Adapting and growing through stressful circumstances creates more resilient lawyers. Molly Ranns and JoAnn Hathaway get some positive tips from Anne Chambers about how lawyers can not only cope, but learn to thrive in the face of stress. Anne focuses on gratefulness, mindfulness, and self care, and encourages lawyers to alter their perspective on stressors common to the profession and see them as opportunities for growth.
Anne Chambers is a licensed clinical social worker and director of the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program.
Molly Rans: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s on Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I’m Molly Rans.
JoAnn Hathaway: And I’m JoAnn Hathaway. We are very pleased to have Anne Chambers, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Director of the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program join us today to talk about how legal professionals can cope with stress during our current circumstances. Anne, could you share some information about yourself with our listeners?
Anne Chambers: Yes, my name is Anne Chambers. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I received my bachelors in Psychology from LSU in 1987, and went on to receive my masters in Social Work there in 1990. Then, I moved to Missouri and I have been the Director of the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program since 2012.
Molly Rans: Thanks so much for being here, Anne. We’re so grateful to have you here today to discuss such a timely topic. Can you start things off by discussing resiliency and how to cultivate it during such strange times?
Anne Chambers: Sure. Resilience is basically the courage and the ability to adapt and grow from stress. There used to be some older thinking that stress was very detrimental to us and that it causes a lot of problems, and it’s best to avoid stress. There’s also some new thinking and positive psychology that stress can be either a risk or an opportunity and that part of managing stress effectively is to try to figure out ways to grow from it, learn from it, and hopefully emerge from experiences stronger and this is certainly an opportunity to practice resilience right now. Resilience includes a lot of different qualities. One is physical energy. Another is emotional energy, the ability to believe that your problems are solvable and the ability to adapt. And studies show that people who are highly resilient tend to have lower rates of anxiety, depression, and PTSD and also tend to sort of recover more quickly when difficult things happen.
So, one way to cultivate resiliency is through the gratitude challenge. This is something you can do either by taking a paper journal and writing down or using a computer file, but it’s important to basically write it each day and this takes about 10 minutes a day. So the first step in there is in the gratitude challenge is to simply each day write down five things that you’re grateful for today. So things that make you glad to be alive and here as things are, no matter what the circumstances are. So for example, for me, my five things that make me feel like life is good and worthwhile are number one, today is my birthday. Number two, I have a walk scheduled with my oldest daughter this evening. Number three, I have dinner with my husband. Number four, I have good leftovers in the fridge here. It’s leftover Thai food. And number five, I get to talk to people that I like today and I’m excited about it.
So, that’s step one. Step two is to think about a time recently where something did not go well and you either felt stressed or frustrated or upset and then you write a few sentences about it. Not an entire paragraph or an essay that just a couple of sentences noticing the highlights. So for me, I had a recent occasion where I received bad news about a loved one’s health. So that was my difficulty and I learned that Friday.
Next thing you do is you write down three things that can help you look on the bright side of the situation. So, for me, number one, the medical situation is something that requires surgery, but it’s fixable. Number two, I got to talk to my loved one who’s fixing to have surgery and just offer them support. And number three, it made me cherish my time with my loved one all the more.
So what you do is every single day you follow this pattern. Over time you can kind of look back on your journal and consider what are overall the things that make you feel like life is good and worthwhile. Sometimes we notice that that’s people. Other times we notice that its things. Sometimes we notice we have a lot of inner resources. In terms of the difficulties, sometimes we’re dealing with really rough stuff but we notice that we had more reserves than we give ourselves credit for. Other times we noticed that our day-to-day problems tend to change and it’s just helpful to kind of look over time and see what patterns you notice. Sometimes people feel the inclination to start expressing gratitude to people in their lives that they feel grateful for. Other times people just start noticing things that can help them look on the bright side more often. So, that’s my top suggestion.
JoAnn Hathaway: Anne, what are some types of self-care that can help to manage stress and anxiety?
Anne Chambers: Well, one is, I think, having kind of a routine time set aside just for self-care. So for me, in 2020 since the pandemic began, I thought that it was more important for me to think about dedicating some time to self-care and being really aggressive about it. So I’ve dedicated six o’clock each day as the hour of self-care, that’s usually 6 p.m., sometimes it becomes 6 a.m. and my idea is just whatever is happening that day I just try to dedicate some time during that hour to take good care of myself. If I miss, I just go back to it the next time, so one tip is to be diligent about it.
Another kind of self-care that I think is helpful is mindfulness. Mindfulness is basically the art of focusing on one thing at one time. We also tap into our breathing. Mindfulness is a lot about showing ourselves compassion and also showing others compassion. There are a lot of exercises about it. I’m a big fan of the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who’s written a number of articles and books about mindfulness. There are also a lot of mindfulness exercises you can pick up free on YouTube and the mindfulness in law society has a website where you can go online and they offer a sitting mindfulness for attorneys a couple of times a week. I believe it’s Monday and maybe Wednesday, so you can check that out for free if that’s an interest to you.
Another thing that can help manage stress and anxiety is regular exercise. It tends to not eliminate stress all together, but it helps kind of turn down the volume of it on a regular basis. So try to think of things that you can do to get outside, get a breath of fresh air or kind of refill that cup.
Molly Rans: So, I know one thing that’s impacted our family over the past year is really the limited ability to travel. You know, it’s the one time we’re able to get away together and unplug. Opportunities for travel and vacation have been so limited. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with boredom or restlessness?
Anne Chambers: Yes. I think that is helpful when you’re super bored to consider what’s the way to kind of emerge from this experience stronger. Right now we’ve got some time and not as many opportunities to go places. So this could be a good time to explore something on your bucket list, something that you’ve decided that you’ve always wanted to do but you couldn’t get around to it. So for me, that challenge is trying to check out as many state parks with members of my family as I can, explore new things around my state. So for example, recently visiting the oldest tree in the State of Missouri, which turns out to be about 15 minutes from my home. I’ve just never been there before. It’s also a good idea to pick up some other challenge like it could be a physical challenge or a mental challenge, a new hobby, a craft, making up a game. It could be taking all of your boxes that you’ve gotten from buying things online and making a tower for your cats, going on a recycling challenge or tending to your garden. So those are some suggestions.
Another thing to consider is maybe doing a staycation, thinking about taking some time to just do whatever you want to around the house or take a brief mental vacation. So, for example, picturing yourself being somewhere in the world that you would like to be and fill in those sights and sounds and sensations for about 10-15 minutes.
JoAnn Hathaway: Anne, do you have any suggestions to pack more value into your workday?
Anne Chambers: Yes. I picked up a strategy at an ABA time management workshop a couple of years ago that I like. And what I really enjoy about this is that it works well with any other time management strategy that you’re using and if you’re a list person and have like a to-do-list or computer file, it can complement that. The idea is to picture your day basically as a bowl of fruit. The concept is to have a fruitful day. So, every day, you picture yourself as having an apple, an orange, a lime, a lemon, those kind of fruits in your basket and you’re basically picking values. So each day you want to take basically a big juicy bite out of an apple. An apple is essentially a large project, it matters you, it’s important and it’s your priority today. So, for example, let’s say you believed that at one o’clock today, a snowstorm would hit, the power would go out and you would have to stop working. Your Apple project would be whatever it is that you need to do to be ready for that to happen, where you can feel like your day was productive no matter what. Whatever project comes to mind is your absolute priority, that’s your apple for today. So that’s going to be your major task.
The second thing that you want to do every day is to take basically a big slice or two out of an orange. An orange is kind of your secondary priority for the day. It’s something that is big and chunky and you can’t deal with it all at once, kind of like eating a slice of an orange. So, for those kinds of tasks every single day, it’s a good idea to deal with a slice or two of one of this kind of mid-range or other type projects. It could be working for an hour or two on a brief. For me, if I’m getting ready for a presentation, it’s working for an hour or two on a PowerPoint or practicing something along those lines.
The third priority each day is it’s a good idea to minimize your lime time. Lime is an acronym and it stands for look in my email. So, instead of dealing with your email throughout the day and kind of watching it constantly, the idea is to deal with your email intentionally in a couple of rounds. So for example, set aside 15, 20 minutes to read your email in the morning and just focus on that and respond to it. Maybe do it again in the afternoon and so on. The idea is if you minimize that time that you’re looking in your email, it’s going to reduce your stress level, allow yourself the opportunity to get to some deeper and more focused work. And sometimes you’re dealing with a lot of spam or junk in your email and it prevents your day from being kind of becoming swamped with the thing of the moment and helps you focus on your actual priorities.
Another strategy for dealing with adding value to work day is every month or so dedicate just 30 minutes to an hour to unsubscribe from things that you don’t open, you’ll never buy and you’re not interested in it. Attorneys have given the suggestion that another tip is to search unsubscribe because sometimes if you search unsubscribe in your email box, that will give some hints on some of the things that you can unsubscribe from quickly and I have done that periodically and found that that really helps.
Molly Rans: Those are great suggestions, Anne. What about suggestions for setting work home boundaries? I know this is something I’ve heard about in the last year that’s been really hard for attorneys and, you know, everyone really in general.
Anne Chambers: I agree. It’s a real challenge. I think it’s especially challenging for solo attorneys because sometimes work is home and the personal phone is the family phone. One thing that I think is particularly important is to have a dedicated space for your work. So have a room with a door that you can close to give yourself some privacy and some quiet. I think it’s also a good idea to keep your work computer separate from your personal games and keep games and other apps off of your work cell if at all possible. Sometimes solos just have the one computer, the one phone, but keeping those separate is helpful. If that’s not an option for you, making a commitment to only focus on the game apps and those kinds of things during your lunch break or after hours may be helpful.
Another suggestion is to think about having a wind down routine. So for example, dedicating 15 minutes to just closing out all of your apps, closing off your email before you leave work. It could be thinking of your clients and wishing them well as you kind of hit that X bar and close out the files. And as you prepare to leave, whatever that workspace is, at the end of the day, consider that you’ve done an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, that you are going to take time to refresh and renew right now and that you will come back to work tomorrow with fresh and new ideas ready to go, so kind of giving yourself permission each day to kind of unwind.
JoAnn Hathaway: Great. Thank you, Anne. Now, can you share a few short stress-busters with us?
Anne Chambers: Yes. One of my favorite stress-busters is deep breathing, so just breathing in and out slowly and deeply on a regular basis. For example, Jeena Cho has written an article about kind of managing stress. She wrote the book, ‘The Anxious Lawyer’ and she says that people tend to kind of hold their breaths while they’re reading emails and I find that that is generally true. Also, we tend to kind of clench out our bodies when we are seeing kind of a stressful headline come through or stressful subject line come through. So it’s a good idea to just kind of breathe in and out deeply and slowly while you’re reading your emails. That helps prevent us from kind of clenching up which tends to activate our fight-or-flight kind of response. It’s also helpful to take a deep breath slow and deep before you answer a phone call. If you’re feeling stress or if you’re fixing to make an outgoing call that you feel stressed about, take a few moments to kind of ground yourself and get ready to go.
Another strategy is to take on every year either a physical challenge, an intellectual challenge, a work-related challenge, or a personal challenge of some sort, so that you can grow over time in different areas of your life. For example, right now, my occupational challenge this year is to become proficient in a specific method of therapy that’s a little more challenging and newer. And my intellectual challenge is to try to keep my brain engaged and also to relax, so one of my goals is just try to do a giant word search every day to just kind of chill out. It’s also helpful because we kind of tend to give a lot of weight to the bad things that happen in our lives. Research show we get about three times the weight to the bad things compared to the positive things. So, to kind of counterbalance and it’s a good idea you always have a couple of things you’re looking forward to in your life. That way, you know, something tough happens this morning, at least you’ve got dinner with the family or a walk or water aerobics, whatever it is that floats your boat coming up later on in the day. It kind of helps to have positive things going on to take the sting away. So it’s a good idea to always have a few small positive things scheduled throughout your day.
JoAnn Hathaway: Wonderful, all good information. Well, Anne, it looks like we’ve come to the end of our show. We’d like to thank our guest today, Anne Chambers, for a wonderful program.
Molly Rans: Anne thanks so much for joining us on your birthday. If our listeners would like to follow up with you, what is the best way to reach you?
Anne Chambers: The best way to reach the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program is through the Missouri Bar Website, its www.mobar, that’s M-O-B-A-R, .org/molap, that’s M-O-L-A-P or you can call in on our 1-800 number. That number is 800-688-7859. My personal email address on the job is achambers, that’s C-H-A-M-B-E-R-S, at mobar, that’s M-O-B-A-R, .org, and my direct cell is 573-638-2262. If you’re looking for a lawyer assistance program in your home state, you can simply search the name of your state in lawyer assistance program or go to the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs, and click on directory of lawyers assistance programs and it will give you the names and email information of all the LAPs in the United States and maybe a few in Canada.
Molly Rans: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Anne.
Anne Chambers: Thanks for inviting me, Molly.
Molly Rans: Thanks so much for joining us. This was wonderful. This has been another edition of the State Bar of Michigan on Balance Podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I’m JoAnn Hathaway.
Molly Rans: And I’m Molly Rans, until next time. Thank you for listening.
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Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com