It had been years since I felt such intense anxiety gripping the insides of my stomach. So many thoughts went through my mind – Why is this happening again? Isn’t anxiety supposed to disappear when you do what you love? Haven’t I mastered this whole anxiety thing? I was getting ready to give an important presentation on new material I’d created, which I was genuinely excited about. So why was this old anxious feeling from my private practice days creeping into my happy place in the well-being world? Because I was afraid of failing. What if the audience doesn’t like my ideas? What if I forget something? What if someone asks a question I can’t answer?
Like many lawyers, perfectionism and fear of failure is something I have struggled with throughout my career. While my desire to do well has often been one of my biggest assets, it’s also been my Achilles heel. I shouldn’t have been surprised that these familiar feelings came back once I had a big moment in my new career. Even worse, my normal tools for managing anxiety weren’t enough that particular day. Meditations, self-compassion, and similar exercises weren’t softening the intensity of this anxiety.
Ironically, the thing that helped me was a technique I’d discarded from my “toolbox” because it rarely worked for me in the past – Mindful Walking. That day, I was desperate and willing to try anything. I began walking the length of my room, slowly and methodically picking up my feet and placing them back down heel-to-toe, one foot in front of the other. I focused on feeling the carpet fibers on the soles of my bare feet, my toes gripping as I got ready to push off for my next step, and the hard surface beneath the carpet as it pressed against my heels with each pace. At times, I closed my eyes to focus my attention on my feet (but mostly kept them open to avoid falling over – being graceful has never been my forte!).
I repeated this process for a few minutes, and almost stopped dead in my tracks the moment I felt my stomach beginning to relax. I remember hearing my inner voice yelling, “IT’S WORKING! KEEP GOING!” I ended up walking for about 30 minutes. My anxiety had disappeared long before then, but I was so overjoyed at how well this technique worked that I didn’t want the feeling to end. I even took it with me (literally) as I walked into my presentation, which thankfully went extremely well!
Many lawyers have shared stories about waking up in the middle of the night to pace in their bedrooms because they worried about how they handled a matter, were wrestling with how they would solve a complicated issue or were simply nervous about an upcoming hearing. Other lawyers pace in their offices during the daylight hours for similar reasons (or perhaps pacing just helps them think). Whether it’s a fear of failure or simply struggling with the challenges of practicing law, I encourage you to try mindful walking during moments of struggle. Experts cite many reasons for its effectiveness, including that it allows your mind to focus solely on your feet rather than whatever is causing you stress, and that your feet are literally the furthest point in your body from your mind.
I never imagined that a technique I had written off as “not for me” would be the thing that could pull me out of a real-time anxiety attack. Regardless of whether mindful walking resonates with you (it’s not for everyone), I encourage you to keep as many tools in your toolbox as possible and be willing to use them even if they haven’t worked in the past. If you’re a perfectionist like me and worry about failing, just remember you’re not alone and A LOT of lawyers feel this way (even when doing work that they love). So, it’s important to have options to work with in these tough moments.
Even though it was admittedly awful to experience this type of anxiety again, I’m actually grateful that it happened – I learned a new way to interrupt an anxiety attack as it’s happening, I realized that anxiety is still part of my story (whether I like it or not), and it reinforced my passion for teaching others how to navigate challenging moments to get more enjoyment out of their lives and careers. I never thought I’d be grateful for my anxiety, but there is a first time for everything!
Inhale through your nose for four counts and exhale out your mouth for eight counts. When you feel stressed, come back to your breath.
I wear fun socks each day, and now I'm known as the "fun sock lady" at my gym!
- Anne H. (Virginia)
I go to the gym before the sun is up and lately I have been walking there without my headphones in to enjoy the quiet peacefulness of the city before everyone wakes up. It’s sort of a meditative way to begin the day instead of constantly having pods/music/radio in my ear.
- Andrew C. (Pennsylvania)
Our firm has appointed me as “minister of culture” and my job is to always look to boost morale with work events, happy hours, fun sports pools and contests, and ensure we all take moments out of our days/weeks/months to enjoy our time together as co-workers and friends. - Tony C. (Virginia)
Be grateful for all you have to be grateful! - Kevin D. (Iowa)
I try to get outside for a walk every day, either with my dog or by myself! - Lori B. (Ohio)
I take mini-breaks throughout the day to play pieces I enjoy on my piano!
– Alice S. (Minnesota)
I always try to project positive energy to those around me regardless of the day I’m having. I’d rather project positivity than bring others down with negativity.
- Bill O. (Illinois)
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