Stress is an inherent part of life and it is prolific within the legal profession. We all are faced with uncertainties, dilemmas, conflicts, changes, and the inability to control many life events. With the accelerated pace of living, the ever-growing demands of work, and the diminished connection with family and friends, we often become overwhelmed.
Left unchecked over time, chronic stress impairs our functioning, productivity, health, and quality of life. Often people suffer in silence with feelings of worry, anxiety, and depression.
Fortunately, there is a remarkable scientifically-researched way to change your relationship with stress, to participate in your own self-care, and to contribute to your own growth and development as a human being, using mind and body awareness. This program has existed for over 40 years and is now the clinical and scientific standard adopted in stress reduction programs in major medical centres worldwide. It is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Since the launch of this program, a new field within medicine has emerged and proliferated: the science of mindfulness and its effects on health and well-being.
The 2018, Harvard Gazette article, When Science Meets Mindfulness, describes the soaring public interest in mindfulness, as well as the rising scientific attention with randomized controlled trials, the gold standard for clinical study. It states that mindfulness studies show health benefits for multiple physical and mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.1
In a recently published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was found to be a well-tolerated treatment option with comparable effectiveness to a first-line medication for patients with anxiety disorders.2
Not only have physicians and psychologists been training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for decades, mindfulness has made the leap into mainstream corporate culture. Currently, over 20% of Fortune 500 companies offer mindfulness training, including Apple and Nike.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is about being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment, without judgment. It is about being aware – of your thoughts, your emotions, and your bodily sensations. It is about self-observation with an openness, curiosity and acceptance, while letting go of self-criticism.
Mindfulness is not about ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. It is about showing up in your life, moment by moment, with awareness, and recognizing how you are in relationship with everything in your life.
In his foundational book on mindfulness, Full Catastrophe Living, Kabat-Zinn provides a practical guide for harnessing the transformative power of mindfulness to enhance your awareness of what is imbalanced in your life, including maladaptive coping behaviours such as substance abuse and workaholism.3 Much like shining a light in darkness, better awareness allows you to see your habitual patterns and reactions and choose to respond differently.
The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program provides an evidence-based, structured 8-week training opportunity for participants to practice mindfulness and apply this skill to the specific challenges and stressors in their life. The program is empowering. It helps you reconnect with yourself, and take charge of your life direction, your level of health, and your level of well-being.
Through the 8-weeks of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, participants meet weekly for 2.5 hours and learn foundational techniques to respond more effectively to stress, pain, intense emotion, and illness. These techniques include exploring present moment field of awareness, gentle movement, meditation, breathing, and deep relaxation. As well, participants learn how to develop better resilience to life stressors and effective coping strategies.
Incorporated within the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program are essential attitudes to mindfulness practice which are qualities of awareness:
1. Non-judging: involves cultivating impartial observation towards any experience without labeling
something as good/bad or right/wrong
2. Non-striving: being in the moment, where you are, without movement away from whatever arises
3. Beginner’s Mind: seeing things as new and fresh, as if for the first time
4. Trust: involves trusting yourself: your observations, feelings, and intuition
5. Acceptance: acknowledging thoughts and feelings as they are in a moment without trying to
impose what you believe you should think or feel
6. Letting be: letting things be as they are presenting in a moment
7. Self-compassion: cultivates love for yourself as you are
8. Gratitude: allows you to enjoy the moment with a sense of appreciation
Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been shown by researchers using brain scanning technology at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, to induce changes in brain structure. The power to change our brain’s neural connections in response to repeated experiences is known as neuroplasticity.4
Being mindful does not change the existence of future sources of stress. Rather, with mindfulness, you learn to shift your self-awareness, perspective, emotional balance, relationship with circumstances, and how you choose to respond.
Being mindful does not erase the trauma of the past. However, mindfulness can help explore our feelings and understanding of the meaning you have attached to an event. Mindfulness can help to leave victimhood and feelings of shame behind because mindfulness is an essential component of self-compassion. Better awareness of negative core beliefs allows for more self-kindness and self-compassion in the processing of beliefs and associated emotions. This can prevent thoughts about failing at one task from being generalized to beliefs of “I am a failure in life” or “I am not enough”.
Learning to cultivate mindfulness, liberates us to live authentically. It allows us to acknowledge our difficult feelings and thoughts, to see their origins more clearly, and to experience deeper states of acceptance and peace. It takes courage to step up and do the work. This is the path of personal growth. It is not easy. But what is the cost to each of us of not doing this work – how much loss, grief and suffering?
“Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
We at LAPBC are here to help. We provide a variety of services and are strictly confidential. Our counsellors are trained counsellors who have practised law previously. You can call us at 604-685-2171 or see our website at www.lapbc.com.
Join us in March for our workshop: Mindfulness and Lawyer Well-Being (https://info.lapbc.com/mindfulness-and-lawyer-well-being-2023).
Individual mindfulness-based stress reduction support is also available.
1. When Science Meets Mindfulness, The Harvard Gazette: April 9, 2018
2. Hoge EA, Bui E, Mete M, et al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders, A Randomized Clinical Trial.
JAMA Psychiatry.2022. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.3679
3. Kabat-Zinn, J. 2013. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. 2nd ed. New York: Delacourt.
4. Kabat-Zinn, J. 2013. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face. Stress, Pain and Illness. 2nd ed. New York: Delacourt. Introduction, xli-xlii