RL 104: Samara Anderson — How the Mindful Lawyer Recognizes and Utilizes Stress
Release Date: 10/15/2018
In this episode, I am excited to have Samara Anderson on to talk about the effects of stress in the practice of law and the difference proper mitigation of stress can have for the mindful lawyer.
Samara is a yoga teacher, Agency of Human Services legal and policy advisor, and an entrepreneur creating a non-profit community farm in Vermont to use farm animals, nature, and mindfulness to heal people. Her legal work has evolved from litigation to public service as an in-house legal and policy advisor with the State of Vermont. Samara has combined her mindfulness practices with the practice of law in her Mindful Practices workshops to reduce stress and increase productivity and happiness.
- What brought her to incorporate mindfulness into her law practice, and how to use a mindfulness practice to recognize when you are being reactive and triggered.
- The effects of stress on the practice of law (the power of the mind to hurt and heal).
- The power of mindfulness in improving your role as an attorney, and using stress and adrenaline to your advantage.
- How to be more efficient, productive, happier, and have more integrity as an attorney.
Learn more about Samara at:
The Happy Human Projects
For more information, visit: jeenacho.com
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Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs, and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:00:23] Hello my friends, thanks for joining me for another episode of The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this episode, I am really happy to have Samara Anderson. She is a yoga teacher, Agency of Human Services legal and policy adviser, and an entrepreneur at creating a nonprofit community farm in Vermont to use farm animals nature and mindfulness to heal people. Her legal work has a ball from litigation to public service as an in-house legal and policy adviser with the state of Vermont. Samara has combined her mindfulness practice with the practice of law and her mindfulness practices workshop to reduce stress and increase productivity and happiness and who doesn't want that.
Before we get into the interview, if you haven't listened to the last bonus episode go back and check it out. I shared a 6 minute guided meditation practice to let go of stress and anxiety. It's a preview for my new cars mindful pause so often I hear from lawyers that they know they should practice mindfulness but they don't have the time and I was hell lawyer start with just six minutes or point one hour of all the hours you dedicate your client's work and others don't deserve to have at least point one hour to yourself mindful pauses designed for lawyers like it to fit into your schedule. Think of it like taking your daily vitamin to booze show while being head on over to JeenaCho.com to learn more. Or check it out in the shownotes. And with that, here’s Samara. Samara, welcome to the show.
Samara Anderson: [00:01:48] Awesome thank you. I'm really excited to be here.
Jeena Cho: [00:01:51] So let's just start by having you give us a 30 second introduction of who you are and what you know.
Samara Anderson: [00:01:57] Well I like to refer to myself as a Yagur so I combining Beany yoga teacher with being a lawyer and that started about five years ago. I started my professional legal career as a complex commercial litigator in Manhattan working on securities fraud antitrust violations products liability. Very very stressful work high stakes very wealthy clients and it was very hostile and you know I kind of transitioned out of that environment into being a yoga teacher thinking I would never practice law again. And then I realized I could actually combine the two. I could bring the mindfulness and the healing that I was feeling both physically and mentally from from yoga and meditation into the practice of law.
And so I returned to the practice of law as an assistant attorney general here in Vermont which is where I live now doing some really complex challenging family law cases representing people that were being abused neglected or violated as either adults or children with developmental disabilities. So it was a very stressful kind of situation. But I was able to bring the mindfulness into it and that's made all the difference and now I've kind of transitioned into managing some of their complex projects and representing the agency of Human Services. I'm still you know integrating the two. I teach a lot of mindful practices courses to all types of lawyers Vermont Legal Aid. I teach to other government attorneys law firms. And I'm really passionate about combining these two things and helping other lawyers the less stressed and happier.
Jeena Cho: [00:03:51] Well it is combining the two books like they did day basis. Know client by client basis how does that look different than what you were doing previously.
Samara Anderson: [00:04:04] I think previously I was just I felt like I was in a rat race. I was just I felt like I was just rushing from one thing to the next. Never really even enjoying whatever it was I was doing even if it was something that could be enjoyable I was just in in those moments. I was thinking of other things are planning the next thing or thinking about something that happened before. And so when I look back at my first seven eight years as a lawyer I was essentially not present at all. I think I was physically present. And my mind was engaged but I wasn't actually there.
I think I was always somewhere else. And I think you looking back at you know it just didn't allow me to maximize everything I was doing. But now after you know I have a very solid practice. I incorporate our Iveta into my day as well. So I have in our Ubaid it's called a Jeena Cho area it's a routine that's kind of there to support your body to maximize what you eat when you sleep when you exercise. It's kind of this holistic way of approaching you know your health and that. So those things yoga meditation are kind of all combined to now allow me to be present in all of the moments so I'm really there as much as I can be of course I'm human I'm not. You know I'm not completely enlightened yet but I think the moments of mindfulness and being present are much more powerful and I'm getting a lot more of it out of everything I do. So yeah I think that's the biggest difference just in a kind of a general context.
Jeena Cho: [00:05:53] Yeah. And can you talk more specifically about you know when you talk about the power of mindfulness and harnessing it to improve your role as an attorney what that looks like. Can you give a specific example of how you may have handled this situation differently before than you do now.
Samara Anderson: [00:06:10] I think that the biggest thing is efficiency and that's really coming from self awareness so you know when you become mindful you become a little bit more self aware. You know you start to realize when you're being triggered you start you starting to realize when you're being reactive. And I think you know the biggest thing is starting to look at both efficiency and sustainability so you know let's say looking at my daily tasks. So before I would be sitting at my desk and e-mails would come in and phone calls would come in and I was just a victim to everyone else contacting me. So if I get a phone call I would answer it if I got an e-mail I would read it if I got to it. This is before the time of cell phones they were just starting to pick up and then now that you know when those cell phones came in I had a BlackBerry and so it was you know e-mail notifications and all these notifications and I was just you know kind of rushing from one thing to the next and getting distracted and not being able to focus on anything that was just you know kind of my mind was jumping from one thing to the next.
And now I do what's called batching. So I'll bad I'll let all the e-mails you know just accumulate and I'll have a notification that says I check my e-mails three times a day. So I check them one hour in the morning one hour in the afternoon one hour in the evening. And then you know I take that one hour and it's you know I complete the analysis of all the e-mails looking at the e-mails responding to the e-mails and giving them my full attention. It's the same with phone calls so that the phone calls go to voicemail and then you know Habba time that I've said that I've determined I'm going to you know listen to those phone messages and then I'll listen to them and prioritize the responses and let people know I'll get back to them. So I think it's it's just a different way of of actually practicing. And I think that plays out not just being a lawyer but I think you know anyone in the professional context that that kind of distracted practice is not very efficient or sustainable.
Jeena Cho: [00:08:19] So it is one of the things that I often will talk to lawyers about is time management and how to structure their time more efficiently and often I'll get something like well but my clients expected to be available 24/7 and if I don't respond right away they get upset. I'm curious when you started to make these changes. Did you get any pushback. And if so how did you deal with that.
Samara Anderson: [00:08:40] Yeah I get that a lot from lawyers especially those that are in the criminal context of the civil litigation context where you've got judges you've got cook you know opposing counsel you've got clients and in one of the things I started to kind of look at I have a government client and I think the key is to set their expectation with the client or the expectation with opposing counsel to state that you know I want to give you all of my attention. And if I respond to your e-mails right away it means I'm not giving you all your all the tension that you know you really deserve. And so I'd rather wait give myself space to like schedule the time to do it. I know there is an emergency.
You know I will be available. But typically clients are fine with that. I mean once you set the expectation I mean if the expectation is you're always available then you're you know if that's what they expect then that's what you have to provide. And I've had many lawyers even in the Ledet litigation context as I don't actively practice litigation anymore that are able to actually set those expectations with their clients. So I think that's the key. You know just communicating that upfront. And and you know and then allowing the media negotiation to occur with a client to say well you know if they do have something that's urgent then I'll let that come through. You can set up all these different you know an outlook and different e-mails you can set up certain e-mails can come through with the notification that they're important. So you can actually prioritize things that way.
Jeena Cho: [00:10:07] So just not have outlook open during the day when you're not supposed to be checking your e-mail or you sort of internally manage that.
Samara Anderson: [00:10:17] I just turn the notifications off. So I mean it's there but I'm not actively looking at it. And I think you know the key is to kind of you know take all your time so if you're you know in the office for eight hours to you know kind of schedule everything. So look down at your calendar and schedule that schedule. You know the break that you're going to take I have a little notification that pops up. Be mindful and it pops up at 1:00 and so it's always like I'm always rushing. That is like. Be mindful. And it's just I can just be mindful for one breath if I don't have the time to take the full five minutes. But usually I can take five minutes and then sometimes it's ten. But you know to really maximize it so if you give if you batched everything you've put everything you know in your calendar then you're just then there's less stress too because you know I'm going to get to this. There's my mind isn't racing to be like how did I do this. Did I do that you've already prioritized everything you already know what you have to do and then you just do it when you schedule it.
Jeena Cho: [00:11:13] Yeah. And I think also scheduling things kind of you know it's respecting your own energy right because we don't think you know it's lawyers. We like to think that where we can just work and work and work and work but it's not true. So recognizing that there are only so many hours in the day and you know you're going to prioritize those things that are important and make sure that you are able to do those things when you're sort of at your know optimal energy level and that kind of trying and doing you know for me as you say earlier in the morning tends to be sort of my better hours in terms of getting work done and not putting the most important things to be done at 4:00 o'clock. Oh my energy levels is not going to be as high.
Samara Anderson: [00:11:58] Exactly. Or 3 o'clock when all over serotonin and dopamine levels drop later.
Jeena Cho: [00:12:06] And you know I think that very nicely kind of leads us into the next topic which has the effect of stress on the practice. Applying this ability of the mind to both hurt and heal so say more about that.
Samara Anderson: [00:12:23] I think this is this is something that it kind of developed as I started to teach mindfulness because as a lawyer you know we always kind of want to look at it what's the problem like what is the problem what are we what are we dealing with. And then what is a solution. So as always you know I always start with that kind of a two step analysis. What's the problem. What are my you know possible solutions. And so as I started to break down what had really started to fall apart for me both physically and emotionally it was the effects of stress. And it was the you know the physical and the mental effects of stress. So the example I always use when I write teach my mind for practice practices workshops is I ask all the participants you know what causes stress in your life.
And they all you know they have different things and they go around the room and then I say Alright imagine that all the things that you just identified as causing stress your so you're mentally saying these things are causing me stress. Physically your body is reacting as though a supportive tigers chasing you because your mind is telling your body. I'm under stress. There is something that is you know coming after me and it could just be a deadline. It could just be you know a phone call an awkward conversation an argument. And so you know I say well if a saber toothed tigers chasing you what are your options like. What do you need to do. And you know everyone's like run. And I said while you could run or you could you know you could you could fight. You know it may not be the best option but maybe you could. Or you could freeze. And all three of those states cause the same exact amount of hormones in the body. So you've got first nor epinephrine an adrenalin are created. Those are the like. I've got to get out of here.
I've got I got get moving. And then and then after that cortisol starts to come online and that stays in the body much longer. But they all are meant to get you to run. You're supposed to be running. So all the blood flow is now going out into your extremities. You know your heart rate increases your respiration it increases your hands could get sweaty. You know and so you're having a stress response. And you know when I tell people that I have them in vision that they're getting chased by sabertooth tiger they start to think wow I actually do kind of feel that way. Like when you and I have a deadline or when I'm under stress it's like my body is reacting that way I could just be sitting in a room thinking about something and my body is going to have that response. And so you know I really talk about how powerful the mind body connection is and it really hits home like you know I'll even do the example of just everyone close their eyes and take your awareness to your left index finger and then I'll have them you know just take their awareness their take their energy there and then open their eyes and say well what did it feel like.
Did you feel. What did you feel in your left index finger in there like tingly and it felt like buzzing it felt warm. That is your mind. You're just taking your mind and you're putting it on something. And you know that mind body connection is so powerful and so I say well you know if you've got these stress hormones how how do you decrease them you know how do you kind of get out of the sympathetic nervous system and get into what's called the parasympathetic nervous system and then in that system you've got the other three opposing hormones serotonin dopamine and oxytocin and those actually decrease those stress hormones. So you know mindful practices and there's a lot of documented evidence. Lawyers always want to see the evidence so I always have my studies about you know how deep breathing and mindful movement whatever kind of movement it is.
Even if you're running if you're doing it mindfully you'll still have the same facts yoga a tight tchi all of these different motions activate the parasympathetic system and they activate those hormones serotonin dopamine and oxytocin so you actually you've got these I almost kind of see it as like stress hormones versus relaxation hormones and like you know which can you start to increase the relaxation and decrease the stress. And what can you do during the day what can you do in the moment. What can you do to to start to to alter that balance so that you know when someone cut you off in traffic you're not reacting you're just thinking what a person must be having a bad day you know you're your reactive state is much different because you're in he start to cultivate this place of of of more relaxation. So that's kind of how I Jeena I generalize that I have a lot of lawyers say we can handle the talking about the prefrontal cortex I'm like well you know that's probably more advanced mindfulness. Let's just stick with the basics right. And a lot of people are blown away just by the basics right. Because it does have a complex.
Jeena Cho: [00:17:17] you explain the actual practice. Can you give one example of a practice of filibusterers and that I like I yeah reading she says is totally making sense. But what do I do in that moment. So you're sitting in the office. The phone rings and says to someone that you like low then you know your heart's racing our stomachs tightening up and you just yell like you can sort of feel that adrenaline kicking in. So what's a practice that you can recommend a lawyer try to do in that moment.
Samara Anderson: [00:17:49] Well I think the most critical pieces that you actually are aware that you're having a stress response you know and that in itself is extremely powerful. The second you are realizing wow I am I am I'm I'm really upset right now. I can feel my heart beating faster I can feel my breath rate increasing like you don't want to even talk about stress. I have a lot of lawyers say how many people feel stressed just talking about stress syndrome it raised their hands because even like as you describe that I started feeling it. So you know you know and so the awareness number one that you're having a stress response is extremely powerful. Like that is I think that is probably the key to decreasing your stress is knowing that you're having stress right. You have to know you have to become aware that you have a problem before you can solve it. And then so you realize I'm having a stress response. I'm having a reaction. I think that second piece is is can be very simple and very profound and it's completely free and it's available all the time. It doesn't require any advanced training or any kind of special clothing.
It's just your breath. So the second you realize I'm having a stress response. So stress that kind of sympathetic nervous system when it activates that's the inhale. So when I teach yoga when you end it so if you're going to get hit by a car you know you almost get hit and go you know you breathe them. So that's sympathetic system that activates the sympathetic system and usually that happens you look at this phone call or email or you know my mother's calling or whatever could be stressing you out. And and then. So the parasympathetic response is the exhale. So it's. It's letting the breath out. And I think even if you just took one mindful breath like one deep breath in with your eyes closed softening the jaw relaxing the teeth and then one deep exhale out and try linger a little bit in that exhale just that one breath could be enough to have you shift just slightly. It's not going to decrease all the stress hormones. It really depends on how big of a trigger that was. You know how intense the emotion was. But that one breath that could be enough.
You know if you still have to take the call you might be a little bit more present because you've just taken two huge steps in mindfulness. Number one you're aware of a stress response. Number two you're trying to become present bring yourself into the moment out of the reactive state. So you know mindfulness is not I'm judgmental it's subjective. You know you're cultivating it which is extremely difficult. You're like sane. I know I have this whole past and I have this you know all these environmental issues and where I was raised and how I was raised and all these things are in me and they alter my perception of reality. But I'm going to try and look at this objectively and try and breathe through the reaction that I'm having so that I can actually be present and non-judgemental. And I think that's I think that's the practice. I mean I guide I guide my students into awareness of their bodies. I mean like really feeling the body. And I think for some people that can be traumatic especially if you've had any kind of abuse in the past. So sometimes coming into the body can be very stressful sometimes you can get the eyes open and just a where the body and then become aware of the breath. So those two things that's mindfulness and it and it's available all the time completely free.
Jeena Cho: [00:21:30] You know often when I suggest paying attention to the breath just what you suggested a lot of a lot more so at lawyers and non lawyers they find that that just paying attention to the brand to be very distressing. And you know I think a lot of it just has to do with Ed because we're such control freaks and all of a sudden they are paying attention to this thing that you and doing all of your life. And now that all of these dots are going through it's like am I breathing right. Am I not breathing. And then they start to change your breathing pattern and then they start speed up their breath and all this and act like they can't prevent it. It's just very very distressing so for the listeners out there like you know like pay attention to the press just doesn't work for me. Are there other practices that you can suggest.
Samara Anderson: [00:22:16] Well I mean if paying attention to the breath is going to be challenging how is the one thing that I've realized about practices that are challenging it. They're usually there to kind of be our best teacher you know like people that are the most challenging. They're our best teachers you know. You know any kind of practice that I find challenging is my best teacher to say well maybe this is something I really need to look at. But if it's if it's something you absolutely can't do so you're having a really hard time you know doing it alone. Sometimes it works better in a group maybe a guided situation or just use other tools. So instead of focusing on the breath you can focus on the body or you can you know become aware of your surroundings and really start to look around June. What do you see. You could also pay attention to sounds you know eyes are open or closed. I find it easier to pay attention to sound with the eyes closed. I also find it easier to pay attention to sensations in the body with the eyes close.
So you know if the brass if trying to and I guess you know what you're talking about is more like a pranayama. So prandial would be breath control you're trying to alter the breath maybe do counties and I've noticed a lot of lawyers when I do accounting so I have them I'll have them count to four on the inhale and I'll have them count to six on the exhale because what I'm trying to do is lengthen the exhale right. So I want to get the parasympathetic system online and I'll have lawyers after it say that was really hard. I start to compete with myself because I'll say well you could do five count inhale and seven count exhale. Or you could do a 6 hour inhale and an eight count accelerate like I was trying to get to succinate and it was so hard and I was really forcing it. And so I think we know because we're so competitive you know we will compete.
So if given the opportunity we will start to ratchet it up like five and five and seven is really comfortable for me but succinate is a challenge. I won't push myself and all of a sudden your jaws. You know you're stressing yourself out doing it. And so I say well if that if that practice is stressing you out. And let's try something else let's just try another sense right because what you're trying to do is just bring yourself into the moment. So right. You know take our hands as the breath is the vehicle into the body. So what it does is it brings you if you're in the body you're present like you're here. And so you know if the if there's other ways to get you to into the body that you're out using the breath then you can use those and I find feeling sensations. What does the body feel like. And it's more actually I don't like that word feeling either when you get into some of the verbiage it's better to think about like what is this sensation. What is a sensation in the body because feelings are different. You know there's thoughts and then there's feelings that could be associated with those.
Jeena Cho: [00:25:02] Right. Yeah you know words can be tricky. What you may mean by feel or notice or I think maybe didn't know how somebody else explained for that.
Samara Anderson: [00:25:12] Yeah. Yeah. Woman is very. Because we're working with lawyers right. And words are our life. So when you start to use a certain word and certain words can be triggering. I find yoga to be triggering. I find meditation to be triggering people like you know what is a some kind of spiritual thing like it and I'm like now you're just focusing on your breath. So it's like I always had to scrub things out so that it's just it's mindfulness you're just mindfully practicing your mindfully moving your mindfully breathing. You know sometimes I do some manual work and so I was like oh what are in it is some kind of seance. It's like no all you're going to do is inhale and think the words Let's exhale go let go. And so I always say the the mind and the body there's no separation of the mind is thinking let go the body will start to let go and then the mind can start to let go of whatever it's holding onto. So you know there's there's lots of little tools and I think you know as I say with yoga it's like and it's the same with the practice of law you take the practice of law.
You take the practice of yoga and you add you know add whoever that lawyer is and you get a certain experience and not everyone is going to like every lawyer and not everyone's going to like every yoga teacher and not everyone's going to like every practice. And so I always say if something doesn't work then keep working night. Don't give up on mindfulness just because something didn't resonate for you. Find something that does. You know and maybe it's visualization maybe it's another sense but keep looking because there's something out there that will resonate for you. And then that will be your gateway that will be your path forward into less stress and more happiness. So that's where it's worth looking for. If she can't find it.
Jeena Cho: [00:27:06] Yeah that feels like the perfect place to wrap things up. Isomer for. The lesson is out there that want to learn more about you or your work it was the best placement Jeena.
Samara Anderson: [00:27:18] The best place is I have a website. It's called The Happy Human projects plural because I didn't really think one would be enough. And it's really a place where you know I teach therapeutic yoga. I teach mindful practice workshops but I also what my biggest passion is is really one on one and group work around mindfulness. And I just I just love working with people and helping them. I feel like I am becoming more mindful. You know as I work with other people you know I learn more as a teacher than I sometimes think my students do so extremely you know passionate about that I travel all over the country teaching. So I would love to have people connect with me.
Jeena Cho: [00:27:59] Wonderful. One final question before I let you go. What does it mean to be a resilient lawyer.
Samara Anderson: [00:28:07] I think they are resilient lawyers really honoring everything that that has taken you to where you're at. You know it's honoring all of the all the horrible things that might have happened to you as in your legal practice. All the wonderful wins that you had and kind of looking at all of that as you know your teacher. You know I'm so glad that I worked in a very challenging stressful legal practice where I was building you know 3000 hours a year because if I hadn't done that I would not have come to a place of of mindfulness. And so I think being resilient is honoring everything that that that has happened to you that has gotten to you to where you're at. And then you're using it and you're maximizing it to maximize your life. So I think that's for me that's what resilient lawyer and resiliency in general mean wander smile.
Jeena Cho: [00:28:58] Thank you so much for joining me today. Really appreciate it.
Samara Anderson: [00:29:02] Thank you I really enjoyed it.
Closing: [00:29:10] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you've enjoyed the show please tell a friend. It's really the best way to grow the show to leave us a review on iTunes search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that. So we really appreciate it. As always we'd love to hear from you. E-mail us at smile at the anxious lawyer dot com. Thanks and look forward to seeing you next week.