Reducing Anxiety and Increasing Resilience as Attorneys
Published on August 31, 2021
by Lynn Hogewood
We are settling into the fall semester at Cumberland with 160 first-year law students eager and anxious to achieve success. Meanwhile, recent graduates are anxiously awaiting the July Bar exam results. We are quickly approaching two years into a pandemic that has shaken up legal education and lawyer licensing exam procedures across the country. The law school classes of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, and now 2024, will not have had a “traditional” law school experience in light of the global pandemic. Nevertheless, we will (and should) hold them to high standards. Over the last five to six years, even pre-pandemic, I have observed increased anxiety and a lack of resilience from students in their learning and growth through law school. First, this post serves as a reminder that these law students, Bar examinees and new lawyers have experienced something different than we did — perhaps not in substance, but certainly in delivery. Second, this post serves to acknowledge that anxiety is up and resilience is down. Lastly, with a lens on the importance of maintaining optimal health and wellness, this post serves to make suggestions for how we – as the Alabama State Bar – can cultivate an association that supports its law students in the state and the new lawyers who have or who are trying to be admitted to practice law. Here are three easy-to-start strategies for reducing anxiety and increasing resilience that we can demonstrate as members of the Alabama State Bar and encourage for new students, recent graduates, and new lawyers.
Take a Breath
Most of us know the value of a deep breath. There is a reason that we hear “take a deep breath” or “count to ten” before responding to things that have caused anger or frustration. Science supports the power of a deep breath… or pausing to recognize a few intentional breaths. Rhonda Magee, lawyer, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco, and author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice, introduced me to the STOP practice. This practice can support you in difficult moments that arise at any point. The practice can take a couple of seconds up to as long as you would like to sit with the parts of the practice.
S – Simply stop. Literally. Pause what you are doing.
T – Take a conscious, intentional breath. Perhaps take a few breaths to then be able to observe.
O – Observe what has arisen in your mind, heart, or spirit. This observation gives you the ability to recognize what is happening in yourself at that moment.
P – Proceed with the recognition of how you think and feel. Proceed intentionally and in a place of presence.
Here are two links to access more information about the practice and be guided through the practice by Rhonda Magee or Elisha Goldstein:
https://www.mindful.org/the-s-t-o-p-practice-creating-space-around-automatic-reactions/ and https://www.mindful.org/the-s-t-o-p-practice-for-stress/.
Share your Story
Everyone has a story from their lives to share. We all have a perspective and experiences from which we look at the world. We can build resilience in ourselves and in others when we share our stories. Even when we share small segments of our stories, we reap the psychological benefits of reflection, validation, and connection. These benefits are directly related to building resilience. We demonstrate a willingness for our own growth and authenticity that establishes a deeper connection with others. This connection can directly benefit new law students and new lawyers. See this link for additional information about sharing your story to build resilience. Plus, for more information about the role of reflection in developing resilience, check out the following articles: https://www.mindful.org/3-ways-leaders-can-prevent-emotional-drain/ and https://hbr.org/2021/01/the-secret-to-building-resilience.
Research from Indiana University has shown that simply expressing gratitude can have lasting effects on the brain. Oprah Winfrey started a gratitude journal craze almost 25 years ago, and since that time, the science has developed to confirm the benefits of practicing gratitude. When we practice gratitude, we are more observant and more compassionate. Plus, we reduce the stress that leads to anxiety, and we also increase our own positive thinking and resilience. To practice gratitude for a benefit in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, we can start by observing. Pause and observe/think about three things you may be grateful for at this moment. Notice how that feels in your body. You probably just took a deep breath or felt a pause in your active mind. Maybe a smile even came across your face. When we intentionally pause to practice gratitude, we can change our mindset. This shift reduces anxiety and increases resilience. Dr. Robert Emmons is one of the world’s leading researchers on gratitude. At this link, hear Dr. Emmons explain how gratitude works in life and in the workplace.
In summary, the typical law student and new lawyer need the support of members of the Bar to experience healthier, longer, and more productive careers. We can help them by cultivating a Bar that demonstrates practices to reduce anxiety and to increase resilience. By practicing these things ourselves, we serve as mentors for those who come after us. Many quotes come to mind about actions speaking louder than words. We can tell law students and new lawyers that they need to reduce anxiety or need to show some grit, but by demonstrating strategies that we use ourselves, we connect deeper and more effectively. New law students and new lawyers thrive with connection. In the science of learning, studies show that students learn better from connected teaching. I think that can parallel to law students and lawyers thriving in their learning and growth and early years of practice from connected mentorship with more experienced, “veteran” lawyers. I encourage you to connect with law students and new lawyers. Providing this connection with the “rookies” of the profession will help all of us thrive in our lives and in our careers.