Florida, known as the “Sunshine State,” evokes images of warm waters, sandy beaches, and palm trees – - a tropical paradise, stress-free living and fun. However, Florida lawyers are not immune from the stresses of the profession.
As reported recently in The Florida Bar News, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression (one of the most likely triggers for suicide) than non-lawyers, and suicide rates for lawyers is on the rise. So, in light of this alarming trend, what can we do to help ourselves?
As Mark Twain used to say, “I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most of them never happened.” There is no question that we lawyers have to deal with many, real troubles. But if we were to pause for a moment, many of our troubles never happened. For many of us, there is a constant monologue going on in our heads, and most of it negative – - the judge isn’t going to buy my argument, my client will think I’m stupid, what if I don’t win, I’m never going to finish that contract, I can’t …, I doubt …, I fear … And on and on it goes.
This negative-speak and inner monologue often develops a life of its own, and what we think tempers our view. So, rather seeing what is really going on around us, we have developed an image in our mind and have superimposed that image on reality.
So, back to the original question, what can we do to break this cycle? What can we do to help ourselves? As I mentioned in my prior blog, the first step is to take a breath. When your inner monologue starts, take a breath. When your mind wonders, take a breath. When you get irritated, take a breath.
From there start paying attention, to the present moment, on purpose, without judgment. One exercise to do that, as suggested by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, in their book Mindfulness an Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, is to take a snack (Williams and Penman suggest a raisin or a piece of dark chocolate), set an alarm for 5 or 10 minutes, sit in a quiet place away from all distractions, and really observe your snack. Spend a few minutes with each step. If it comes in a package, first look at the package, really look at it. Next, take it out of its package and look at your snack. Really see it, observe its size, shape, color, texture. Smell your snack, perhaps close your eyes as you do so. Then place your snack in your mouth, slowly and deliberately. Feel the sensation of the snack in your mouth, slowly chew your snack (or if it is chocolate, let it melt in your mouth). Observe the sensations; observe any thoughts you may be having. Finally, observe as you swallow your snack. This process should have taken up the entire time you allotted (5 or 10 minutes). Take a moment and reflect on the exercise. Perhaps you thought it was infuriating to take so long to eat one raisin, that’s ok. Perhaps it brought you greater pleasure (or displeasure) to what you were eating, either is ok.
With this (and other practices I will share with you on our journey) you will hopefully become more mindful and not know many troubles, most of which never happened.