Business & Corporate Articles

Finding a Path to Mindfulness

Stress and anxiety seem to be an inherent part of the job description of being a lawyer. We act as legal counselors and emotional therapists for our clients, navigate volatile and complicated situations, and argue with judges and opposing counsel.  We operate under constant pressure in managing pending deadlines, and are pulled in multiple directions daily. As a solo attorney with no employees, I constantly find it challenging to manage my stress and anxiety.  It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and to work long hours to try to catch up.  Whether we practice law in the transactional field or litigation arena, stress and anxiety seem to creep into our daily lives.   In our industry, it is unfortunate that emotional well-being and mindfulness have never been a focus.  Tragically, success as a lawyer is measured by how many hours we work and how many hours we bill, not by the hours spent with our family and friends, or memorable vacations we take.  This mindset has to change if we hope to achieve happiness in our chosen career.    

Only recently have I started seeing MCLE seminars on mediation, managing stress and anxiety, and ways to recognize addiction. This is a positive change that I hope envelopes our entire legal industry because many attorneys are truly unaware of the negative impact that stress and anxiety take on their lives. I can personally attest that stress can cause serious health issues, affect mental focus and sleep, and make  us more agitated and short tempered. We cannot be the best lawyers for our clients, or the best friend, parent, sister, brother, or significant other if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first and foremost. 

Until a few months ago, the concept of mindfulness was foreign to me.  “Mindfulness” as defined in the dictionary means the “mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”  Finding a way to manage the constant stress and anxiety is the first step toward mindfulness.  Anxiety is typically caused by a fear or worry about something in the future or something in our past. It usually involves a situation or actions by another that are outside of our control. Anxiety is what keeps us up at night, thinking of all the worst-case scenarios that could happen. I recently started listening to Jay Shetty’s podcast “On Purpose.”  If you haven’t listened to this podcast, I would strongly encourage everyone to check it out.  Jay is a former monk and focuses his podcasts on ways to achieve mental health and happiness.  One major take-away from his recent podcast was a monk technique called “grounding” or “centering” in dealing with stress and anxiety.  Grounding brings you back into the present moment and out of the anxious mindset.  To practice grounding, you stop wherever you are and look around you and recognize the following: 5 things you see around you, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.  You then focus your breathing in and out at a very slow pace.  I have found this technique to be extremely helpful in focusing my mind back to the present when it wanders into negativity zone or I start worrying about the “what if” scenarios at work.

Jay’s podcast has taught me that there are so many small things that we can do each day that can make a huge impact on our life, sense of happiness, and mental well-being.  For example, we should be prioritizing getting at least 8 hours of sleep every day; consciously recognizing when we have moments of negative internal dialogue and negative thoughts and find a way to flip it to a positive thought; acknowledging something you are grateful for each day; and meditating.   It is also vital to exercise often to take care of our physical body, and eat healthy to nourish our brain and body.  We all sit at a desk each day in front of a computer for hours at a time, so it is imperative for our health to counteract this sedentary work existence with physical activity.  Attorneys frequently turn to alcohol or drugs after a stressful day rather than choosing exercise.  This is a negative behavior which can lead to feelings of depression and more anxiety, especially if attorneys become dependent on drugs and alcohol.  Being able to recognize toxic behaviors, and asking for help if faced with addiction are big steps in the right direction.  If we start implementing small changes in our own lives, encourage other attorneys to make these changes in their lives, and turn our legal industry’s focus toward mindfulness and emotional well-being, we may begin to truly find happiness and become better versions of ourselves.   


Ashley M. Peterson is the owner of the Law Office of Ashley M. Peterson. 


**This article is for information purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting an attorney. Any views expressed are those of the author only and not of the SDCBA or its Business & Corporate Law Section.**