Mar 03, 2020
Finding your Balance (When It Feels Like You're Spinning Out of Control)
Mar 03, 2020
By Susan Feder
Deadlines. Pressure. Demanding clients. Difficult opponents. These are only a few of the factors that account for the high level of stress among lawyers. As a profession, we suffer from some of the highest levels of substance abuse and stress-related ailments in the working population. This month’s Marin Lawyer focuses on small practice management and offers tips and advice for keeping your business running effectively. Part of that effectiveness is managing your own stress and finding your balance in a high-pressure environment.
Our February luncheon speaker Lita Abella offered wellness strategies for the legal profession. Of course, each of us responds differently to specific strategies. Hopefully, you learned some that will work for you. I would like to share the strategies that work best for me in the hope that one of them might help you too.
On days when I am mediating, I find that I internalize the stress that fills the parties’ rooms. Initially, I thought that being a mediator looked easy. How hard could it be to listen attentively, validate a litigant’s emotions, and guide a negotiation? The answer, I learned quickly, is that it’s very hard! As the mediation day progressed, I forgot to eat, take any break, or even simply walk to the restroom. My mind was in hyperdrive strategizing on how to convey the information I just learned from one room to the opposing party in the other room. I could feel my heart rate rising and my hands sweating. This was not helpful to me or to my clients. I realized I needed to develop a strategy to deal with these stressors. What I developed are simple changes: take five-minute breaks every two hours; eat lunch; have a cup of tea and honey while clearing my mind with a few moments of silence; go for a mini-walk around the office. I find myself feeling renewed even after these minimal accommodations.
When I am not mediating, but am preparing in my office, my favorite de-stressor is being in nature. The days that I am glued to my desk without at least 30 minutes outside among trees and anything green are days when I feel the most stressed and unsettled. While scheduled exercise is very beneficial, sometimes we just don’t have the time. Not to mention that the environment in a gym is not as therapeutic as being in nature. For me, even a 15-minute brisk walk outside can work wonders in relieving fatigue and stress. Rather than feeling guilty about not being able to devote the time you would like to physical activity, take whatever time you can to break up your daily routine.
We are so incredibly lucky to live and/or work in Marin County, where opportunities to connect with nature abound. I recently learned from one of our colleagues who works in Sausalito that she takes advantage of the Sea Trek Kayak rental near her office to go kayaking on the Bay before or after her workday. Many unique and fun opportunities such as these exist in Marin. We just have to do a little research, advance planning and make a commitment to ourselves to follow through.
Another de-stressor for me is music. When I am preparing for a case, I often listen to classical music, which I find to be stimulating to the brain and soothing to the psyche. I can physically feel my heart rate slow in response to a violin or piano concerto.
We all lead busy lives and are constantly trying to balance a stressful job, family commitments, and outside activities. Sure, a long vacation in Bali would be restorative, but that’s not always realistic. Rather than relying on a major getaway, I try to incorporate mini-renewals into my weekly, if not daily, routine. For me, the majesty of the mountains, the calmness of the water, and the smells and sounds of nature all provide the small boost of serenity that help keep my stress in check.
I hope you find some wellness strategies that speak to you and I encourage you to start a conversation about them with a colleague. I hope that sharing will lead to better health and wellness for all of us. I wish you a healthy and balanced month!
Susan has been a full-time mediator since 2010, and is on the panel of Judicate West statewide. She uses insight and intuition to bring a fresh and creative approach to reaching settlement. Before becoming a mediator, Susan was a business litigator with a national law firm and practiced in house as litigation counsel for Bank of America. Susan’s mediation practice covers a wide variety of cases, including tort, employment, real estate matters and commercial litigation. When negotiating a settlement, Susan focuses on uncovering the issues fueling the dispute, and redirecting the parties towards resolution and finality. Susan is the MCBA President for 2020.