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'Good God, it's morning!': how to make stress work for you.

Every professional experiences stress. Trial lawyers are not immune. The call for "tort reform" .. too much work and too little time to do it ... concerns about clients--all these stressors take their toll and make it difficult for attorneys to be the positive people they need to be to know personal and professional success.

So what can you do about the stress that challenges you as a trial lawyer, so that you can be positive and productive in both your professional and personal life?

Let me first offer some general observations about stress and then offer a prescription for successfully managing it.


People can generally manage stress if they choose the stressor.

For example, if you opt to work overtime on a case that particularly interests you, or if you elect to be a caregiver for a sick family member, or if you choose to undertake some difficult and time-consuming yet important community function, you will manage this task better because you have chosen it.

However, if the stress is imposed by someone or something else, you will have a harder time managing it. For instance, if bureaucratic rules or regulations compound the difficulty of practicing law, or if your spouse or partner leaves, or if a loved one dies, you will have more difficulty managing this stress.

People can manage stress better if they can see some light at the end of the tunnel (assuming it is not from an oncoming train).

Your legal workload may be very taxing at times, but if you know that the pressure will be eased or off for a while at a certain point, then you can see an end to the stress--at least until the next stressor comes along. But if the stress keeps on coming and seems as though it will never end, it will be much harder to manage.

People who manage stress well know that life is full of stress.

For example, although the world is constantly changing, you can surely count on one thing: You cannot drive very far in any direction without encountering the stress of road construction, a disabled car, or an accident. So if you expect to run into the stress that is part of driving on overcrowded roads, you will be better able to handle that stress when you meet it.

Some people deal with high levels of stress better than others.

Why do some people with high-stress, high-demand lives--like lawyers--do well under stress, while others let the stress get the best of them?

An interesting study was conducted on 50 prominent people who work and live under high stress-people as diverse as philanthropist David Rockefeller, actress Lindsay Wagner, and baseball star Cal Ripken Jr. The study found that, despite their highly scheduled lives and difficult workloads, they not only cope with stress but are able to manage it well. Why is this so?

* They see life's problems as challenges to be met head-on rather than threats to their well-being to be avoided at all costs.

* When tough challenges confront them, they commit themselves to solutions rather than doing nothing and hoping the problems will go away.

* And last, but certainly not least, they display a keen love of life, a sense of humor, and a positive spirit--which are essential for professional and personal success and satisfaction. (Kenneth Pelletier, Sound Mind, Sound Body, 134-35 (1994).)

Stress is not a condition to be avoided at all costs.

How fulfilling would a job be if it didn't offer the challenge to perform better, learn new skills, and achieve new goals? How exciting is a personal relationship without stress--a relationship that is going nowhere--one that becomes so routine and monotonous that the parties want to get out of it? Without stress, you can stagnate and become like the person in the Dale Carnegie newspaper ad: "Died, age 25 ... buried, age 65."


Stress is not the problem; `dis-stress' is. Dis-stress that keeps on coming and does not let up. Dis-stress that cm lead to dis-ease, such as ulcers, heart problems, or depression. Dis-stress can even lead to death.

So what can you do to be in control of, rather than be controlled by, stress? Consider these guidelines for building up--for stockpiling--good stress so you can prevent stress from becoming dis-stress.

Stress your body with good nutrition and regular exercise.

Poor diet and lack of exercise can harm your health. Conversely, good nutrition and regular exercise can help you manage stress. Here are two important goals and some excellent reasons to pursue them.

* Drink lots of water, at least 10 glasses, eight ounces each, a day. Why? Because water is filling. It is the only beverage that satisfies thirst, has no calories, and flushes the waste from your body. And since we are mainly composed of water (about 80 percent), doesn't it figure that you should drink lots of it? When you are tempted to cat a candy bar or sip a soda to cope with cravings, try drinking a glass or two of water--it's water that your body craves.

* Do some type of aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, running) three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Statistics show that if you exercise regularly, you can expect to live more fully each day and also extend your fife a few years. Regular exercise improves both quality and quantity of life.

Stress your mind and spirit with the gift of healthy relationships.

Lonely people get sicker more often and the earlier than people who reach out to others. Members of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon choose a special friend called a "sponsor" to help keep them on the path to recovery. Do you have a close friend to help you and encourage you when you need support and also correct you and warn you when you are off base?

Stress your body, mind, and spirit with the gift of a balanced life.

Do you keep a play schedule to balance your busy work schedule? Have you scheduled days off and vacations away from work? Do you have special fun places to frequent and friends to call and say, "Let's go play"? Remember, when you were a child you were an expert on play. So recapture the gift of play. Work plus relaxation equals re-creation.

Stress your whole self through the gift of laughter and a positive spirit.

Positive people produce positive results. Let me share with you my 10-second sermon. You have a choice as you begin each new day. You can awaken and say, "Good morning, God," or flip it over and say, "Good God, morning!" The one you choose will determine the nature of your day.

Last, but not least, use stress for your success through a healthy, beauty spirit.

It is this kind of spirit that holds the body and mind together and enables you to use stress for success. So how do you exercise, or stress, your spirit? Consider these time-honored suggestions.

* Stress your spirit through the beauty of nature. Whether you most enjoy the beach, the mountains, or your own backyard, you know the blessings nature offers. Take time out of your busy schedule to get away from it all in some beautiful place and have your spirit refreshed through the beauty of nature.

* Stress your spirit and help keep nature beautiful by gardening, picking up trash on your street, or perhaps contributing to programs that keep nature beautiful such as clean-air or clean-water programs. In performing these activities, you refresh your spirit by caring for the natural world.

* Stress your spirit by doing good for others. You must reach out and touch others to experience the great satisfaction that comes from sharing your love.

Of course, you should care for those most dear to you, your family. But you are linked to a much larger world family. You can also feed your spirit by sharing your love with people everywhere through gifts of time and energy and money. Be a good neighbor, and when you are, you will experience the inner satisfaction that warms your spirit through sharing.

* Stress your spirit through appreciation of the finer things in life. This is not easy to do, surrounded and assaulted as people are today by the sensational and the banal. So make time to visit art museums and drink in the works of the Masters--spirit-stimulators like Michelangelo and da Vinci. Attend concerts and hear the sounds of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. Read the classics of Shakespeare and Dickens.

These and other exercises for the spirit, or "spiritual exercises" if you will--such as celebrating strengths and accepting limitations, forgiving others and being forgiven, and worshiping privately and publicly--are all avenues leading to the development of a healthy, hearty spirit, which is the key ingredient in a prescription for managing stress.

And Now, to Begin

Do you want to successfully meet the stresses of professional life? Do you want to keep stress from becoming dis-stress and perhaps resulting in dis-ease? Do you want to manage stress rather than be managed by--or rather, mismanaged by--it?

Then may I leave you with one last prescription, which forms the central theme of all the major religions of the world. Love God, love yourself, and love others. You will be richly blessed, and you will prove to be a blessing to a world in need of peace and good will.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Association for Justice
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Maberry, Barron
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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