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Effective Stress Management for the Seriously Curious Attorney

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Fortunately, anxiety disorders are among the most treatable psychiatric disorders. Effective treatment modes vary widely. The most common treatments involve therapies and medication. Behavior therapy employs a variety of techniques that can help attorneys gain better control of their actions and reactions. For example, one technique trains clients in diaphragmatic breathing, a special breathing exercise involving slow deep breaths to reduce anxiety. This is necessary because people who are anxious often hyperventilate; taking rapid shallow breaths that can trigger rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, and other symptoms. Another technique – exposure therapy – gradually exposes clients to what frightens them and helps them cope with their fears. Like behavior therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches clients to react differently to the situations and bodily sensations that trigger panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms. However, clients also learn to understand how their thinking patterns contribute to their symptoms and how to change their thoughts so that symptoms are less likely to occur. This awareness of thinking patterns is combined with exposure and other behavioral techniques to help people confront their feared situations. For example, someone who becomes light headed during a panic attack and fears he is going to die can be helped with the following approach used in cognitive-behavioral therapy. The therapist asks him to spin in a circle until he becomes dizzy. When he becomes alarmed and starts thinking, “I am going to die,” he learns to replace that thought with a more appropriate one, such as, “It’s just a little dizziness- I can handle it.” Medication often plays a positive role in the treatment of anxiety disorders. It is most effective when used in conjunction with other treatment modes.

An effective approach to managing stress and anxiety for attorneys has as its foundational and well-established premise, that stress results from the interaction between the experiences we face and our evaluation of those experiences. Effective stress management requires an understanding of these evaluations and interpretations, our responses and behavioral styles, and how the application of proven and effective cognitive and behavioral strategies can help attorneys transform workplace stress into high performance.

What is stress? Stress consists of an event, called a stressor, plus …
• how we feel about it,
• how we interpret it, and
• what we do to cope with it.
How much stress we feel depends on the amount of change required to cope with the situation. Three major sources of stress are: changes in the environment, conflicted relationships, and internal emotional pressures and conflicts. The greatest source of stress is the tremendous internal pressure and anxiety that we create for ourselves through…
• worrying about situations we can’t control
• perfectionism – expecting too much of ourselves or others
• competition – turning every encounter into a win-lose situation
• self-criticism – focusing on faults, rather than strengths
• insecurity – looking to others to provide emotional security rather than ourselves
• powerlessness – failing to see the choices that are available
• hurrying – constantly pushing ourselves to perform better and faster
• comparison of our achievements, or lack of them, to those of others
• pessimism – expecting the worst from life
• the unrealistic expectation that life can be problem-free

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