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Anxiety management for lawyers

Learn how to surrender

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If anxiety is, or is becoming your constant companion, it’s time to make it your friend as well.

You’re probably thinking “why on earth would I befriend my anxiety? I want it to go away.” I get this feeling. But hear me out. Anxiety is something that lives inside of you. It’s an internal reaction to some actual or imagined external threat or situation.

The word anxiety comes from the Latin word “angere.” It means choke, distress or trouble. This physiological reaction is part of the body’s natural fight-or-flight response and it’s there to protect you!

Frequently, when we experience anxiety, our first reaction is to ignore, dismiss, or deny it. This, it turns out, only makes the anxiety worse. If, on the other hand, we try to learn more about it, to find out what makes it tick, we come a step closer to robbing it of its power over us.

The key is to slow down enough to notice and tune in to our internal state makes a difference. It’s hard work but certainly no more difficult than peeling back the layers of a complicated client matter. A final word about the process of understanding our anxiety – there is a certain degree of surrender that must take place. Unlike book learning, there is an organic unfolding that you must allow. Practise being gentle with yourself and your anxiety.

How to tune in

• Understand the trigger. Notice those events (or thoughts) that trigger the anxious feeling – for example, getting a call from an opposing counsel.

• Tune into the inner dialogue. What is your brain’s interpretation of the situation? Frequently, there are many other layers of emotional experience below the anxiety such as anger, frustration, helplessness.

• Tune into the body. What do you feel or notice in your body when you’re in an anxiety-triggering situation? Is your heart beating really fast? Are you holding your breath? Are you clenching your jaw or your fists? Where does this sense of anxiety live in your body? Experiencing anxiety as a somatic experience, therefore uncoupling the link between the physical experience and the mental thought pattern, allows us to see the anxiety for what it is – our reaction to a situation, experience, or thought.