When the rug is pulled out from under you… and thrown over your eyes… and someone sets you on fire while you’re in the dark.

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggsLet me paint a small picture for you:

  1. It’s your birthday;
  2. You have to work on your birthday for the first time in your life, so you’ feeling a little underwhelmed by the whole thing;
  3. You had a superb interview with your Dream Job exactly one month ago and are waiting to hear back;
  4. No, you’re not being cocky, it went really well and one of the interviewers even said “what a fantastic answer, you’re pretty much already in”;
  5. You get an email from your Dream Job;
  6. You did not get the Dream Job;
    … did I mention it was my birthday?

Now I know what your first question is, because it will be the same as my lovely best friends’ question was when I told them, “did they give reasons why?” No, but I could email HR if I wanted to find out, 4 minutes later I had. Haven’t heard back yet.

I wrote an earlier article about how I had the wrong impression about a job interview which I thought went badly, but turns out I got. This would be the complete opposite, except worse, because the Dream Job that you’ve been pining for, for the last 5 years just punched you in the face with its generic email content.

The next question should of course be, how long did I stare at my screen re-reading the email? At least 10 minutes, while I yelled to my mum and her friend to “hold on” without giving any further information as to why. I just couldn’t fathom it, it must be a typo, it just couldn’t be a ‘no’. Needless to say the birthday party hat I had insisted on wearing to make work more fun was taken off.

So what now? (aka when your faith is truly shaken)

My family has one of those “if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be” type mentalities. In fact, when I’ve been getting knocked back for some other jobs recently we’ve all been thinking (and occasionally saying) that clearly I’m not meant to have this job because I’m going to hear back from my Dream Job who will give me a resounding yes and welcome me with open arms. It’s really hard to see the positive side of this knock back. What in the hell could ‘fate’ have in store for me in terms of job prospects (supposedly saving up for a good one) if my Dream Job is a big fat no?

So what do you do, when your Dream Job knocks you for six… I’ll let you know when I know. Apologies for the loose type of ending here, but I seriously don’t know, and really that lack of understanding and almost speechlessness (though not in writing) shows just how lost a\ writer who has a fun “whoopsie daisy” kind of column can be at the moment. Maybe soon I’ll have a top 10 list of “coming to terms with not getting your Dream Job”. Everyone loves a top 10!

 

 

I wish I knew… to avoid office politics

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

When the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889, many locals hated it. They called for it to be pulled down. It was an eyesore. It was structurally flawed. The tower was almost scrapped a decade later, until the French realised it was a nifty radio tower during the First World War. Now, the tower attracts about 7 million visitors a year and is a national symbol. The Eiffel Tower endured ridicule, scorn, threats of destruction, widespread acceptance and finally, pride.

It is scary to think how many ideas are nipped in the bud before they have the chance to grow: ideas that were abandoned because the majority didn’t accept them. During my legal career, I’ve worked at organisations that decided to pioneer a new way of doing business, or at least flirt with the idea of a new world order. These organisations either had an existing reputation of being trailblazers, or had acquired a new head honcho who could clearly see the firm’s flaws before they became a part of the problem. Either way, the challenge to these organisations was not whether their proposal for a new billing structure or deciding to expand their areas of practice was a bad idea. It was clear these organisations had done their research and were responding to a need in the market. No, their greatest obstacle was their existing staff and their opposition.

Staff opposition was usually on the basis of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Ideas of change and responding to client need were immediately dismissed as wanting to change for the sake of change. At times, colleagues became toxic. When I was a newly admitted practitioner, I found disgruntled colleagues bailed me up in the kitchen and tried to ‘get in my ear’ about how the firm was going to hell in a hand basket. I now assume it was because as a junior practitioner, you are learning about everything, including office politics, and you are an easy target – impressionable, probably still polite to your colleagues and non-threatening.

As a relatively new practitioner, this can be a difficult position to be in. You may be new to office politics and get bogged down in the muck. It can be exhausting, particularly if you have billable targets and colleagues want to use your time complaining about these changes. I’m not saying there aren’t appropriate times to debrief with colleagues about an organisational decision (which can also be of great value to an organisation). The issue is whether that conversation is constructive – does it offer valid criticism about a new decision? Does it test the idea? Does it understand the need for change?

I think about the time wasted engaging in these conversations, and the effect it had on my morale. It can be damaging, exhausting and debilitating. It may lead to an unnecessary premature departure from an organisation that may have otherwise been a good fit. It can also mean you miss out on being part of an exciting development, which in time, may be a source of pride in your career.

I was taking a law school admissions test in a big classroom at Harvard.

openmic15-09

“My friend and I were some of the only women in the room. I was feeling nervous. I was a senior in college. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do. And while we’re waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: ‘You don’t need to be here.’ And ‘There’s plenty else you can do.’ It turned into a real ‘pile on.’ One of them even said: ‘If you take my spot, I’ll get drafted, and I’ll go to Vietnam, and I’ll die.’ And they weren’t kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t afford to get distracted because I didn’t want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room. I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”

[Courtesy of: Humans of New York]

So, it turns out I was wrong… bound to happen I suppose.

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggsA few weeks ago I wrote a piece, including some very sound advice I like to think, as to what happens when you go to an interview, and it goes terribly. This was loosely (lies, very tightly) based on a job interview I had recently. It was for a nice job, which would tide me over until I found more permanent work, and they were on the same level as me in that regard, happy to have me for a short period, in non-solicitor work, until I found something better suited. Mutual use and understanding of the role. Well, despite the fact that I thought I tanked the interview more than I could have ever imagined, I got the job! WHAT?? I almost fell off my chair when the employer called me and said “we want to offer you the position”. I couldn’t wipe the look of bewilderment off my face, lucky it wasn’t a video call! I had honestly cried my little eyes out for a brief 30 minutes (ish) afterwards at how poorly the interview had gone, apparently, it hadn’t gone that poorly at all!

The lesson here is, you never really know what other people are thinking until they tell you. So keep an open mind towards yourself and the future and never put all your eggs into a basket before knowing for sure.

I wish I knew… no one’s looking at you (kid)

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

I recently attended a week long legal conference – one of those conferences where you get excited about scamming a free mousepad that you will never use, have dessert at lunch time because it’s there, and desperately try to make friends at the afternoon tea break because you feel you should “network”.

After four days of eating, schmoozing and talking shop, I was exhausted. I was also a little bitter. I have recently started a new role in a legal sector that is foreign to me. It has been a welcome change, and I have no regrets. However, I have never felt like such an outsider as I did during this conference. Most of the people who attended have been working in that sector for decades. They attended the conference with at least one other person from their organisation. I was on my own. It was clear most people already knew each other, and use the conference as a catch up once a year. I didn’t know anyone.

As I said, I was a little bitter. I was making all the effort – inching my way into people’s conversations at the breaks, always having to approach people and never the other way around, asking permission to sit at their table, and filling in the gaps in awkward conversation. I thought if I were in a group and I saw someone on their own, I would have made an effort to include them. The worst was when I was at the conference dinner, and I felt like I crashed a wedding. Luckily booze and loneliness is such a great combination.

Whilst it was tempting to sit with my phone and pretend I was doing something important, I decided to grow up and make the best of an awkward situation. I knew the conference was the only opportunity for these people to reconnect with colleagues. People have limited time, and may not want to make new friends if it means not being able to connect with old ones. I would have been a fly in their face. In my younger years, I would have stressed about not being likeable and wallowed in loneliness. Now, after my initial bitterness wore off, I realised I’m too busy and tired to engage in unproductive self-reflection and alone time is to be relished.

The older I get, the less I care what other people think because I realise they probably aren’t thinking about you. I mean this in the context of the crippling self-consciousness I engaged in when I was starting out in law – that everyone is judging your every move, the fear of doing anything wrong, the fear of getting fired and looking like an idiot if you asked a question at a seminar.  People don’t care and have their own insecurities to deal with before entertaining yours.

So I survived. There was even a silver lining to my obscurity – if no one knows who you are, they can’t send you the dry cleaning bill when you accidentally spill champagne on their jacket when they turn their back on you mid-conversation.

No, I’m not bitter at all.

A letter to you as a parent

45325721 - child with parents hand holding young tree in soil together for prepare plant on ground,save world concept

By Bernadette Healy

Dear parent,

I wonder what is going on for you as you worry about your child.  Perhaps the following is of interest (although it may not be!).

It seems to me that you have come to a point in your life where you are trying to make sense of who you are as a parent (as well as a person), and this includes exploring the ways that you yourself were parented.  This of course brings up old hurts and lots of complicated feelings towards your parents.  Possibly, as well as wanting to distinguish yourself as a mother/father from your own mother or father, you will also find yourself understanding more of what her or his life structure was like – this is hard because you might find yourself being sympathetic at the same time as being angry at some of the ways she or he was, for example, with regard to a sibling.  You seem to be feeling a mixture of being trapped (in a situation that you did not expect to be in with regard to your own child) and being afraid that if you cannot find a way of keeping it all together; that everything will collapse into chaos.  It is as if you are alone in all this difficulty – but perhaps that is how you felt in the past when you were too young to have much influence?  You are not that little girl or boy anymore; you have life experience, skills and attributes to bring to this situation; and you do not have to be alone in it all. But perhaps you have not yet found satisfactory ways of letting people in to share the emotional load  (and perhaps others are not as available as they could be)?

It seems as if you have to solve all the problems, but perhaps that too is a leftover from the past, and the role you were expected to play in your family of origin.  Perhaps you have been in the habit of carrying more than just your anxiety in your determination to keep the chaos at bay?  But now maybe you are ready to find some new ways which are not so heavy, and hopefully you will have more moments enjoying yourself being with your family.  It seems to me that you could be a little kinder to yourself and trust the part of you that, at times, wants to seek help.  When you are ready, the parts of you that haven’t had a chance to come out into the light for a while will bubble through, and offer easier ways of being. Be gentle and patient with yourself, and allow your child to help guide you into becoming their parent (they only want you and ‘ok’ is the gold standard).

Bernadette

 

Cleaning cloths, politicians and values – maximising good fit with your partner.

23345782 - close-up of man cleaning the floor with yellow wet floor sign

By Bernadette Healy

I recently noticed a range of cleaning cloths upon which were printed images of current Australian and international politicians, together with suggestions for possible applications of the cloths.

I wondered both about the product line, and where else it might be sold. Other than the not-so-upmarket as to be apolitical but not so political as to be anti-frivolous-consumer-goods place where I was – who was the target market? I was amused (but not tempted to buy!) and although I didn’t experience any negative reaction in coming across this product, I thought it likely that some would – that others may experience a ‘values-clash’ moment.

The expression ‘values-clash’ while perhaps increasingly absent in the modern work-place vernacular, never-the-less concerns a very important concept both in the personal and work domains.

In the personal domain, a sense of shared values with one’s partner is vital to relationship longevity.  Some of the values that influence compatibility relate to lifestyle choices – an area of potential to have battles about day to day decisions.  Examples of these ‘values in action’ decisions include:

  • How much emphasis is placed on planning? Is the process of planning a jointly enjoyed activity within the relationship? Is allowing scope for spontaneity, valued?
  • How do each in the couple value time spent socialising versus time alone pursuing their own interests?
  • How much emphasis is placed on money? What form and place does money-management occupy in the relationship? Is economising an important shared language in the relationship? Is the language of money confined or pervasive?
  • Does the expression of emotion fit in the relationship? Is there an emotional language?
  • What decisions are made about food? What will be eaten? Where? Prepared by? How much is reasonable regarding cost? Is quality a key issue? Is variety important? Is it just about taking in the appropriate nutritional requirement to enable the more important activities to be undertaken? Or is it an important activity in its own right?
  • What emphasis is given to keeping up with friends? What emphasis is given by each of the partners to the extended family and spending time with them?
  • What emphasis is given to the standard and maintenance of the shared spaces occupied by those in the relationship? What is the definition of minimum / optimum with regard to house-work standard?

Having regular conversation about what really matters to each of you, and starting these discussions early on will provide you both with key information about the viability of your relationship in the long-term – and help to minimise the hurt all round.

Judicial Bullying: a (brief) Beginner’s Guide

13617994 - stern judge

I have been coaching new lawyers for many years now, either in group workshops, or privately as an individual, and the one conversation that I can always count on having is the conversation about judicial bullying. Whilst not every new lawyer has experienced judicial bullying, most have, and the ones that have not experienced it directly have seen it happen to colleagues and live in fear of it happening to them.

Alarmingly, those that report having been bullied by judicial officers, describe their experience in terms that are almost identical to how victims of verbal and psychological violence in a domestic setting describe their experience. For instance, they talk of being frozen in the moment, unable to respond for fear of exacerbating the bullying, being unable to flee (as a practitioner cannot leave the Bar table without permission) and feeling sick to their stomach, distressed, and sometimes unspeakably angry, but at the same time feeling completely unable to defend themselves adequately due to the power imbalance between them and the judicial officer. They speak of being so thoroughly humiliated that they have sometimes resorted to taking days off after the event. They speak of having a sleepless night or two where they mentally run through everything they have done – should I have said this? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. They think if they can identify what it is they have done to deserve the bullying, they can make sure they don’t do it again and they will therefore not be bullied in the future. Usually they then speak to me of plans they have come up with to try and stave off the next bullying attack. Finally, they ask me hopefully if I have any tips for them. I never enjoy the look of fear and disappointment that crosses their faces when I advise that actually there is nothing they can do to stave off the next attack. Absolutely nothing.

Relying on the lived experience of new lawyers that confide in me, judicial bullying often includes (but is not limited to):
– Shouting at them;
– Deliberately saying things to embarrass or humiliate them;
– Asking them to justify themselves in circumstances that are unfair;
– Calling them names;
– Calling into question their professionalism in circumstances that are unfair;
– Accusing them of incompetence in circumstances that are unfair;
– Using various facial expressions to demean or intimidate them;
– Setting unrealistic time frames;
– Making them work through lunch breaks;
– Refusing to give them time to formulate an argument or response in circumstances where it is unfair to do so.

Apart from being obviously degrading and damaging to lawyers, judicial bullying can be disruptive to the court process itself (it can sometimes take an awful long time to pontificate), and it can also be damaging to lawyer/client relations. The client is unlikely to be able to objectively assess the judicial officer’s words or looks and can sometimes take their words, for instance, as statements of fact from a higher authority. The client then leaves court feeling that the lawyer has not done their job properly or has otherwise failed them and that, therefore, they have not had a fair hearing. Likewise, other lay people sitting in the body of the court would be forgiven for watching a judicial bully in full flight and wondering whether it is even possible for justice to be done in such a chaotic courtroom.

Of course, we are not talking here about justifiable complaints made by judicial officers. I have never had a new lawyer complain about a justifiable complaint made with grace and tact. I have received many complaints about judicial officers using the inexperience of a new lawyer as an excuse to vent some of their own inner stresses.

And this is where it gets interesting. I think we can all agree that psychologically healthy people do not bully others. The same goes for judicial officers. Psychologically healthy judicial officers do not bully others. If they do feel that the advocate has not performed to their expectations, they may say so tactfully and gracefully. Healthy judicial officers do not resort to name-calling, shouting, or facial expressions designed to humiliate or intimidate the advocate. Judicial bullying, seen in this context, stems from a mental health crisis in the judiciary which impacts, in turn, on the wider profession and the community as a whole.

So what is to be done? How do we make judges healthy so we can work in a healthy workplace?

Happily, this question has already been asked and answered in part by the Judicial College of Victoria who recently launched Australia’s first online wellness resource for judicial officers aimed at assisting “judicial officers to respond optimally to stress in themselves and others.” http://www.judicialcollege.vic.edu.au/judicial-wellbeing. Naturally, the idea behind the resource is to promote wellness among judicial officers who are renowned for suffering from stress, anxiety and even vicarious trauma associated with their unrelenting work schedules and the nature of the proceedings that play out before them.

At the same time, the government is also taking steps to bring about some much needed accountability. In 2015 the Andrews Labor Government announced that they would establish a new commission to investigate complaints into the conduct of judicial officers in Victoria. The commission will not only be able to investigate complaints, it will also have a process for especially serious cases whereby it can refer judicial officers to a special panel with coercive powers. In some circumstances the panel could recommend removal from office. The Judicial Commission of Victoria Act 2016 comes into operation 1 July 2017. Under s5 and s6 of this Act an individual or, a professional body on the individual’s behalf can make a complaint into the conduct or capacity of a judicial officer or a non-judicial member of VCAT. This is important, as many individuals may be reluctant to report poor judicial behaviour if it may mean jeopardising their career. The Heads of Jurisdiction, the AG and the IBAC can also make referrals. The Act provides the commission with coercive powers. Judicial officers can be made to produce documents, appear at hearings, undergo a medical procedure and the Commission even has the power to issue search warrants.

Unfortunately, the legislation does not identify what type of conduct is reportable. Likewise, it does not refer specifically to judicial bullying and it does not provide a definition of it. For a long time conversations about judicial bullying have been complicated by the lack of any universally accepted definition of what judicial bullying is. We do, however, currently have two definitions of ‘workplace bullying’ within the legal profession that we can draw from. For instance, under Rule 123(c) of the Legal Profession Uniform Conduct (Barristers) Rules 2015 – a barrister must not in the course of practice, engage in conduct which constitutes workplace bullying defined as: “unreasonable behaviour that could reasonably be expected to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, isolate, alienate, or cause serious offence to a person working in a workplace”. The Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitor’s Conduct Rules 2015 has a similar provision but its definition of workplace bullying is, arguably, broader. It defines bullying, as “bullying that is unlawful under the applicable state or territory anti discrimination or human rights legislation If no legislative definition exists, it is conduct within the definition relied upon by the Australian Human Rights Commission to mean workplace bullying. In general terms in includes the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that could be expected to intimated, offend, degrade or humiliate.”

Putting definitions aside, the twin approach of assisting judicial officers to be psychologically healthy as well as making them potentially accountable for their stress-related behaviours has to be a recipe for success.

While we are patiently waiting for the effects of these latest innovations in the legal landscape to trickle down here are some tips to assist the new lawyer to manage their experience of judicial bullying.

• Place the behaviour in context. It helps to understand judicial bullying as a reflection of the psychological status of the judicial officer, rather than being attributable to something you have done or haven’t done.
• Don’t show fear. Be firm with the judicial officer, particular if they are resorting to name-calling, shouting, or accusations of unprofessional conduct. You are entitled to defend yourself. You might say for example: “Your Honour’s accusations are unfair. They are unfair because…”. It is not a sign of impertinence to defend yourself against unfair statements.
• If you have made a mistake and the judicial officer has taken delight into causing you to feel even more humiliation about it than you already do, please go easy on yourself. The judicial officer is suffering from what the writer calls SSMS, or, Sudden Short Memory Syndrome, where they suddenly cannot recall any of their early career mistakes and hold all lawyers to the same standard whether the lawyer has been admitted to practice for one week or twenty years. You don’t have to allow their SSMS to bring you down.
• De-brief with colleagues. It always helps to talk about the experience and your colleagues will no doubt have stories of their own to share.
• Do not go over and over the incident in your mind and wonder what you could have done to change it. You are never responsible for the behaviour of a judicial officer. Never!
• If it is a very serious case of judicial bullying, report the matter to the LIV or Vic Bar (whichever is your professional association) – they are able to take the matter on your behalf to the Heads of Jurisdiction.
• After work, go home and be extra kind to yourself. You have just been through an ordeal. Don’t just sweep it under the carpet. Process it by talking, writing or meditating but at the same time tell yourself quite explicitly that you are going to look after yourself now as you have been treated poorly and you deserve better.

Good luck!

Soaring through the law

Terminus A6 e-flyer

Katharine Kilroy

As lawyers – or in my case, aspiring lawyers – we are all too aware of the pressures and mental health risks we face. Ours is a stressful profession, and the need to be mindful of our wellbeing and proactive in maintaining a work/life balance is paramount. Each individual has their own approach to this challenge, and for the creatively inclined among us, it can be an even greater challenge.

Music was one of the first casualties of my decision to study law. Throughout my childhood and undergraduate studies, I had discovered and nurtured a love of classical music performance – although I will readily admit I was not destined for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I fell in love with orchestral music the first time I experienced the ecstasy of performance. There is a moment, not always attained, when the music works. When the orchestra becomes greater than the sum of its parts and explodes in perfect harmony. The feeling as a musician is indescribable. Your chest swells, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you achieve simultaneous clarity and euphoria. It is thrilling, addictive and so much more.

The move across to law school and the loss of my music was a terrible wrench. Although I was shortly consumed by the demanding law curriculum, I was also half-heartedly googling community orchestras, wondering whether I could ever again find a place in my life for music. In between the mountains of assigned reading and the copious hours of study I felt obliged to put in every day, the law had established a monopoly on my time. It wasn’t making for a particularly joyful first semester.

The light returned with the golden glint of a treble clef worn around the neck of a classmate. This kindred spirit told me about Lawchestra and gave me the nudge I needed to drag my viola back out of the cupboard. In Lawchestra, I have discovered many a like-minded lawyer-musician. Together we take time out from the pressures of work and study to meet and make glorious, uplifting music.

Lawchestra are looking forward to our first performance of the year, Terminus which will be our greatest performance yet.

Terminus brings together Lawchestra, Habeas Chorus (the choir of Melbourne’s legal industry) and Monash University Choral Society for two epic works, Mozart’s sublime Requiem and the Melbourne premiere of Australian composer Dan Walker’s Last Verses which is based on the final works of some of history’s greatest poets. The performance celebrates life and rallies against death, showcasing the final step of the journey. It promises to be a spectacular event.

One cannot always pick when the moment of perfection will come. When everything clicks and the music begins to soar. It is transcendent, euphoric and amidst the majesty of St Paul’s, I cannot begin to imagine its power. Come and join us, for it shall be incomparable.

As part of Law Week, BottledSnail Productions presents Terminus at St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday 21 May 2016 (3pm and 7pm) see http://www.bottledsnail.com/terminus for tickets and more information.

BottledSnail Productions is an organisation that seeks to promote mental wellbeing in Melbourne’s legal industry through supporting and producing creative and performing art projects. It has staged musicals, comedy shows, theatre productions and runs many musical ensembles throughout the year.

Terminus is supported by a Law Week grant from Victoria Law Foundation and sponsored by Your Law Firm.

Katharine Kilroy is a third year Juris Doctor student at the University of Melbourne and plays viola in the Melbourne Lawyer’s Orchestra.

Listening to your body

By Bernadette Healy

Stress

Do you want to learn a strategy to help you take charge during moments of stress?

As you are no doubt aware, people differ in the extent to which they are in tune with their bodies.  Some are routinely able to take good physical care of themselves and are practised in attending to, and understanding the information that the body can provide about being in the world. This includes recognising the particular physical discomfort that they experience when facing a challenging situation at work or at home.

For others, however, the body is a forgotten vessel – known mostly in a secondary sort of way as that which carries around the parts of themselves of which they are more aware – such as their rational, thinking selves or their feeling selves. (NB. This does not necessarily equate to living unhealthily).  During a stressful time many in this group may still think about their stress and try and work it out rationally, or they may be aware of feeling stressed, such as feeling more easily angered, or emotional, or more intolerant than usual.  They are less likely to stop and focus on their physical sensations.

Even when very aware of being stressed, it is common to automatically engage in reactionary avoidance behaviours rather than stopping and paying attention to the body.  This is often due to a fear that focusing on the physical experience of stress will make things worse[1].  (Individuals may or may not be aware of this fear).

Learning how to pay attention to the information held in the body is a very important part of working through stressful times, including breaking patterns of avoidance behaviours.  Common avoidance behaviours include – but are not limited to: outbursts of anger, blaming others, withdrawal from people, drinking alcohol or using illicit substances, over-eating and fleeing.

So how can you begin to pay more attention to your body in a way that will assist you to cope with stressful situations while reducing the likelihood of engaging in the behaviours listed above?[2]

Start with a few minutes of focusing on your breath.[3]

Then still with eyes closed, focus on the sensations in your body, pay attention to whichever area of the body is calling out for your attention.  Try and take your awareness to that part of the body and observe the sensations. (Imagine that you are describing the sensations to someone without any knowledge of human anatomy and its terms – instead seeking to describe the sensations in a fresh, non-technical way).  It may help to ask yourself questions about the sensations such as:

  • Is the sensation hot or cold?[4]
  • Is the sensation in one distinct area or spread out?
  • Is the sensation heavy or light?
  • Is it coming and going or staying the same?

Once you have noticed and described the sensation, move on to the next sensation that you notice or if you feel that is enough, open your eyes.

Sit for a while and ask yourself how long that sensation has been around?

If it makes sense for you, try describing the sensation visually, for example: a ball in the chest, a large rubber band around the head, a metal weight on the back, a bobbing cork in the throat etc.  (You might even like to try making a primary-school level drawing of this and then just look at your picture and notice any thoughts that occur to you about the picture)

Make a point of trying to notice the coming and going of the sensations in the future, and see if you notice any patterns about when it is strongest and weakest.

Pay attention to how you are feeling now.  It is highly likely that the simple exercise of focusing on physical sensations of discomfort has resulted in a lessening of them.  Of course they may well return, but you will know from direct experience that they can also diminish, and that you now have a strategy to assist in this process.

 

 

 

[1] In cases of severe anxiety there is a need for professional help in sorting out when to focus on physical discomfort and when to actively choose other strategies at least until the anxiety has moved out of the severe zone

[2]If at any point you feel too uncomfortable (say an 8 or above on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is little discomfort and 10 is maximum discomfort), discontinue and engage in a healthy distracting behaviour such as a brisk walk, watching a loved movie, looking up information about a favourite topic, reading a novel etc and consider seeking professional help if you would like to understand about your discomfort and learn some appropriate techniques.

[3] Sit with back and neck straight.

  • Close eyes gently.
  • Become aware of your breath.
  • Don’t try and change your breath, just observe it as it comes and goes.
  • Try and let go of any thoughts as they arise
    • Remind yourself that they are just thoughts, choose to let them go as if the thoughts are on a train which you see whizzing past but do not get on.
    • As thoughts arise, don’t blame yourself for becoming distracted but instead bring your attention back to the breath as soon as you are able without judgement or criticism.
  • Observe the breath coming and going.
    • Don’t count the breaths or think about the process of breathing, but just experience the sensations of breathing and observe the breath in the moment of breathing.
  • Notice whatever there is to be noticed
    • g. the temperature of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils; the feeling of air on the skin just under the nose or at the tip of the nose; a feeling of movement within the chest etc.
  • Continue for 3-5 mins.

[4] For more information see Cayoun, B. A. (2011).  Mindfulness-integrated CGT: Principles and practice.  West Sussex, UK.: John Wiley and Sons.