Completing Your Stress Cycle

As many of us transition back to in-office work and in-person legal proceedings, we are finding that our stress is increasing. Our “new normal” at work now includes novel stressors including navigating mask and vaccine-related issues and policies. Additionally, returning to in-person litigation and trials after months away is elevating anxiety levels, even for well-seasoned litigators.

When we experience any kind of stressor—including physical, mental, or emotional stress—our bodies instantaneously change both neurologically and physiologically. Our bodies produce stress hormones that mobilize us to physically escape the stressor by running away or physically fighting it. These stress hormones kick into gear even if the stressor isn’t escapable by running away or fighting. You may notice this happens to you: you think about an upcoming mental or emotional challenge and feel your muscles tense, your heart rate increase, your blood pressure rise, and your breathing speed up. Although your body is producing hormones to help you physically escape, there’s nowhere to run that will actually take you away from the problems you face as a lawyer. As you’ve likely noticed, in our line of business, problems are best solved by creative problem solving or negotiating, not by physically running away or physically fighting anyone.

If we skip the step in stress recovery of physically releasing the stress hormones we naturally produce when we encounter a mental or emotional stressor, it can lead to health conditions related to chronic stress, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Research shows that it is optimal to “complete the stress cycle” by helping the stress hormones to leave your body. The very best way to do that is through movement. Why? Because the stress hormones were trying to help us by getting us physically out of the situation. We can help our bodies to “complete the cycle” by giving the stress hormones an outlet. When I work with clients, we tailor ways to complete the stress cycle to their individual needs. For example, some people like to run, cycle, walk, or dance their stress hormones out. Others who don’t enjoy hardcore exercise come up with different kinds of movement, like progressive muscle relaxation or gentle yoga.

The next time you notice a stressor, pay attention to your physical symptoms; and then if you can—right then and there—complete the stress cycle. Do a little movement, such as stand up, walk around, go get a glass of water, jump up and down, or shake your hands and feet. When you have more time at the end of your day, you can spend more time moving or exercising to move any additional stress hormones out of your body. The more you practice integrating movement into your day, the more you complete the stress cycle, and the easier it is to then move into a place of relative calm and relaxation.

Laura Mahr is a North Carolina and Oregon lawyer and the founder of Conscious Legal Minds LLC, providing well-being coaching, training, and consulting for attorneys and law offices nationwide. Her work is informed by 13 years of practice as a civil sexual assault attorney, 25 years as a student and teacher of mindfulness and yoga, a love of neurobiology, and a passion for resilience. Find out more about Laura’s coaching and training at

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness and resilience in the practice of law, check out Laura’s online, on-demand CLEs: “Mindfulness for Lawyers: Building Resilience to Stress Using Mindfulness, Meditation, and Neuroscience” (1 hour or 4 hour courses)(approved for mental health and/or general CLE credits by the NC State Bar):

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