Stress — it can literally kill. This may read as hyperbole, but I assure you it’s not. It’s also not a quote from a sassy bat named Bartok in the 1997 film Anastasia. When you’re an attorney, stress can seem like par for the course. A given. An uncomfortable biological side effect that you just sort of accept. Who wouldn’t be anxious while working long hours, complex court cases, and striving to stay afloat in a competitive field?
Of course, you don’t have to continue living and working this way. Chronic stress can have long-term effects on your body. The Mayo Clinic states that:
“The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including: anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.”
Basically, stress can be the precursor to a myriad of health issues down the road. Thankfully, I’ve got a list of breathing methods that’ll help you alleviate stress while working as a lawyer.
Wim Hof Method
Wim Hof a.k.a. “The Iceman” is a Dutch extreme athlete. He’s known for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. According to Wikipedia, Hof has “set Guinness World Records for swimming under ice and prolonged full-body contact with ice, and still holds the record for a barefoot half marathon on ice and snow.” The athlete attributes his success to the Wim Hof Method. It’s a combination of breathing exercises, meditation, and frequent cold exposure.
Well, you don’t need to build up a tolerance to the cold unless you work outside in the middle of winter. Which … why? However, Hof’s breathing techniques are certainly useful for any attorney feeling crushed under the weight of stress.
Step 1: Get comfortable. “Assume a meditation posture: sitting, lying down — whichever is most comfortable for you. Make sure you can expand your lungs freely without feeling any constriction.”
Step 2: Take 30 to 40 deep breaths. “Close your eyes and try to clear your mind. Be conscious of your breath, and try to fully connect with it. Inhale deeply through the nose or mouth, and exhale unforced through the mouth. Fully inhale through the belly, then chest and then let go unforced.
Repeat this 30 to 40 times in short, powerful bursts. You may experience light-headedness, and tingling sensations in your fingers and feet. These side effects are completely harmless.”
Step 3: Hold. “After the last exhalation, inhale one final time, as deeply as you can. Then let the air out and stop breathing. Hold until you feel the urge to breathe again.”
Step 4: Recovery Breath: “When you feel the urge to breathe again, draw one big breath to fill your lungs. Feel your belly and chest expanding. When you are at full capacity, hold the breath for around 15 seconds, then let go. That completes round number one.
This cycle can be repeated 3-4 times without interval. After having completed the breathing exercise, take your time to bask in the bliss. This calm state is highly conducive to meditation — don’t hesitate to combine the two.”
Hof’s breathing method can not only relieve stress, but it’ll give you better sleep, enhanced creativity, faster recovery from physical exertion, improved sports performance, and more mental clarity. But in this case, it’ll help reduce your stress as a lawyer. If you can find time amid your busy day to do the above exercise, you’ll be floating on Cloud Nine. You can go here to learn more about Wim Hof and his breathing techniques.
James Nestor Breathing Techniques to Combat Stress
James Nestor is an author and journalist with bylines in Scientific American, The New York Times, National Public Radio, and more. He recently published a book entitled Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. Said book delves into the art of breathing properly. Here’s a brief description:
“No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly. There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences.”
Who’d have thought that breathing was a honed skill? Nestor opens our eyes to the vitality of correct breathing. In fact, back in August, he was a guest on ITV. During the interview, he introduced two life-changing breathing exercises to eradicate stress.
First technique: “Six seconds in, six seconds out. The first technique is to simply inhale through the nose for six seconds, and exhale for six seconds. It’s great for slowing the heart rate, increasing the blood flow, and entering into a state of relaxation. Even if you take a few minutes out of your day to do this, you’ll start to feel the benefits immediately.”
Second technique: “The four-seven-eight method. In this technique, you inhale for four seconds, hold it for seven seconds, and then exhale for eight seconds. By exhaling for longer, you become more restful, reducing your heart rate.”
Nestor vows that you’ll instantly feel more relaxed. He also says something quite intriguing in the aforementioned interview. “Breathing properly is a blanket prescription that can help both mental and physical health.”
Think about that — simply taking the time to really breathe can reduce a rapid heart rate and slow an anxious mind. It can quell the anxieties of a chaotic body. Something so menial, an activity that we take for granted, can save our lives.
Visualize the Stress Melting Away
Verywellmind.com boasts a list of breathing exercises that are guaranteed to decrease stress and tension. A handful of these methods include visualization. I hope you have a somewhat vivid imagination!
Inflating the Balloon. “Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and begin breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you inhale, imagine that your abdomen is inflating with air like a balloon. As you exhale, imagine that the air is escaping the balloon slowly.
Remember, you do not have to force the air out; it simply escapes on its own, in its own time. You may want to imagine the balloon as your favorite color, or that you are floating higher in the sky with each breath if this is relaxing for you. Regardless, the “inflating balloon” visualization can help you to breathe deeply from your diaphragm rather than engaging in shallow breathing that can come from stress.”
Releasing Your Stress. “Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and start diaphragmic breathing. As you inhale, imagine that all the stress in your body is coming from your extremities and into your chest. Then, as you exhale, imagine that the stress is leaving your body through your breath and dissipating right in front of you. Slowly, deliberately repeat the process. After several breaths, you should feel your stress begin to subside.”
Many folks are visual learners, and the same way of thinking can apply to breathing and relieving stress. Perhaps the balloon visualization works for you while a more physical technique may do the trick for someone else.
Regardless of the technique you use, find something that works for you. Choose an exercise that you feel befits your body. It’s imperative that you utilize safe methods of stress relief. Otherwise, if left unattended, your stress will ultimately fester and mutate into unhealthy habits. Substance abuse statistics are staggering in the law profession. That stress can take on the form of addiction and depression. As a lawyer, your mind must be sharp. Anxiety can dull that sharpness.
Breathe in. Breathe out. And keep going. Because, like Ford and its tagline that’s forever etched into our brains, you’re built tough. You’re stronger than you even realize. Stress doesn’t have anything on you. My therapist always tells me to take everything “one breath at a time.” The same applies here. Instead of agonizing over 10 different scenarios that may or may not unfold, stay in the moment. Stay with your breath.
A calm mind is a focused mind. And you’ll need all the brain power you can get to execute your job to the very best of your ability.
These breathing methods will help you manage your stress in a stress-inducing work environment. Use the above whenever you feel tense to send that tension packing. You’re an attorney, and you’ve got work to do.