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Tips for lawyers to reduce stress

The first step for lawyers to reduce their stress levels is to start noticing their triggers, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

“Once a lawyer starts noticing how and what they are feeling, they are on their way to figuring out what their next step is going to be,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “In doing this, they are creating space in their brain to respond differently. Noticing your emotion is the first step in a positive direction.”

Kopping-Pavars, principal at NKP Law and a strong advocate for mindfulness training, says there are clear benefits for lawyers — and the clients they represent  — when they pay attention to how they are feeling.

“Many lawyers may be skeptical about mindfulness but the fact is, it is backed up by a great deal of science,” she says. “The science says mindfulness changes brain waves and if you are changing your brain waves, you are changing the way you think. Mindfulness is about having awareness.”

Kopping-Pavars says the STOP method is the best way to begin the process of reducing stress.

S stands for stop — so literally stop what you are doing

T stands for take a few deep breaths

is to observe your thoughts, feelings and emotions

is to then proceed in a way that supports you in the moment, a way that may very well be different to how you would typically respond.

Kopping-Pavars says this process takes mere seconds.

“Envision a hand coming up in front of you that says ‘stop,’” she says. “Stop, take a breath, observe and then proceed. Within a couple of seconds, you can change the direction you may originally have taken.

“For example, let’s say you are on the phone with a colleague who is ranting and raving and talking to you as if you are a complete ignoramus,” Kopping-Pavars says. “The colleague is being condescending and disrespectful and you are getting angry".

Once the lawyer recognizes they are feeling very frustrated and that their heart is beating faster, that awareness will allow them to take a breath and see what it is that is causing them to feel this way. They could then change the direction of the entire conversation, she says. Pausing creates the space in the lawyer’s mind to allow them to decide on the best direction to take. The lawyer has time to acknowledge "I don’t like how this person is talking to me. He’s making me really angry."

By applying the STOP method, the lawyer may be able to prevent themselves from lashing out at the colleague or ending the call abruptly, she says. This buys them time to deal with the matter more efficiently and appropriately by saying, "You know what, I need to time to consider what you are saying, perhaps we should continue this conversation at another time."

By going through this process, people can learn to identify their triggers so that they are able to better understand and then determine why they react in a specific way to certain situations. That’s what these small techniques do — they help change habitual responses, Kopping-Pavars says. 

Another effective way to change the course of how one reacts to stressful situations is to simply take three deep breaths before responding, she says. 

“Three deep breaths will already calm your anxiety and calm your brain,” she says. “This isn’t mindfulness or meditation. All this is doing is noticing how you are feeling.

Kopping-Pavars says part of understanding mindfulness involves the act of noticing feelings, having an awareness and then creating space in our busy chattering minds, it’s about recognizing the mind-body connection.

“The beauty of mindfulness is in its subtlety — often you aren’t even aware that you are changing until one day you suddenly realize that you are reacting or responding to stressful situations, or just situations in general, in a different more positive way.” she says.

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