How to Decelerate After the Battle to Lower Stress and Increase Resilience

When Curveballs Land

For many lawyers, certain situations require the ability to switch gears and ramp up at short notice in order to effectively deal with a situation. Whether it’s a short notice injunction or a hearing when damaging evidence emerges unexpectedly; having to go from 30-100 MPH comes with the territory.
When this happens, adrenalin and cortisol surge through your veins as you switch into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Your trusty autonomic nervous system enables you to adapt and respond by preparing you for action. You are now officially stressed.

The Upside of Stress

The form of acute, short-term stress is not inherently bad and has several potential benefits including enhanced immunity, increased focus, alertness and resilience. When managed correctly, stress can be a powerful weapon and competitive advantage.

Even in situations when your case is strong, at that moment when you are about to stand on your feet or engage with the other side, it’s normal (and helpful) to experience ‘the rush’. Even after 15 years of doing JR hearings, I always felt the adrenaline surge just before I was about to start my oral submissions.

Stress has protected us for as long as we have walked the earth, enabling us to become predator rather than prey. It ensures we get out of bed every morning. These upsides are often and easily forgotten or overlooked.

From Acute to Chronic

Aside from the deleterious effects of long-term chronic stress, acute stress can become destructive, however, when dust settles, and the crisis has passed. At that point, if you’ don’t rapidly switch gears, de-stress and decelerate, over time you’ll progress from acute to chronic stress and find yourself on the fast road to a town called Burnout.

This was a mistake I repeatedly made. The nature of my practice meant that many of my cases were fast moving with high stakes; but short. I would often have to burn the midnight oil for an important hearing the following morning and even if it was over by lunchtime, I would spend the rest of the day unnecessarily operating in fight mode. To make matters worse, I would then spend the evening in a local bar talking about (and consequently reliving) the details of the case over too many glasses of wine. By 2005, after 15 years of being in full flight, I crashed and burned.

The Limitations of Traditional Stress Solutions

Stress coaching and literature typically focus on managing the stress response. The point that is rightly and repeatedly made, is that it is not the event but the perception of the event that results in the experience of stress. Managing, mindset and self-talk are powerful tools that can and should be utilised as part of an overall long-term strategy for managing stress. I use them myself and with clients.

The on the ground reality for many lawyers, however, is that when the stress trigger event occurs, unless they have done the stress management groundwork in advance, the last thing they can think about is managing their mindset etc because they are focused on managing the situation rather than their emotions. This is why understanding the importance of post-crisis recovery is critical.

Stress + Recovery = Growth

To mitigate the deleterious effects of stress, as soon as you have managed the situation, take yourself into a recovery mode. Instead of turning to alcohol to unwind, spend a few minutes engaging in a practice that takes you out of fight, flight or freeze mode and helps you recharge and rebuild for the next curveball. Not least, because you can be sure there will be more crises coming your way.

The Intersection of Technology and Zen

Neuroscience, technology, and ancient practices, provide us with an array of effective, fast acting recovery solutions that you can easily implement into your daily routine without the intervention of a third party. These include:

  • 10 minutes of breathwork. Whichever technique you utilize the guiding principle is short inhale / longer exhale e.g. 4:6.
  • The use of brain entrainment techniques such as Isochronic tones or Binaural beats that activate Alpha brainwaves. Just pop in your ear buds and press play.
  • A heart coherence breathing practice.
  • A virtual reality session.
  • 15 minutes of Non-Sleep Deep Rest / Yoga Nidra.
  • Wearable technology that restores balance to the nervous system, calming both body and mind. There are several effective devices that use vibration to stimulate the vagus nerve calming and conditioning the nervous system.
  • A walk outside, ideally near a green space such as a park and many more. The Inns have some wonderful gardens to walk through.

Burn Bright Not Out

Practice is fall of minefields and curveballs. If your intention is to stay in practice for long haul, then you will likely encounter numerous unwelcome and unwelcome stressors. A modest investment of 10-15 minutes engaged in post-crisis recovery, however, will help ensure you avoid the devastating effects of long-term chronic stress, increase your resilience and enable you to burn bright not out.