Most would agree that some level of stress is good for us and helps us perform at our highest level; however, when we are under stress for a prolonged period of time, it begins to wear on us physically, cognitively and emotionally. The symptoms can range from becoming easily agitated to feeling frustrated or moody, to having difficulty concentrating. Consistent unyielding stress can eventually lead to what society has coined as, “burnout,” which is prevalent in the legal community for professional staff and lawyers alike. When one experiences burnout, the previously-mentioned symptoms progress to more serious issues, such as fatigue, insomnia, illness, poor performance or a sense of exhaustion or depletion.
Acknowledging all of this, we may ask ourselves how do we notice when we are stressed, and how do we identify and prevent the downward spiral towards burnout? The answer is simple: practicing mindfulness.
By practicing mindfulness, you can create space between you, your emotions and your reaction to them; in essence, you are allowing yourself to observe your thoughts and emotions at that moment without judgment. As Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness, it is, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
The first step in this process is to properly define mindfulness: here, we view it as choosing to pay attention to the present moment in a curious and nonjudgmental way. A positive side effect of practicing mindfulness is learning a true sense of empathy. You may start to become more compassionate towards others or learn to put yourself in others’ shoes. You may also learn to create space between an event and your response to that event. This way, you avoid knee-jerk reactions and you consider others’ points of view.When you are purposefully mindful, you may find more balance and begin to notice the difference between good stress and the slippery slope to burnout. Here are a few tips to incorporate mindfulness into your day.
Tips for Cultivating Daily Mindfulness
Start when it's easy.
Many people get interested in mindfulness as a way to deal with stress or difficult situations, and this is a great idea. However, trying to be mindful for the first time in the middle of a crisis is a lot like trying to learn to sail in a storm! Start with the pleasant moments and you'll be ready to deal with life's challenges when they come your way.
Mix up your routine.
We don’t always have time to go on a vacation, so why not soak up your home town? Visit the new coffee shop, check out a museum exhibit or try something you have never done before. Don’t have time to explore? Try taking a different route to work or park in a different place. Mix up your routine — it will have the same effect.
When you inhale your meal while working, you miss out on the delicious taste and smell of your food. You're also less likely to feel satisfied or full, leading to overeating.
Connect with your senses.
Your senses — touch, smell, taste, sound and sight — are your gateway into the present moment. Connect with the way you walk. How does the ground feel under your feet? How do your feet move?
Just Google it! There are tons of different breathing exercises, or you can check out my article for the LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter on how to practice breathing. Just the act of pausing to breathe is an exercise in mindfulness all on its own.
Meditation has huge benefits and increases your levels of energy, happiness, inspiration and inner peace.
If you want to try meditation, please come join me for a mediation session at the LMA Annual Conference, taking place March 25–27 at the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center in Denver, Colorado.
Rachel Shields Williams is the Senior Manager, Experience Management at Sidley Austin. In her current role with the organization, she blends her 15 years of marketing and business development experience with her passion for technology. She helps lawyers and marketers understand how they can apply technology to their business development and marketing activities in order to increase their effectiveness, operational efficiency and get results. With her experience in marketing and business development, she seeks to identify opportunities to take the pain out of the regular blocking and tackling tasks that marketers face each day and to help them create synergies in existing processes; that gives them more time to tackle the innovative projects that help grow the organizations bottom line.