Day 118 – After Anxiety and Insomnia

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Life After (Less) Anxiety

It’s been 2 months since I finished the Stanford 8-week Mindfulness course. I signed up for the class because I needed a different strategy to cope with the anxiety, stress and pressure of practicing law. (Who am I kidding, I didn’t have any strategy.)

Over the years, it felt as though my law practice was running my life. I would take some event involving an opposing counsel, trustee, client, judge and play it over and over in my head. I’d think of all the brilliant responses I wasn’t able to think of on my feet and replay the scene in my head. I regularly fell asleep worrying about a case (on the nights I was actually able to fall asleep) and wake up thinking about the same issue! I’d shower with my problems, drink coffee with it. Most of the time, I wasn’t actually doing anything productive. All I was doing was just spinning my wheels, causing more stress and anxiety.

Before I signed up for the class, I wondered what it would feel like to live with less anxiety? What would I do when I wasn’t up at 2:00 AM worrying? Would I miss my Twitter friends? (If you follow me on Twitter, you know I spend a lot of time keeping my fellow insomniacs company during the witching hours.)

 

Living with Less Anxiety – Tiny Steps

 

Living with less anxiety didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process – so gradual in fact that I didn’t notice it at first. What I did notice was that when some stress provoking event happened and I was starting to feel anxious, I noticed it happening. It’s subtle shift but it made all the difference.

Here’s the before and after script.

Before

OC: “When you’ve been practicing as long as I have, you’ll understand that blah blah blah blah blah”
Me: <Stunned into silence>

Now, I can relive this conversation play-by-play for the next day or two. I’d obsessively think of all the ways I can get back at him, plan out my next conversation, and in general, feel embarrassed at myself for not saying what an SOB he is on the spot.

 

Same Script – Different Internal Dialogue

 

Now

The script is still the same.

BUT, instead of “that SOB, blah blah blah” or “OMG, why did you let him talk to you like that, what the hell is wrong with you, what kind of lawyer are you? You just suck.” I can catch myself at that moment and say “Oh, you’re angry.” I may still go through the anger but I can have just a bit of detachment from my feelings. Instead of being completely immersed in the feelings, I can experience it with a bit of objectivity. Sometimes, I can even show myself some compassion and say “Wow. That’s really f***ing awful.”

 

Finding Time for Myself

 

I can say with absolute certainty that cultivating a mindfulness practice has helped me cope and better deal with all the things that can make your blood pressure go through the roof. This isn’t to say that I don’t get angry or have moments when I want to reach into the phone and rip the opposing counsel’s head off, but I have these moments less and I can catch myself getting riled up much earlier.

When I tell someone (particularly another lawyer) about all the amazing positive changes I noticed after the Mindfulness class, they’re usually very excited. When I tell them what that entails – 45 minutes of daily meditation, I  can almost feel the deflation. Finding time to meditate is admittedly difficult. But when I think of all the hours I spent in a state of anxiety, 45 minutes is nothing. I can easily double or triple my meditation time and still come out way ahead. Besides, I’ve tried many other “stress management” techniques and none of them have worked. I wasn’t interested in medicating my anxiety. So, Mindfulness was the last resort for me.

Now, when I go for more than a few days without sitting, I notice an internal shift. I’d imagine it’s a similar sensation to those that run long distance regularly or have an habitual exercise routine. When I sit, it feels comfortable. It’s this feeling of “Oh, there you are. Again. That’s me. Hello. Nice to see you again.”

Pretty awesome.

 

PS – You can also read this interview on Lawyerist I did on Zen Lawyering

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