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Lawyers' suffering not unique: Kopping-Pavars

Lawyers aren’t exceptional when it comes to suffering, Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law and Lotus-Law, which was formed to offer mindfulness training to lawyers, says members of the profession tend to think they have more stress and anxiety than others because of their work. 

“I don’t like this idea that lawyers experience a unique level of intensity, and that their stress is much worse than anyone else’s,” says Kopping-Pavars, who has divided her weekly mindfulness classes between lawyers and all others since launching Lotus-Law last year.

But she's now reconsidering her approach after coming to a realization.

“When it comes to the pain and suffering we feel, lawyers are actually just the same as anyone else. The only thing that’s different is how they got there,” she says.

Kopping-Pavars says many of those in her lawyer-focused mindfulness class blamed their stress on their profession. But when she opened up her sessions to the general public, she found non-lawyers' stress was often spurred by moments of personal tragedy or a desire to change their lives.

"Lawyers don't necessarily feel the need to change their habits and way of thinking," she says. "They just want to stop feeling stressed.

“It was interesting to see how the two classes responded so differently to the exact same material. But, at the end of the day, what I noticed is that we’re all human. Pain is pain, and it doesn’t discriminate based on your profession.”   

Kopping-Pavars puts the difference in approach down to the training that lawyers go through to hone their professional skills.

“Our training makes us faulty human beings by removing our emotional intelligence,” she says. “We spend our time worrying about what can go wrong and striving for perfection because if our work isn’t perfect, our clients will suffer and that will come back and hurt us professionally.”

All that “eagle-eyed” focus and pessimism can make it difficult for lawyers to focus on “the good stuff that surrounds them,” Kopping-Pavars says.

“When you’re too tunnel-vision focused on one thing, you lose sight of what’s happening around you and within you,” she says, noting that these traits make lawyers susceptible to substance abuse, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. “You find something else, so you don’t have to face your humanness.”

Kopping-Pavars sees her meditation and mindfulness classes as a way for lawyers to reconnect with their "humanness." Over the years, she has developed techniques that help people gain control over their emotional responses by understanding the way their bodies and minds work. By developing an awareness of processes, such as the virtually automatic “fight or flight” response activated by the amygdala in the brain, they can stop it from being triggered as often. 

"But more than that — to recognize and identify the actual emotion that is responsible for our high stress levels and sometimes-volatile actions and reactions," she says.

“You need to have an awareness of what stress and anger feel like, and where they reside in your body,” Kopping-Pavars says. “Then, when you feel that burning sensation in your chest, you can identify it for what it is and manage it, instead of creating habitually bad habits, such as finding comfort in a bottle or popping pills to try to deal with the suffering you feel.

"At the end of the day, life and its stresses continually go on around us. It doesn't stop and we can't control it, but we can learn to cope with our own reactions and responses, and that involves complete awareness of body and mind. In other words, a strong and committed mindfulness practice.”

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