This is the First of 4
Where Rebecca and Mike Will
Share Wellness Advice to Better
Balance a Law Practice
COME ON PEOPLE….
WELL-BEING IS IMPORTANT!
By Rebecca Martin and Michael Martin
“If You Find Yourself Digging a Hole, Stop Digging.” Will Rogers.
A 2016 study jointly funded by the Hazelden Betty Ford
Foundation and the American Bar Association concluded that alcohol use
disorders were much higher among lawyers than other populations. Depression, anxiety, and stress were also
found to be significant problems for lawyers at much higher rates than the
population at large.
After considering the findings of the Hazelton / ABA Study,
the ABA Practice Division, Attorney Well-Being Committee wrote: “Many U.S.
lawyers find themselves in a profession drained of civility and compassion and
plagued by chronic stress, poor self-care, high rates of depression and rampant
alcohol abuse. … It’s estimated that 40
– 70% of disciplinary and malpractice proceedings stem from lawyers’ stress-related
mental illness, substance abuse, or both.”
Ann M. Brafford, Chairperson, Attorney Well-Being Committee, ABA Law
Practice Division, letter of October 31, 2016.
We teach STOP as a device to get lawyers to pause when their
world gets too stressful or chaotic.
STOP is an acronym for Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and then
Proceed. A mindful STOP practice can
re-center you when you need it most.
STOP is a strategy to use during challenging situations. It is a simple concept. But, like many things that are simple and
obvious, it is easy to overlook. The
goal is to create a gap between stimulus and response, and to breathe. Before you respond to the angry email, STOP. Before you respond to the emotional client,
STOP. Before you pick up the phone from opposing
The first step is simply to stop what you are doing and
bring your awareness to the present moment.
It can be helpful to visualize a stop sign. The next step is to take a deep breath and
slowly exhale. If you have time, this
second step can include a minute or two minutes of deep breathing. The third step is to observe what is
happening around you and inside you.
Acknowledge what you can see, hear, sense and feel. If you are feeling a strong emotion, such as
anger or fear, don’t leap to a judgment.
You are not your thoughts or your emotions. If you can create a gap between what is
causing the emotion and your response, your response will be more thoughtful
and less reactionary. Finally, proceed
positively and reconnect with your surroundings and activity, or if necessary,
redirect to a different activity.
Consciously breathing has at least two benefits. First, thinking about breathing and deciding
to take a deep breath creates a pause and naturally establishes a gap between stimulus
and response. Viktor Frankl, a noted
neurologist, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor said, “[b]etween stimulus and
response, there is a space. In that
space lays our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lays out growth and our
When your mind is overloaded, if you can consciously pause,
take a deep breath to collect yourself, and then proceed, you will find that
you are calmer. You might even make
better decisions. Do it often enough and
it will become habit. When you see
someone else struggling, simply remind the person to breath. This person may not directly understand the
practice of STOP, but you have encouraged the person to STOP.
Secondly, when you are under stress, you tend to breathe
more shallowly, reducing the oxygen that your brain needs. Stating the obvious, our brains work better
with more oxygen.
To get the greatest benefit, breathe deeply into your
diaphragm and then slowly exhale.
The practice of STOP is also available to connect us more
completely to the wonderful play of life rather than living our life in our
heads. STOP to smell the roses. STOP to play with your child. STOP to offer a helping hand. Sometimes we get so caught up in the busyness
of life that we forget to just live and enjoy the simple pleasures of a
butterfly, a rainbow, the laughter of children, or even a small step forward in
The next time you are in a stressful situation, give STOP a
try. It is an easy, simple tool that can
help reduce stress and may improve your decision making.
About the Authors
Rebecca D. Martin is a Kansas City attorney experienced in
tax law, taxpayer representation, business planning and transactions, and
estate planning and probate, and has practiced law over 30 years. Since 2010, Ms. Martin has volunteered as a
meditation leader at Unity Temple on the Plaza with its Serenity Pause group
guided meditation program, and was certified to teach meditation in 2013.
Michael S. Martin has a solo practice in Westwood, Kansas,
focusing in the areas of estate, probate, corporate and business
representation, and related litigation and mediation. He has volunteered with the Kansas Lawyers
Assistance Program since 2001, serving as an attorney monitor and a practice