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Cultivating Resilience

This is the Second of Four Articles
Where Rebecca and Mike Will
Share Wellness Advice to Better
Balance a Law Practice

By Rebecca Martin and Michael Martin

In last month’s article, we wrote of the need for lawyers to address stress and anxiety.  A 2016 study jointly funded by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association found that depression, anxiety, and stress are significant problems for lawyers at much higher rates than for the population at large.  In response to the study, the ABA formed a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  Significantly, the task force recommended educating lawyers on resilience and optimism as a strategy for lawyer well-being.  A copy of The Path to Lawyer Well-Being:  Practical Recommendations for Positive Change can be found at

Resilience and optimism are skills a lawyer can use to reduce anxiety and stress.  Resilience and optimism can be taught.  Resilience is not a genetic personality trait and is something anyone can learn.  There are numerous steps to improve resilience and optimism.  In this article, we discuss some of our favorite tips.

It is OK to feel awful.  Bad things are going to happen to everyone.  It is part of the human condition.  Being resilient does not mean you never get discouraged.  Without painful experience, there would be no need for resilience.  Resilient people find ways to overcome adversity.  Resilience is not about masking your pain and pretending everything is perfect.  How you are feeling in the moment ultimately does not become as important as how you overcome the pain and stand back up.

Know that you are in control.  Some circumstances may be out of your control; however, your response is within your control.  Resilient people believe that they, not their circumstances, are in the driver’s seat.  Instead of wishing for a problem to go away, thoughtfully consider the problem and then make decisions on how to go forward.  To develop your internal locus of control, begin taking decisive actions, small and then large.

Set realistic goals.  One characteristic of resilient persons is that they set realistic goals for themselves.  You should set goals for yourself but set achievable goals.  If you fall short of too many lofty goals, you will blame that failure on yourself.  The scale of your goals must be reasonable while also fairly challenging yourself.

Practice mindfulness, positivity and gratitude.  Mindfulness, positivity and gratitude practices create functional and structural changes in the brain which support a healthy response to stress.  Neuroplasticity is the idea that we can rewire our brains.  We can strengthen the calming, rational prefrontal cortex and reduce activity in the instinctive, impulsive amygdala.  Try this simple exercise.  Whenever you have a negative thought, immediately think three positive thoughts (no matter how small).  When you start the day, think of at least five things for which you are grateful.  Meditation can also be helpful.   Just two minutes a day of meditation, even if just breathing or setting aside a time with no agenda, have been shown to create positive benefits.

Exercise.  Exercise strengthens and rewires the brain to make it more resilient to stress by increasing the neurochemicals that can calm the brain in times of stress.  Keep it simple (remember, set realistic goals).  Go for a walk to clear your head.  Dance while fixing dinner.  Throw a ball for the dog.  Play with your kids or grandkids.  Play time, like laughter, is good at any age.

Self-care.  Self-care includes the obvious items such as getting enough sleep, eating well, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and regular preventive medicine.  Self-care also includes less obvious items like setting appropriate limits on your professional and personal commitments, taking time off, and spending time with friends and family.

Develop a growth mindset.  Resilient people have a growth mindset – the belief that people have the potential to change.  It has been shown that individuals who believe that people can change report less stress and anxiety.  They also have more positive feelings about themselves in response to social exclusion as well as better physical health.

Help somebody.  Helping someone else gets your mind off your own problems.  Although formally volunteering is an option, do not overlook the positive impact of offering a smile or a kind word, opening a door, or just listening without judgement.

Turn it off.  Distressing news stories, magical life posts on social media by your friends, multiple email accounts, cell phones, and the lack of actual face-to-face interactions can add to the feeling of stress or that nothing is going right.  Try to limit the amount of time spent on your devices and following the news.

Resilience is a journey.  If you can incorporate some of the tips listed above, you can improve your resilience and reduce stress and anxiety.


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 supervising attorney.


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