California Lawyers Association

The Healthy Lawyer (Advocati Sani): Anxiety is Here! Build Your Own Toolkit

By Greg Dorst JD, CADC II
Consultant to The Other Bar

I receive emails, phone calls and text messages regularly from lawyers who are struggling with fear and anxiety and feel that they are on the edge of becoming dysfunctional as a result of these issues. It is time to talk about this condition in a practical way so that anyone who is having symptoms of paralyzing fear and anxiety can begin to work on getting better.

Our present circumstances have made life harder and more uncertain. The practice of law has changed because of the need to distance ourselves from one another. Clients have lost revenue streams and cannot pay for services as before, which creates fear in the workplace and attendant financial anxiety. 

On the broader spectrum, we live in unprecedented times. Our physical well-being is threatened by COVID-19, our nation’s financial well-being is threatened by an accompanying financial slowdown and the division around how to solve these problems has reached a fever pitch. Not only have politics and racial justice issues invaded our personal relationships but we are trapped inside our homes as brush fires and forest fires have made it too unhealthy to go outside and exercise. Most social interaction is online rather than in person. Gyms, restaurants, churches and sporting events are all places we “used to go to” for relaxation, comfort and companionship. 

All of this is stressful and can create anxiety and real fear about what the future holds for us, our families and our nation. This is all to say that none of the emails, phone calls and texts that I receive about problematic fear and anxiety are imagined issues that are unreasonable. However, this does not mean that we do not need to find effective ways of dealing with these tough times and difficult emotions.

To start building your own anxiety toolkit you must be aware of what is happening to you when anxiety and fear become overwhelming. Symptoms of anxiety are remarkably similar amongst most people. There is often the physical sensation of an upset or twisting and turning in the stomach. This physical reaction is accompanied by nagging thoughts of bad outcomes causing unbearable consequences. What is really happening is that your thoughts and your feelings of uncertainty and dread are affecting your physical well-being. It is time to build your toolkit:

Cultivate Awareness

When physical upset and negative, nagging thoughts arise, notice them so that you can develop an awareness around the cause and around what is going on in the moment. Lawyer and meditation teacher Jon Krop, in a video titled The Anxiety Toolkit Part II: Mindfulness Practices to Reduce Anxiety, sets forth a strategy that he calls “noting” where a person labels inner experience (seeing, feeling, hearing and thinking) in an effort to increase awareness concerning what is happening in anxious, stress-filled moments. This video is outstanding and uses some of the techniques that I discuss below.

Practice Mindfulness

When you are feeling anxious:

  1. Breathe — relax into your breath and notice the sound of your breathing. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Concentrate on the sound of your breath and the rhythm of your technique…in through the nose and out through the mouth. Distress will begin to melt away.
  1. Plant new thoughts through what I call the 3 C’s Affirmations. Say to yourself:

                    I am clear. I am calm. I am capable

Your concentration should be fixed on the affirmation, sensing clear thinking, calmness in the moment and a renewed sense of competence in performing the task at hand.

Continue the 3 C’s Affirmations until you know that you are capable of being in the moment.

  1. Visualize the next task that you are going to engage in and see the positive outcome in your mind’s eye. Release the element of the “process” of the task at hand and just visualize the result. The “process” is often the genesis of the fear and anxiety. Affirm that the result will unfold effortlessly because you know how to “do this.”
  2. Be prepared. Having noticed the anxiety triggers and the accompanying thoughts, be prepared to engage in your breathing and your affirmations before the hearing, deposition, meeting or moment that will cause anxious and fearful thoughts. Clarity and calm are powerful tools for performing in a capable fashion. Your mindset before engaging in a high-stress activity is key to producing a beneficial outcome.

Seek additional professional help if holistic practices are not sufficient to relieve the paralysis of fear-based anxiety. A medical professional may prescribe medications that will help. The tools listed above, which are now in your own Anxiety Toolkit, are incredibly useful in conjunction with any therapeutic treatment.

If you self-medicate your anxiety with alcohol or other drugs, additional tools may be necessary. If you would like to talk about problems you are experiencing with alcohol or other drugs, please contact me. All communications are confidential. Life gets better when we take action to solve our problems rather than ignore them or deny them.

I can be reached at gdorst2@gmail.com for confidential help or comments and suggestions. 

Advocati Sani

Greg Dorst JD, CADC II

Here are some additional resources to consider when building your own Anxiety Toolkit:

Video: Finding Ease During Uncertainty – Guided Meditation with Jeena Cho

Video: Meditation Experience – Guided Meditation with Dr. Rochelle Calvert, PhD

Video: Practicing Resilience in These Times: Tolls to Navigate Our Personal and Professional Lives – Includes a guided meditation with Judge Paul A. Bacigalupo 

Videos: A collection of short videos about wellbeing and stress reduction, curated by the Missouri Bar

Video: Anxiety Tool Kit: Mindfulness Practices to Aid Well-Being in Trying Times, by the National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being 

Video: The Anxiety Tool Kit Part II: Mindfulness Practices to Reduce Anxiety, by the National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being

Book: The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation, by Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford

Books: Well-Being Book Ideas, curated by the National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being

Article: 7 Science-Based Strategies to Cope With Coronavirus Anxiety 

Worksheet: Practice Mindfulness to Boost Well-Being and Performance, by the National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being. This worksheet includes a section specific the anxiety and mindfulness with tips and resources. 

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