What to Say when the World Doesn't Feel OK

By Laura Mahr

How are you doing? Are you ok? If you’re like most attorneys I’m speaking with these days, the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic is likely impacting your mental-emotional state more than ever. As difficult as it is to admit, many of us are not feeling so great. Some of us may be frustrated by our frustration, or exhausted by our exhaustion, thinking we should be better able to deal with high levels of pandemic-related stress. Yet it is normal to be experiencing more challenges now than ever during the pandemic. The longer the pandemic wears on, the more the tension in our bodies accumulates, and the more likely we are to feel out of balance or unwell.

Understanding the neurobiology of stress can help us to be more patient with ourselves and others as we navigate the upcoming months. The human nervous system is built to handle short-term stress and then rest and recover. As the months of adjusting and adapting to practicing law and living life within the pandemic wear on, our nervous systems are looking for an “end in sight.” When there is no clear end, it is both challenging to get the rest and recovery we need and to know how to pace ourselves for what’s to come. Without mental, emotional, or physical rest, recovery, and pacing, we are greatly challenged to experience an on-going sense of well-being in our lives.

One of the best things to do when life feels uncertain is to offer our nervous system reassurance in the present moment. Even though there are a lot of things in our lives that don’t feel safe or known right now, telling ourselves that “right here, right now, I’m OK” can help to pause an escalation of stress in the here and now, and give our nervous system a mini-moment of rest and recovery.

The next time you notice yourself feeling worried about the future, try this:

Find a phrase that is comforting and resonates with you. For example,

  • Even though I’m worried about the future, right now, I’m OK.
  • Even if I don’t know what’s on the horizon, right now I’m all right.
  • Even though I’m uncertain about a lot of things, I’ve got this.
  • Even though this is really hard, this too shall pass.

Then, instead of ruminating about what will or won’t happen in the future, focus on saying or writing your comforting phrase for two to three minutes. Once the two to three minutes pass, notice if there’s any positive change in your experience. For example, can you take a deeper breath; are your shoulders more relaxed; does your mind feel more clear? If yes, congratulate yourself--it worked! The more you practice, the easier it gets to come up with comforting phrases, remember to say them to yourself, experience the mini-reset, and enjoy the results.

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 consciouslegalminds.com.

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): consciouslegalminds.com/register

If you are interested in contributing your own story to the Sidebar, click here. The Sidebar is supported by the stories of our readers, and we appreciate your contributions.