Not too long ago, I was sitting at my desk in a mid-size law firm amidst a towering pile of case files, memos, and to-do lists. I was a brand new, first-year associate with a daunting billable hour requirement and a whole lot of stress. No matter how early I came into the office or how late I stayed past dinner, there just never seemed to be enough hours in the day to accomplish all of the goals I set for myself on a daily basis. My mind started racing, combing through the various tasks and projects I had on my plate at any given time, and I found myself drowning in an endless sea of worry and shortcomings.
If this experience sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone. Attorneys are some of the most stressed out yet high-functioning people on the planet, and we have a special knack for putting on a brave face for the rest of the world after an exhausting 80-hour work week. However, for many of us, the stressors of billable hours, partnership tracks, and bonus structures are enough to make even the most level-headed associate go a little berserk from time to time and, if ignored, can lead to chronic anxiety, burnout, panic attacks, and even depression.
How Meditation Can Help
Whether you are a seasoned attorney or just stepping foot into a courtroom for the first time, meditation can help calm your mind and reduce work-related stress. In fact, recent medical studies are just starting to catch up with what Eastern religions and yoga practitioners have known for a very long time: meditation eases anxiety.
By calming your central nervous system, meditation allows you to take a pause, however brief, so you can view those stressors more pragmatically. Worried about that 20-page memo due to your managing partner tomorrow? Meditate. Stressing out about your upcoming performance review? Meditate. Losing sleep over your oral argument on Monday? Meditate. As the millennials say, no matter the case or the project: there’s a meditation for that!
Another perk to meditating? Increased productivity. When I look back on my first year as a practicing attorney, I am astonished by the number of potentially billable hours I lost simply because I was stressed out. It might not seem like it now, but those sick days, long lunch breaks, and time spent staring blankly at your computer screen really start to add up quickly and, ironically enough, create more work for you to make up later. When I started meditating, I noticed that I spent less time worrying and more time working which, you guessed it, bumped my billable hours up quite a bit.
The best part? Meditation can be practiced anytime and anywhere you need it (yes, even when you’re commuting back to the office from a deposition or as you’re logging your billable hours for the week). No matter how busy your workday or caseload may be right now, trust me: you have the time to begin a meditation practice. All it takes is a couple of minutes to enjoy the blissful benefits of meditation and you have everything you need to get started today!
Ready to begin your meditation journey? This easy, step-by-step guided breathing meditation (also known as Pranayama) is a wonderful tool to have in your back pocket when things in the office, conference room, or courtroom get a little too contentious…
- Start by finding a comfortable seated position and sit up nice and tall, relaxing your shoulders. Your office chair, favorite spot in the breakroom, or even a park bench are all great meditation spots!
- Close your eyes and take a long, luxurious breath in through your nose.
- Gently part your lips and sigh as you exhale through your mouth.
- Repeat this flow of inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth at least twice more before returning to your natural breath.
- When you’re ready, begin to count the seconds of each natural inhale and exhale, including the pause between both.
- Continue counting or, for a more concentrated relaxation, start to lengthen the inhale and exhale to 5 seconds each with a 3 second pause. This will look something like: Inhale, 2, 3, 4, 5…Pause 2, 3…Exhale, 2, 3, 4, 5…Pause, 2, 3…
That’s it! Not too tough, right? You can practice this breath work whenever you need it and, believe it or not, you will be meditating! For additional resources and guided meditations, please visit the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center.