The Art of Resting: How to fit relaxation into a busy schedule
Jeena Cho. Photo courtesy of The JC Law Group.
In 2011, I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. In hindsight, this result was foreseeable: My boyfriend and I decided to start a bankruptcy practice in 2009 in the midst of the financial crisis. We were both working around the clock. I never thought about sustainability, creating a law practice where there is time not only to work but to renew, restore and rejuvenate.
When we got married, the honeymoon was the only vacation we’d had in over three years. I recall sitting on the porch of a beautiful house in Kauai with nothing to do and full of anxiety. I had no idea how to rest.
Returning to wholeness meant adding consistent and intentional habits to pay attention to my own well-being. I learned to guard myself from unintended consequences of lawyering, such as burnout, vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. I was able to tap into my natural sense of curiosity and creativity, which led to surprising insights and different ways of seeing challenging client issues.
I returned to a deeper sense of meaning and purpose for why I practice law. Rest wasn’t an adversary to my law practice, but rather essential and complementary.
Focusing on making small, incremental changes over a sustained period of time is the key to creating any new habit. This includes learning how to rest. As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang wrote in his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, “Rest turns out to be like sex or singing or running. Everyone basically knows how to do it, but with a little work and understanding, you can learn to do it a lot better.”
TIME FOR REST
Time is one of our most valuable resources. It is so valuable that we sell it in 0.1-hour increments. Ask yourself: How many hours do you dedicate to work and others each day? Does the current rate of work feel sustainable? Is it nourishing or depleting?
Often, lawyers will object and say they can’t afford to take any time for themselves. They are too busy. As Karen Gifford and I wrote in our book, The Anxious Lawyer, “This feeling of ‘busyness’ is both a seduction and a major source of dysfunction for many lawyers. If we are very busy, we secretly believe we must be doing something important—in fact, we must be very important.”
If you reflexively reject the idea that you can and should carve out time for rest, consider what effect this belief has.
Think about rest in the context of self-care. Self-care is an activity for you, by you. No one else can eat more kale or go to the gym for you. It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. Consider activities that feel nourishing and nurturing.
Self-care doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. It’s about the attitude or the intention you bring to the activity. Are you taking proper care of yourself? Are you treating yourself kindly?
Movement. The word exercise is associated with specific activities, such as going to the gym. Broaden your definition to include any activities that involve moving the body. Find movement that feels good. Be flexible. One day, your movement practice might be an hour at the gym; the next day, it might be playing with your kids in the park.
Creativity and hobbies. Do an activity simply for the fun of it. Think back to your childhood and see whether there are activities you used to enjoy that have fallen by the wayside.
Journaling and writing. Writing is an excellent way to process held feelings, explore your inner world and tap into your creativity. One of my favorite practices is described as Morning Pages on the Julia Cameron Live/the Artist’s Way website. You simply sit down each morning with a pen and paper to write whatever comes to mind.
Mindful eating. There is no shortage of diet tips and what you should (or shouldn’t) eat. However, how you eat is as important as what you eat. Simply described, mindful eating means paying attention while you are eating. If you regularly eat mindlessly, shoving food into your mouth while doing email, only to look down and realize your plate is empty, consider making small adjustments to how you eat. Look at the food—all the colors, the flavors, the smells. Savor the experience.
AN ELUSIVE STATE
There’s no off button for the brain. You can go for a massage or sit down to read for pleasure, but the mind may not immediately go into rest mode. It’s natural for the mind to race, think about a case and wonder whether you sent that email.
Trying to force the mind to stop thinking is as effective as holding down a beach ball in the ocean. It takes a lot of effort, and sooner or later it will pop back up. Rather, frame it as an invitation for the mind and body to rest. Your mind or body may have other plans, but you’re still doing your part by creating an optimal state for rest.
You can go on a weeklong vacation to Hawaii, sit on the beach and sip your favorite beverage, yet your mind may still be back at the office, working frantically. These moments can be very frustrating. Part of learning how to rest is increasing self-knowledge about how your mind works. Rather than criticize yourself for feeling anxious, invite the anxiety to sit down for tea.
Finally, if you’re struggling to overcome guilt or negative self-talk about taking time to rest, remember: You cannot serve from an empty vessel.
MINDFULNESS PRACTICE (IN JUST 6 MINUTES)
Here’s how to let go of stress and anxiety: Begin by finding a comfortable posture, allowing the eyes to soften and taking a moment to congratulate yourself for being here. It’s helpful to work through stress and anxiety not by thinking about the content but rather noticing where in the body you’re holding the stress or anxiety.
Do a body scan. Starting with the head, move the attention slowly—down the neck, shoulders and torso, and notice whether there is any tightening or tension. Move down the arms and hands, then into the lower body—the hips, then the legs. Feel your feet on the floor.
Take a nice, long breath. Make it the longest breath you’ve taken all day.
If you notice the mind going into thinking or worrying mode, recognize that in this moment there is nothing to do except simply be here.
With each inhalation, you’re drawing in fresh energy. With each exhalation, you’re releasing and letting go of anything you no longer need.
Close the practice by beginning to wiggle the fingers and toes and very gently moving your body in any way that feels good to you. When you feel ready, allow the eyes to open. (You can hear an audio version of this guided meditation at jeenacho.com/wellbeing.)
Jeena Cho consults with Am Law 200 firms, focusing on actionable change strategies for stress management, well-being, resilience training, mindfulness and meditation. She is the co-author of The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation and practices bankruptcy law with her husband at the JC Law Group in San Francisco.
This article was published in the February 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title "The Art of Resting: It’s critical for lawyer well-being, so here’s how to fit rest into your schedule."