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Stress in Law Part 3: How you can address stress-related issues

Written by: The Lawyer
Published on: 29 Jun 2016

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In the final part of their three part series on stress in law, Systemic Coach Zita Tulyahikayo and barrister James Pereira QC consider how you can address stress related issues.


Most of us think we know what stress is. Yet it seems to have become something to be tolerated as if it were benign, harmless even. Regardless of its effects, be they minor irritations or the cause of a mental or physical breakdown, the sad reality is that most people will suffer in silence, and often a great deal is sacrificed or lost before the suffering becomes so great it forces the sufferer to seek help.

A better path is to address the issue before one’s professional performance is compromised and one’s personal life has been negatively impacted.

Seeking help is a sign of strength

articleThere is a common yet misguided belief that actively seeking the help of a professional is a sign of weakness. On the contrary, seeking help is a sign of emotional intelligence, strength and maturity. An ever increasing number of high-achieving professionals, leaders and managers interact with some kind of coaching or therapy every day.

This is a clear indication that being truly successful in life is not something one can accomplish alone. In part this comes down to questions of self-regard and self-value: do you see yourself as a high-end automobile to be kept fine-tuned and serviced, or as a cheap, disposable piece of kit to be run into the ground?

As we noted in the Part 1 of this series, the first step in seeking help is to take responsibility for oneself, which inevitably involves accepting that you are worth helping in the first place.

Changing patterns of behaviour

Biologically we are inherently adaptable and able to change. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s potential to reorganize by creating new neural pathways to adapt to new needs. This scientific perspective has given us highly effective tools for addressing stress and changing patterns of behaviour that no longer suit our needs. Your brain is constantly undergoing changes, which impact mindset, behaviour and stress. The power of neuroplasticity means that you can consciously make daily choices that will affect the structure and connection of your brain. This is exciting because it means we literally have the power to change our lives by changing the way we think and perceive our experiences. It is fascinating in its simplicity and ease of use.

Below is a basic list of things that you can do to support yourself in your working life, to make genuine success possible and consequently to feel rewarded and satisfied.

Mindful meditation

Mindful meditation is a powerful de-stressor. The beauty of it is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. Once you have grasped the basics, the more you practice, the better you get. With practice, you will become more able to handle potentially stressful situations. You can easily fit in a few minutes in a tea break, on the train, in a taxi or just before a very important meeting.

You can meditate with your eyes open or closed, if your eyes are open just focus them on a point in front of you as if you were trying to look at the middle of your forehead, take ten deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, focus on a simple word or sentence, such as ‘I am becoming more and more relaxed in every part of my body’, and continue as you notice the stress in your mind and body starts to subside. With a little practice you will be able to swiftly reduce your level of stress in common, day-to-day situations. There are plenty of online resources providing guidance and support to help you with this practice.


There are numerous studies extolling the enormous benefits of regular exercise, and reducing stress is high on that list. This does not have to be about running marathons across the desert or cycling across continents. Thirty minutes to one hour at least three times a week is significantly better than nothing.

Exercise does not need to be high impact to be effective. Yoga has the benefit of combining meditation and exercise to enhance mental acuity and sense of self. There is a vast array of yoga styles to choose from, enough to suit the needs of all.

Improving social connections

Being socially connected supports you in feeling safe and secure. Working long hours can interrupt your most important relationships with family and friends, yet it is these very connections that support your wellbeing and act as a crucial buffer from stress.

Belonging is an essential part of human survival, yet so many people try to live successfully with low quality long – term social connections and then wonder why they feel depressed, sad, lonely and angry. Try and see your social connections as supporting your working life, not conflicting with it.

If there are difficulties with your family life, then seek professional help to address the underlying issues. Many of the challenges, disputes and wins in the work environment reflect, or are influenced by, issues arising from your family of origin or the family you create with your significant other. Once addressed, the benefits that flow from moving towards harmony in the personal realm will significantly reduce stress in the work arena.

Coaching and therapy
ArticleThe benefits of having an impartial professional in whom you can confide remains an essential ingredient to maintaining a healthy balanced life, particularly for issues that are the cause of chronic stress and trauma. Working with someone who can keep the plasticity, the malleability of your cognitive processes tipped towards supporting you can never be undervalued. Your potential to keep developing and improving needs to be harnessed, so that it can truly flourish and continue on a path of growth.

Coaching can take many forms. Typically coaching will be based on a model, of which there are many. These models provide a strategy that will allow you to see the battlefield, therefore increasing your ability to respond adequately to whatever situation you are faced with. On the whole this is a perfectly acceptable approach and has a valuable part to play in supporting people and organizations.

However, conventional coaching methods can be limited by “the Blind Spot”. The Blind Spot is where intractable problems lie, and no matter how brilliant, logical and rational the coaching may be, conventional coaching methods provide no mechanism to help you get over or around these invisible obstacles.

The Systemic Coaching approach is unique in that it offers an opportunity to illuminate, resolve and clarify hidden dynamics. It enables you to see and then overcome the Blind Spot. Systemic coaching is underpinned by the universal principles that maintain systems. In all spheres of our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, we engage in systems: the family, our work, our culture, our ethnic and social groups. Everything and everyone is interconnected: our personal lives can impact on our work lives and vice versa; our cultural identity can influence how we perceive situations and how we are perceived by others; and so on. As a result, the true cause of your “work” stress may not lie in the realm of work at all, even though it is is positing its affects in that system. Systemic coaching provides the tools to recognise, locate and resolve the cause of issues wherever they are found. By resolving something in one system, it is able to bring about a positive change in the rest.

If you are suffering from stress which you are unable to manage successfully, the best thing is to seek professional help. Ultimately, everybody will benefit from you taking responsibility for yourself.

And don’t forget: you are definitely worth it.

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