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You at Work

How to Reverse the Effects of Stress

By Gray Robinson

Reversing the effects of stress is not about avoiding challenges or responsibilities but rather adopting healthy coping mechanisms and prioritizing self-care. Stress may be a part of the practice of law, but it doesn’t have to control your life.

effects of lawyer stress

From the pressures of work deadlines to personal responsibilities, stress can quickly accumulate, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and drained. The effects of too much stress are well-known and include:

  • Irritability
  • Anger and rage
  • Impatience
  • Overwhelm
  • Overthinking
  • Lack of enjoyment
  • Depression
  • Chronic fear
  • Isolation
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain and loss
  • Panic attacks
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Depressed immune system

These symptoms make life miserable and can cause myriad health issues, burnout and even a nervous breakdown. According to a recent Massachusetts Lawyer Well-Being Study, 77% of the attorneys surveyed reported burnout and were considering changing their careers.

Reverse the Effects of Stress With 7 Self-Care Countermeasures

The effects of stress can be reversed by focusing on some simple countermeasures throughout the day.

Do Deep Breathing Exercises

The more you fill your lungs with oxygen, the better. By breathing deeply and regularly, you can force your body to relax and clear your mind. First, stress causes us to breathe shallowly, which reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to our brain and causes our frontal lobes to shut down. By breathing deeply, we can get our rational minds to think more clearly, and problem solve. Deep breathing also causes our diaphragms and lungs to expand more completely, which activates the vagus nerve and helps us relax and reduce the effects of stress.

Read “The Three Best Breathing Techniques to Reduce Stress.”

Add Physical Exercise to Your Daily Routine

Not only does exercise cause us to breathe deeply (see above), but it also has numerous health benefits, including increased circulation and muscle tone, as well as stimulating endorphins, melatonin, serotonin and oxytocin. These are the “feel-good” hormones that make us feel better and relaxed. You don’t have to do strenuous exercise for this to be beneficial. Yoga, stretching, chair exercises, a walk around the office complex, anything to raise your heart rate and improve breathing will work.

Stop Multitasking

Constant multitasking increases stress levels because it forces our brains to be in a high state of alertness for extended periods of time without rest. This leads to a feeling of overwhelm and a decrease in overall well-being. It is important to take time to rest and decompress during the day, even if it is only for 15 minutes. Take a walk, meditate, listen to your favorite song, read a poem, look at artwork, and make plans for the evening, the weekend or your next vacation. Any of these activities will allow your brain to rest for a few moments and relax. Schedule several 15-minute breaks during your workday to substantially reduce the effects of stress.

Eat More Nutritional Foods

Your brain and your body are connected, so whatever affects your body will affect your brain. When you consume junk food, processed food, and food with high levels of calories, fat, sugar or salt, it increases the levels of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is the main stress hormone. High levels of caffeine also raise the stress on your body and mind and can overstimulate your stress response. Similarly, alcohol overstimulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which stimulates the production of glucocorticoids (stress hormones). Ironically, even though you may drink to relax, alcohol causes more stress in your body.

Pay attention to what you consume. Eat as many raw vegetables as you can. Stay away from alcohol, caffeine and pretty much anything that comes in a box, bag or a can. You will feel much better, have more energy and be clearer-minded.

Apply Cold Water

Neuroscientists have discovered that cold water on the skin will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the rest-and-digest response. This response is opposite to the sympathetic nervous system fight-or-flight response. When you feel stressed, wash your hands with cold water, splash cold water on your face, take a cold shower or even better, jump in an ice-covered lake (kidding). It will hack your brain and jumpstart it into relaxing. Combined with other relaxation techniques, this is a great trick to reduce the effects of stress.

Get Grounded

Getting outside into nature is extremely beneficial. It engages every sense and helps you relax. When you are in the middle of the downtown concrete jungle, it may be difficult to find nature. You can bring in plants, flowers or aromatics to help you connect with nature and get back into the moment. Many times, when we are focused on working, our minds tend to dwell on the past or the future, which often causes stress. When we look at a flower or a plant, we tend to forget all of that and focus on the plant, flower or nature. Those who practice “grounding” or “earthing” — the practice of connecting regularly to the earth’s energy — often use “earthing” pads, which are designed to ground you to the earth even if you are in a multistory building.

While more research is needed on the health benefits of grounding, there’s no doubt that the more you can bring nature into your office, the more you can relax.

Read: “Five Ways to Create a Less-Stressed Workplace.”

Boost Your Dopamine

When we get excited about something or plan for a pleasurable moment, our brains excite their dopamine control system. When this happens, we feel pleasure. This is why we feel noticeably better when we look at photos of loved ones or favorite places. Put photos that evoke pleasant memories around your office and focus on them. Remembering these happy moments will reduce stress.

Replacing Stress Hormones With “Feel Good” Hormones

The fastest way to reverse the effects of stress is to eliminate stress-related adrenalin and cortisol from our systems, as well as other glucocorticoids. The steps outlined above have been shown to rapidly replace those stress hormones with “feel-good” hormones such as endorphins, melatonin, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. Try them, and you will be amazed at how relaxed you can become and start enjoying life again.

Image © iStockPhoto.com.

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The Lawyer, the Lion, and the Laundry book cover

Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos

By Jamie Jackson Spannhake

In this bestselling book written for lawyers, former Biglaw litigator Jamie Spannhake helps you clarify your desires and set priorities so you can reclaim your time and enjoy your life. Available in soft-cover and digital format.

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Gray Robinson Gray Robinson

Sir Gray Robinson is a lawyer, writer, speaker, mentor, consultant and coach for lawyers who are struggling with their practices. He was a divorce lawyer for 27 years, handling hundreds of divorces, custody and support cases. Gray quit in 2004 due to stress and burnout and has devoted himself to helping lawyers and clients deal with the pressures of practicing law. Gray is the founder of Lawyer Lifeline, a restorative program that guides legal professionals through anxiety and stress to fulfillment and passion. In. 2023, he was inducted as a knight of The Royal Order of Constantine the Great and St. Helen, an organization that has existed since 312 ACE. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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