Managing Stress in the Law Office

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01Oct2008

Managing Stress in the Law Office

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managing stressIs stress really different for those of us who work in a law office?  There may be people who tend to think that stress is stress is stress…however, I’ve worked within a law office and I’ve worked in non-legal environments and my first-hand experience leads me to believe it is a different type of stress.  Especially if you are a legal assistant (i.e. a Paralegal or Legal Secretary).  Anyone who has worked anywhere knows that the “bad stuff” all runs downhill and those of us who are on the lower end of the totem poll tend to bear the brunt of what accumulates at the bottom of that hill!!

Not that attorneys are difficult to work for.  They are all level-headed, open-minded, patient individuals who have attained a higher standing in life, secondary to their educational and professional achievements.  NOT!  Well, they do have their redeeming qualities; however, I think we can all admit there are times when between dealing with difficult clients and law office management, they are capable of making life a bit tense for those who work for them.  That means us.

Does this sound familiar? We’ve spent days reviewing documents, organizing the same in immaculate detail, prepared an index, a report and a memo outlining everything that has been accomplished and are expecting not only a pat on the back, but a small cash bonus for our trouble.  Instead, we’re met with, “Why didn’t you do x, y and z while you were at it??!!  Now get me a cup of coffee!”  Okay, so maybe that’s not the scenario for everyone, but I am sure you can offer something similar or even worse!

So, what’s a Paralegal (or Legal Secretary) to do? There are actually some great techniques you can use to help manage all that stress, and you don’t even have to leave your chair.  I recently spoke with a certified yoga instructor, who has advised me on the many different methods of  “coming to your breath.”

“Deep, conscious breaths are very important,” she says, “as they not only ground you in the present, but they also release endorphins within the brain, similar to that which a runner may experience after a long run.”

These endorphins give us an immediate sense of calm and well-being that not only help to alleviate stress but have actually been shown to heal our bodies in many ways.  There are many ways to “come to your breath” from the convenience of your chair:

Alternate nostril breath: While sitting with your eyes closed, place your left hand in your lap palm up.  Take your right hand and place it near your face with the palm facing your nose.  Pinch off your right nostril with your thumb and take a deep breath in, filling your lungs completely, and then hold.  Pinch off your left nostril with your pinky finger, and release all of the air in your lungs, slowly and deliberately.  Take in another deep breath and hold.  Pinch off your right nostril with your thumb and release the air.  You can do this for several minutes and the results are truly astounding!

Controlled deep breathing: Sitting with your eyes closed, palms facing up, take in a deep breath, completely filling your lungs with as much air as you think they can hold.  Release what you think is a third of the air and hold.  Release another third and hold.  Release the remaining air slowly and completely.  Repeat this several times and also repeat it doing the opposite (breathe in a third and hold and then release the air completely.

You may feel some tingling in your fingers and arms but, this is actually very normal.  Scientists are discovering that every cell in our body is living.  We just never take the time to stop and observe what is going on with our own bodies and never realize it.  When you are performing the exercises, take that time also to focus on what really matters to you.  Give thanks for everything that you have.  Concentrate on all of the positive things in your life.

While both of these exercises may seem simplistic, the truth is, they allow us to step away from the circumstances that are causing our stress and allow us to focus.  Once we have taken control back, we can make decisions based on calm, rational thinking and not react to the circumstances.  This not only allows us to lower our stress levels, but it also prevents us from allowing outside influences to steal our power from us.  Your energy IS your power.

I am a runner and have never been “turned on” so-to-speak by yoga.  But, since I’ve spoken with a yoga instructor and tried these techniques, I have to admit there is something to this science.  Breathing actually makes perfect sense because oxygen is so vital to the proper function of the human body

Well, there you have it.  A couple of office-friendly and on-demand tools you can use to maybe help ease a bit of your daily stress while working in the law office.  The next time your lawyer has blown his/her top and is sweeping the halls looking for someone to release the frustration on, I hope you’ll remember this.  I can liken it to catching on fire.  Instead of stop, drop and roll, you can sit, breathe and take control!

About the Author

Jeannie S. Johnston obtained her Paralegal Degree from Athens Technical College and has been a practicing Paralegal for over 15 years.  She has written for Legal Assistant Today and is the Founder and President of Paralegal Gateway, Inc. (a/k/a ParalegalGateway.com).  Jeannie lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, Daniel, and their four furry children Tricksy (the dog), Riley (the cat), Carson (the cat) and Mr. Smithers (the cat).

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