New Zealand Law Society - How I’ve helped myself: A sole practitioner’s tale

How I’ve helped myself: A sole practitioner’s tale

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I am a sole practitioner who has been challenged with an extreme stress response and extreme levels of anxiety all my practising life. I have practised since 1984, for the first 15 years as a lawyer for three middle-size law firms and thereafter as a sole practitioner.

I have been particularly proactive throughout the last year to self-help my way through an increasingly stressful professional life.

These are some of my tips which I have found very helpful. I acknowledge that not all of these will help all of you, but hopefully some of them will resonate:

Gentle to moderate exercise for 30 minutes every day

Move the stress out of the physical body (in order to control the emotional stress) – moderate daily exercise such as walking, stretching or restorative yoga, and tai chi. I find it best not to do anything too strenuous as that only adds to the stress which an already stressed body is holding – so no more running, weight training or interval training as that drove me into a state of physical exhaustion.

Learn how to relax

Quietening the mind to minimise the mental activity of the mind – guided meditation or guided relaxation works best because the restless mind cannot shut off by itself, especially after a stressful day. This gives the mind and body a chance to relax properly for a period of time each day without you feeling frustrated that you can’t sit in meditation without being overwhelmed by the stressful thoughts running through your mind when you should be achieving mindfulness. I am also seeing a hypnotherapist once a week and have really benefitted from the guided relaxation that brings to the body and mind.

Juices to the rescue

I juice vegetables and fruits every day – usually twice a day and have found this to be incredible in replenishing much needed vitamins, minerals and enzymes lost through the relentless stress response. It’s incredibly easy to do and very easy to consume. When one is stressed, the appetite either takes a nosedive or increases rapidly with an unhealthy fondness for junk food and alcohol – neither is helpful long term. It’s not difficult to drink your way to health in a positive way.

Get your bloods done

I was recently incorrectly diagnosed with Addison’s disease and was put on a two-month waiting list to see an endocrinologist for treatment going forward. With my symptoms getting worse by the day, I was desperate to find a way to cope with my professional and personal life while waiting for my appointment. I undertook my own medical research with the assistance of Dr Google and I asked my doctor for a new set of blood tests based from a neurological angle and not the hormonal angle he had approached my condition. The new blood results showed that I had a high folate level but normal vitamin B12 level. I then researched what a high folate level meant and found it was known to mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. Now, with the assistance of monthly vitamin B12 shots and daily vitamin B12 supplements, I am feeling a million times better and ALL my symptoms have gone … and I cancelled the endocrinologist appointment.

Consider coming from a wellness stance

I saw an alternative health practitioner during my wait time for the endocrinologist appointment and I found profound benefits from this. The body does not lie and the weekly kinesiology session gave me some very interesting insights into where my stress is held and how it can be released from the body. I also learned more about diet, relaxation and the general wellness state of my body and how to improve that. As an aside, my first employer has been seeing the same practitioner for the last three years to assist him to rid his body and mind of the effects of stress, even though he retired five years ago. It seems that the damage stress does to our bodies continues even after retirement, unless we actively address it, as he was doing. The first sign is: we cannot relax, even after the stressors which caused the stress are long gone because our bodies have literally forgotten how to do so – we need to relearn the relaxation response.

New way of working

I now work from home in the mornings to deal with complicated matters without the constant interruption experienced in the office. I still receive the same emails as my staff do, so I can easily and quickly deal with “urgents” which invariably crop up. I have employed a legal executive to attend to immediate client matters and progress files in the mornings. I have gained a huge amount of time by doing this. I have also gained relief from the constant “being on top of everything” and clients don’t even notice the difference as they are still being well looked after. I regularly check in during the morning with my staff to make sure all is running smoothly.

Use vitamin and mineral supplements

Stress strips vitamins and minerals from our system, hence my vitamin B12 deficiency, so I take supplements every day to prevent this. This helps build a resilience in the body to the physical impact of stress.

Emotional freedom technique or “tapping”

This is a very strange process which helps to calm down the amygdala (responsible for the “fight or flight” response) and is very helpful in clearing a distressed mind and body to enable meaningful action to take place. It’s very useful when one is in the midst of the stress or anxiety response. See the website

Soak the stress away

Epsom salt baths are amazing for coaxing those stressed muscles and nerves into calm at the end of a stressful day. It also helps to remove the resulting toxins left behind by the stress and anxiety response.

Off-load the stress

Find someone to talk to regularly. It’s best to use someone who is skilled to assist, such as a life coach or counsellor. The chance to offload and verbalise the stress and anxiety in a constructive way moves the effects out of the body.

Breathe the stress out/become a “surrender warrior”

The fastest way to calm the body and mind down is to use special breathing techniques to clear the nervous system and mind. Look to yoga or YouTube to learn these techniques; they really do help.

I believe the practice of law is a stressful one and we all need to take proactive steps to look after ourselves and those around us. I wish I’d known about some of these de-stress strategies years ago (acknowledging, again, that what works for me, may not necessarily work for you). I wish you all the best on your own self-help journeys.

Sarah Taylor is the co-ordinator of this series, a senior lawyer, and the Director of Client Solutions at LOD, a law firm focused on the success and wellbeing of lawyers.

If you or your workplace is doing something interesting in this space, please contact Sarah:

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