Anxiety is part of the mental landscape for many lawyers. I used to be an anxious lawyer (hence, the title of our book, The Anxious Lawyer). At some point, the anxiety went from mild to acute. The recovery from an anxious lawyer to a mindful lawyer wasn’t easy, there were no shortcuts, and it profoundly changed my understanding of anxiety.
First, let’s start by defining, anxiety:
Anxiety is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events.
Two things to note. First, anxiety is subjective. This opens up the possibility of changing your response from anxiety to something more helpful. When you are faced with an anxiety triggering event, the body reacts. Think back to the last time you felt anxious. How did you know you were experiencing anxiety? What physical experiences or mental thoughts led you to know you are experiencing anxiety?
The second thing to note is that anxiety is all about anticipating some future event. Like when you’re rehearsing 201 ways in which the hearing might get derailed. Yet, ever notice that even with all the rehearsing, fretting, worrying and anxiety in the world, when the case does go off rail, it never does in the exact way in which you anticipated?
The key to working with anxiety is to engage in practices to rest the anxiety ridden mind. Yes, I know it’s easy to say, “just rest the anxious mind,” but much more difficult to do. This isn’t something you can logic your way through or to force yourself to do.
We know from research that meditation decrease stress and anxiety.
Brain imaging found that meditation-related anxiety relief was associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula. These areas of the brain are involved with executive function and the control of worrying. Meditation-related activation of these three regions was directly linked to anxiety relief.
Unfortunately, when you are feeling anxious, the last thing you want to do is sit quietly with your own mind and meditate. I get it.
It’s important to approach the practice with meditation with friendliness. An analogy that I found to be useful is to invite your mind to sit down for tea.
You may be wondering, what does it mean to meditate? There are many different traditions and instructions on how to meditate. However, all meditation practice at its core is about stilling the mind. To focus the mind on the object of attention. The object might be the sensation of the breath as it moves in and out of the body, sounds, mantra, loving-kindness, and so on.
With practice, meditation can help to lessen the grip and identification you may have around anxiety. You begin to see, anxiety is just a set of physiological experiences and mental thoughts that you label as anxiety. It will pass with time. And that you are NOT your anxiety.
If you’d like to learn more about ways of working with the anxious brain, please join me for a 1-hour online workshop on August 14th. Learn more here.
Here’s a short guided meditation to get you started.