Jun 27

One of the ways that stress steals your contentment in life is by how quickly we can start to waste most of our free time thinking and worrying about the future. When you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it can be hard to shut off the thoughts about what you need to do tomorrow, how you are going to manage a potential crisis at work, how will your superior at the firm react to you requesting time off, or how you need to pull in more clients to keep the practice afloat. These thoughts often do not have concrete solutions. There are no simple answers that will satisfy the concern that you feel. Yet we almost instinctively respond to stress by wasting more time worrying about the sources of that stress.

It is an unfortunate, yet very common, situation for an overwhelmed attorney to come home from a stressful day and instead of relaxing and spending some quality time with loved ones, the attorney is half-present. Not truly connecting with others, not fully listening to those around them, and unable to offer much emotional support because that attorney feels completely emotionally drained. If you can identify with this scenario, here is a simple technique to try in order to take a small step away from worry and stress and toward greater connection with loved ones and the present moment.

Mindfulness is a practice of intentionally directing your attention to the present moment through the use of your physical senses. This can be done with any of your senses. Mindful eating is a popular technique where you focus your attention on the colors, tastes, smells, sounds, temperature, and textures of the food that you are eating. Mindfulness gives your mind something to focus on that is in the present moment. Which is in direct contrast to worry and anxiety which are future oriented. Mindfulness asks the question, what is occurring right here and now, in this present moment? The more intentional you can be about staying in the present moment, the less anxiety you will feel. Anxiety cannot live in the present moment; it needs the vague expanse of the future to thrive.

Mindful conversation is another helpful technique that will not only help you stay in the present moment, but it will also improve your relationships with everyone in your life. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t try to multitask (trying to listen while also review a to-do list in your head does not work)
  • Listen to the words that the other person is saying
  • Notice the tone, volume, and intonation of those words
  • Try to identify the emotions being expressed through those words
  • Notice when you do not understand something and ask clarifying questions
  • Paraphrase what you have heard and ask if it is accurate
  • Reflect the emotions that you noticed and validate those emotions
  • Share your thoughts in response

Each time you notice that your attention has drifted away to a to-do list or other concern, stop and ask the person to repeat what they have said. If you start to feel lost in the conversation you are more likely let your attention drift and simply wait for the person to stop talking. Staying intentionally engaged requires effort and practice. Start small and practice regularly. Your stress will go down and your relationships will improve.


Shawn Healy, PhD



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