
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