[This article was originally featured at ENGAGE.]
A day-in-the-life of most lawyers (and other service professionals)…
- Expected to deliver near-perfect solutions (fast!).
- Needing to be available (what feels like) 24/7.
- Feeling pressured to give answers before you’re ready.
And because you expect a lot out of yourself (most would call you a high-achiever), you often feel stressed, overwhelmed and just plain exhausted.
Which is why it’s not just important but imperative to pay attention to your own wellbeing. Because you can’t afford for stress to take you down. To help ensure it doesn’t, I’m here to share 5 simple self-care activities that can be done anywhere, anytime (including at work).
Table of Contents
The Impact of Stress On Your Physical & Mental Health
Short-term bursts of stress can be good. Stress helps you to be more alert for danger and provides an adrenaline rush when needed. But your body isn’t meant to be in a state of chronic stress.
Chronic stress causes:
- High blood pressure.
- A weakened immune system.
- Inhibition of cognitive and problem-solving functions.
- Poor sleep and insomnia.
- Impaired memory.
- Emotional reactivity
- Anxiety and panic attacks.
Contrary to what you might believe, it’s not just about you. Because your mood will suffer (which means that you’ll end up taking it out on others including team members, peers and loved ones.
And your work product will suffer as well (it’s not like you can deliver your best work product when your problem-solving and creative thinking skills are impaired).
Go long enough, and you’ll burn out. You might even try escaping through unhealthy coping behaviors such as binge drinking, emotional eating, binge drinking and illegal drug use (as evidenced by attorneys, who suffer from higher than average rates of stress, anxiety, and depression).
[Worried that you might be burning out and not sure what to do about it? Listen to Episode 19 of the Life & Law Podcast for Burnout Symptoms, Sources & Solutions.]
The Secret To Effective Stress Management
In my experience, most chronically stressed professionals acknowledge their need to better manage stress. The problem is that they don’t believe they have control over what’s causing them to feel stressed. And so they do nothing.
What’s Really Causing Your Stress?
Contrary to popular belief, external events aren’t the primary source of most stress. What’s causing most stress are your thoughts (and how you process them).
Imagine that you’re working against a tight deadline on a big project for a new client. And then the deadline gets moved even closer. Is that stressful? Absolutely. But you have control over how you respond, which will determine how much stress you feel (and how you perceive that stress).
You could choose to focus on how unfair it is, complain incessantly and take your emotions out on your team (while aggravating an ulcer you thought you had control of). Or you could reframe the situation as a challenging learning experience that will sharpen your leadership skills.
Obviously, scenario two is preferred over scenario one. Although the initial (stressful) event hasn’t changed, your reaction can either mitigate its impact or create added stress and anxiety.
Why Your Thoughts Matter
Research shows that how you feel about stress matters. If you’re stressed but don’t see it as harmful, then you’re less likely to be negatively impacted than if you perceive the stress as a bad thing.
Your mentality is the secret ingredient to taking control of your stress. That’s why so many stress reducing techniques (such as deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation) are designed to:
- Calm and refocus your mind.
- Increase awareness (around your thoughts, stress triggers and habitual reactions).
- Objectively observe and process thoughts.
[Discover a stress-reducing strategy to employ at work that isn’t about mindfulness or meditation in Episode #22 of the Life & Law Podcast: Your Secret Ingredient To Stress Less.]
Understanding Self-Care (So That You’ll Adopt The Right Self-Care Activities)
To know what self-care activities are most likely to reduce and prevent stress, it’s important to understand what self-care actually is.
Because self-care often gets a bad wrap. Especially from us high-achievers.
Most of us fall into the trap of believing we don’t have the time for it, that it’s a luxury and so on.
But the truth is self-care is an essential ingredient to having both success and balance (and for having fun in life). Moreover, you deserve to prioritize your own wellness.
It’s time to redefine self-care.
What Self-Care Isn’t
Too many believe that self-care is about doing something luxurious (like taking a Spa Day), escaping normal life (perhaps through a long vacation) or just doing something to feel good in the moment.
When viewed merely through that lens, it’s no wonder so many high-achievers feel self-care guilt (and don’t prioritize it).
Self-care isn’t about just feeling good, escaping from your life or doing something luxurious (common ways of defining self-care). Here are some facts:
- There are plenty of things that make you feel good that aren’t self-care.
- Sometimes self-care involves getting uncomfortable.
- You can take good care of yourself without doing anything luxurious.
- Wanting to escape from your life is a sure sign that you NEED more self-care.
Do you sometimes experience self-care guilt? Read my article about How To Stop Feeling Guilty Taking Care Of Yourself >>> here.
What Self-Care Actually Is
The purpose of self-care is BE your best (in all aspects).
Self-care isn’t just about being physically fit. It’s about everything that you need to BE well – your mental/emotional health, your spiritual health and (yes) your physical health. Which means that self-care is any activity that promotes wellness in any one or more of these areas.
NOTE: self-care isn’t one-size-fits-all. And what you need to be well will change on any given day, based on circumstances, needs and even your mood.
That’s why it’s important to check in with yourself daily to ask “What do I need today to BE well (mentally, spiritually and physically)?”.
5 Self-Care Activities You Can Do Anywhere (Even At Work)
The whole point of self-care is to effectively manage stress. And that means not just reducing stress but preventing it too.
The most effective stress reducing techniques aim to:
- Interrupt the stress response within your mind.
- Refocus your thinking.
- Increase self-awareness (around your stress triggers, thoughts and habitual reactions).
- Rewire your mind for presence, and to objectively observe thoughts and feelings.
- Reframe your thinking to be more positive (in a healthy way).
Below are 5 powerful stress-reducing self care activities that incorporate one or more of the above strategies. None of these self-care activities take much time. All are simple. And each one can be done anywhere – even at work.
Self-Care Activity #1: Stress Journal
When dealing with strong emotions, we often want to act immediately. But that’s one of the worst things you can do. Although emotional responses can feel good in the moment, they almost always end in regret. And worse: they create more stress.
Instead of reacting with emotion, use the following (client-favorite) self-care activity to retake control of your emotions, become more self-aware and objectively process your feelings:
- Take a couple of deep, slow breaths through your nose to calm your mind.
- Get out a journal or piece of paper and answer the following questions (in order):
- What triggered your stress?
- What specific emotions are you feeling?
- What thoughts or beliefs are behind those emotions?
- Sit with your thoughts and feelings for at least 24 hours before addressing the issue.
- Come back and ask what you could do about the situation.
- List all of your options.
- Decide what (if anything) you want to do about what happened.
My clients often find that they don’t need to do anything once they come back to the problem because it has already worked itself out or they no longer feel emotionally charged.
This is one of my favorite self-care activities because it builds resilience and enables you to address problems with a more creative, rational mind (as opposed to acting out emotionally).
Self-Care Activity #2: 4-8-7 Breathing Technique
The 4-8-7 breathing technique is perfect for anyone who likes the idea of meditation but has trouble staying focused. It will help you break the stress response (through your breathing), be more present and refocus so that you can get back on track.
Here’s how this technique works:
- Breathe in (slowly) through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds.
- Repeat (3-5 times).
This stress reducing self-care activity is so simple that it can be done anywhere, whether at work, stuck in traffic, or while waiting in a long line (like the DMV). And because it forces you to count your breathing, it’s easier to stay focused on your breathwork (and not get distracted).
Self-Care Activity #3: Mindful Walking
Exercise is a well-known stress-buster. It refocuses your mind (and hence interrupts the stress response). And specific types of activities (such as yoga and tai chi) force you to breathe deeply, which immediately calms your mind.
Don’t have time for a full workout? Go for a 10-minute mindful walk, which combines the positive effects of moving, deep breathing and mindfulness.
Here’s what to do:
- Start by paying attention to your breath. Create a rhythm with your breathing and steps.
- Once a comfortable rhythm is set, identify 5 things that you see. Linger on each item to really focus on the colors, textures and whatever else that you see.
- Next, move on to identify 4 sounds. Closely observe each sound that you identify.
- You’ll next identify 3 things that you smell. Once again, focus on each specific smell before moving on.
- Finally, touch 2 things (separately) and pay attention to how each one feels.
This exercise gives you the full benefits of light exercise (especially if you set a faster walking pace), being outdoors (which has stress reducing benefits) and mindfulness all in one.
Self-Care Activity #4: Move To Music
This self-care exercise is on the list because it’s a great way to incorporate some lighthearted fun into your day while providing a pattern interrupt from stress so that you can regroup.
Here’s what to do:
- Take out your phone (or turn on the radio).
- Pick a song or station at random.
- Move or dance to the music.
Make sure to pick your song at random (don’t cheat!).
Self-Care Activity #5: Reframe In Gratitude
A regular gratitude practice retrains your mind to see the world (and process your thoughts) differently. It’s a proven way to feel more positive and hence reduce (and better manage) stress.
In addition, you can combine both gratitude and a technique called reframing to reduce stress when something has happened that’s out of your control (and stressful). Here’s how it works:
- There’s always something that can be learned or an opportunity for growth. Identify your growth opportunities (what’s gained, learned or developed).
- Reframe your situation focusing on the positive. NOTE: this isn’t about ignoring the negative parts, but instead reframing it to emphasize the positive aspect.
- Identify what you’re grateful for in this opportunity. And then explain why. [I’m grateful for X because Y].
To learn more about how to incorporate gratitude into your daily routine (and why), read my article about the Power Of Gratitude.
Self-care isn’t something you do just to feel better in the moment. It’s a necessity – especially if you want to be your best. And self-care need not be time consuming or limited to something you only do when not at work.
Use the following simple self-care activities to refocus your thoughts, reduce stress, and reenergize anywhere (even when at work):
- Stress journal
- 4-8-7 Technique
- Mindful Walking
- Move To Music
- Reframe In Gratitude
Ready to take this further? Grab your FREE copy of the Legal Mindset Mastery Toolkit, which contains 10 evidence-based mindset & stress management tools for banishing lawyer burnout. This powerful resource will help you rewire your mind to think, feel and be your best.