Breath Control, Stress Control
Maryt L Fredrickson, Ninth Judicial District
To state the obvious, lawyering can be stressful. Thankfully, your body comes with free tools to quiet your mind and improve recovery after stress. You can control your reaction to stress by controlling your breath.
Fight or Flight
To understand our reaction to stress, we need a simple overview of parts of our nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls things like heartbeat, the lungs, and our glandular systems without requiring conscious control. Within the autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is our "fight or flight" system. It engages when we feel stress. Our heart rate increases, our senses are heightened, our muscles are tense, we sweat, and our adrenal system releases Cortisol and other hormones. In the early days of humanity, that worked well—if a saber-toothed tiger was chasing you, you needed your sympathetic nervous system to help you fight, flee, or freeze. Once the tiger went away, the sympathetic nervous system could relax and we could recover.
In the modern era, the tiger never really stops chasing you. A day might involve engaging with an upset client, followed by a meeting with an unfortunately hostile opposing counsel, followed by a hearing that doesn't go entirely your way, followed by needing to deal with a personal matter, and scrambling to work on a brief and still trying to make it home by a decent hour. Couple that with near-constant stimulus from electronic tools, dealing with commuter traffic, and the sensory bombardment during tasks as simple as going to a grocery store. And let's not forget underlying stressors that can exist regardless of daily stimulus, like financial pressure to pay off law school debt and or illness of a family member. Where in that description of a day did the body or the mind get to relax?
In sum, our sympathetic nervous systems are in a chronic state of over-activation. Chronic over-activation leads to digestive problems, heart issues, diminished immunity...