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Anxious lawyers could benefit from mindfulness meditation

Anxious lawyers could benefit from regular mindful meditation, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

A recent study by scientists at the University of Waterloo and Harvard University suggests just 10 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation improves the focus of people suffering from anxiety and cuts their level of mind-wandering.  

Kopping Pavars, principal of NKP Law, says the study resonated with her, because of the way mindfulness techniques have helped her gain control over her emotional responses in everyday life.

By developing an awareness of processes such as the virtually automatic “fight or flight” response activated by the amygdala in the brain, she says practitioners of meditation can stop it from being triggered, or “hijacked” as often. 

“For lawyers, we are always in amygdala-hijack mode,” Kopping-Pavars tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Situations come at us out of nowhere from clients with problems that we have little control over. That creates anxiety.

"Much of the time, people will blame us for the end result, either because it’s not what they want, or, if they do like the outcome, because it cost them a lot of money. It’s a very stressed environment we live in.”

The study’s 82 participants, all of whom suffer from anxiety, were divided equally and at random between a control group that was given an audio story to listen to, and another group that engaged in a short meditation exercise before completing tasks set by researchers.

In a statement, one of the authors said the results indicated that those in the meditation group had fewer incidences of off-task thinking, which is a hallmark of anxiety.

"Our results indicate that mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals," said Mengran Xu, a PhD candidate at Waterloo. "We also found that meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their own internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on a task at hand."

According to Xu, mind-wandering accounts for almost half of a person’s daily stream of consciousness.  

"For people with anxiety, repetitive off-task thoughts can negatively affect their ability to learn, to complete tasks, or even function safely,” he said. "It would be interesting to see what the impacts would be if mindful meditation was practised by anxious populations more widely."

Kopping-Pavars says even those without a clinical diagnosis of anxiety could stand to benefit by injecting a regular dose of mindfulness into their daily routine.    

“Everyone suffers from some sort of anxiety at some point in their life,” she says, noting that people’s thoughts can cause them to suffer when they shift from the present moment.

“It’s our thoughts that drive us crazy. When you’re going into the past, and regurgitating memories, that can make you upset about the way you did things and what could have been. When your thoughts are based in the future, it can bring on anxiety because you have no control over what’s going to happen,” she adds.

Kopping-Pavars has developed mindfulness programs and meditation clinics for law firms and lawyers. Anyone who is interested in learning more can contact her at nicolle@nkplaw.ca

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