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GPSolo eReport

GPSolo eReport April 2024

Mindfulness 101: Mindfulness Tricks to Reduce Burnout Symptoms

Melanie Bragg


  • In part two of our three-part series on mindful approaches to navigating burnout, we explore five mindfulness practices to reduce the symptoms of burnout.
  • Integrating mindful breathing into your daily routine is a powerful tool to help you recover from the anxiety of burnout.
  • Brief meditation sessions to reset during the workday will help you increase your long-term resilience.
  • Establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life and learning to say no and prioritize self-care is not easy, but it is crucial to self-growth and happiness.
Mindfulness 101: Mindfulness Tricks to Reduce Burnout Symptoms
Ekaterina Goncharova via Getty Images

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This article is part two of a three-part series on mindful approaches to navigating burnout. In part one, we discussed the five things you need to know to recognize burnout. In this article, explore five mindfulness practices to reduce the symptoms of burnout.

The five main tricks are (1) learning to practice mindful breathing, (2) learning mindful meditation, (3) establishing a gratitude practice, (4) setting boundaries, and (5) practicing mindful communication.

We will go over each area with suggestions you can use as a road map to create the best mindfulness plan to reduce your symptoms of burnout. As I always emphasize, we want to wake up ready to tackle our tough days and be excited to greet the challenges we know await us due to the nature of our tough business. And when we come home in the evening, we want to be present and available for our family and friends and enjoy the life we have created. These tips will go a long way to helping with that plan.

Mindful Breathing

Integrating mindful breathing into your daily routines by doing deep breathing exercises to manage stress is a powerful tool to help you recover from the anxiety of burnout. Let’s explore three physiological benefits of deep breathing and some step-by-step breathing exercises.

Physiological Benefits of Deep Breathing

  1. Stress reduction. Deep breathing triggers the body’s relaxation response, which helps reduce the production of stress hormones such as cortisol. This leads to a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, promoting a sense of calmness and relaxation.
  2. Improved oxygenation. Deep breathing increases the oxygen supply to the brain and body, which can enhance cognitive function, improve concentration, and boost energy levels. Adequate oxygenation also supports the body’s natural detoxification processes and promotes overall vitality.
  3. Balanced nervous system. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “rest and digest” system. This helps to counteract the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s stress response. By promoting balance between these two systems, deep breathing can enhance resilience to stress and improve overall well-being.

Step-by-Step Breathing Exercises

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing (Belly Breathing)

  • Find a comfortable seated position or lie down flat on your back.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise as you fill your lungs with air. Feel your hand on your abdomen rise.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, letting your abdomen fall as you release the air from your lungs. Feel your hand on your abdomen lower.
  • Repeat this process for several breaths, focusing on the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body.

2. 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight or lie down with your palms facing upward.
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of four seconds.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds.
  • Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth for a count of eight seconds, making a whooshing sound as you release the air.
  • Repeat this cycle for four full breaths, maintaining a steady rhythm and focusing on the count.

3. Box Breathing (Square Breathing)

  • Sit or stand comfortably with your spine straight.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four seconds, drawing the breath into your abdomen.
  • Hold your breath for a count of four seconds.
  • Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth for a count of four seconds, emptying your lungs completely.
  • Hold your breath out for a count of four seconds.
  • Repeat this cycle for several rounds, maintaining a smooth and even pace.

Incorporating these breathing exercises into your daily routine, such as upon waking, during breaks at work, or before bed, can help cultivate a sense of calmness and resilience to stress, ultimately contributing to a reduction in burnout and an enhancement of overall well-being.

Mindful Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that involves intentionally bringing one’s attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and nonjudgment. It often involves focusing on the breath, bodily sensations, thoughts, emotions, or external sensations such as sounds or sights. The goal of mindfulness meditation is not to eliminate thoughts or feelings but rather to observe them without attachment or reaction, cultivating a greater sense of awareness and presence in the here and now. Brief meditation sessions to reset during the workday will help you increase your long-term resilience.

Here’s a guide for starting with short, manageable meditation sessions and gradually expanding the practice.

1. Set Realistic Expectations

Understand that meditation is a skill that takes time to develop. Start with short sessions, even just a few minutes at a time, and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable. I love doing the Calm app daily meditation right when I first wake up before I even get out of bed. It really helps me set the intention for the day, and I have so much more energy all day.

2. Find a Quiet and Comfortable Space

Choose a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. Sit in a comfortable position, either on a chair or cushion, with your back straight but not rigid. It is okay to be in any position you want. I often do it in bed, but I have a bed that I can raise to an almost sitting position.

3. Focus on the Breath

Begin by bringing your attention to your breath. Notice the sensations of the breath as it enters and leaves your body. You can focus on the rise and fall of your chest or the sensation of air passing through your nostrils.

4. Acknowledge and Let Go of Distractions

As you meditate, you may notice thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations arising. Instead of getting caught up in them, simply acknowledge their presence and gently redirect your focus back to the breath. This is a little like counting sheep when you were a kid trying to go to sleep. Your thoughts just begin to roll through your brain, and they come and go, but you don’t get involved in them; you just notice them and let them go.

5. Start with Short Sessions

Begin with just five minutes of meditation each day. Set a timer so you can fully immerse yourself in the practice without worrying about the time. You will quickly begin to understand the power of that time.

6. Gradually Increase Duration

As you become more comfortable with the practice, gradually increase the duration of your meditation sessions. Aim to add an additional minute or two each week until you reach your desired session length. It is fun to see how you create extra time and energy in your life with such a simple practice.

7. Be Kind to Yourself

Remember that meditation is not about perfection. It’s normal for the mind to wander, and it’s okay if your meditation sessions don’t go as planned. Approach the practice with kindness and self-compassion. And if you don’t do it every single day, quit beating yourself up. Just do it as much as you can and keep going.

8. Experiment with Different Techniques

Explore different mindfulness meditation techniques to find what works best for you. You can try body scan meditations, loving-kindness meditations, or guided visualizations. There are so many different types of meditations out there and so many great podcasts and apps to use. You are sure to find one you love. My two favorites are the Calm app and the 10% Happier app.

9. Establish a Regular Practice

Consistency is key to reaping the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Try to meditate at the same time each day, whether it’s in the morning, during a lunch break, or before bed.

By starting with short, manageable meditation sessions and gradually expanding the practice, you can cultivate a present-focused awareness and reap the many benefits of mindfulness meditation, including reduced stress, improved focus, and greater overall well-being.

Gratitude Practice

A best practice is to begin to focus on the positive aspects of the legal profession. Gratitude can be a positive psychology technique to help with burnout in the legal profession. Here are some practical exercises for lawyers to cultivate gratitude, even in challenging circumstances.

1. Gratitude Journaling

Set aside a few minutes each day to reflect on three things you are grateful for, whether it’s a positive outcome in a case, support from a colleague, or personal achievements. Write down these moments of gratitude in a journal, noting the specific reasons why you are thankful. Reflecting on these entries regularly can reinforce a mindset of appreciation. Robert Emmons has done studies on the effect of gratitude journaling, and the studies show that people who do it experience fewer panic attacks and less anxiety and are more productive and happy in their daily lives. Something about getting it out there is important.

2. Gratitude Letters

Write a heartfelt letter expressing gratitude to a colleague, mentor, client, or anyone else who has positively impacted your professional life. Be specific about how their actions or support have made a difference for you. Consider delivering the letter in person or via email, and observe how expressing gratitude enhances your connection with others. My good friend John Kralik, a superior court judge in California, wrote a book he titled 365 Thank Yous about his burnout and depression. It is a great book. What he did was write a thank-you note each day for a year, and within six months of doing so, his life and relationships had begun to transform. It was such a brave book, and I highly recommend it to any lawyer. It is helpful and encouraging.

3. Mindful Gratitude Practice

Take a few moments each day to practice mindful gratitude. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and bring to mind something you are grateful for in that moment. Engage your senses by focusing on the details of your gratitude, whether it’s the warmth of sunlight streaming through a window or the sound of a colleague’s supportive words.

4. Gratitude Walks

Incorporate gratitude into your daily routine by taking short walks during breaks or after work. As you walk, consciously observe and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings, the kindness of others, or moments of serenity amid the bustle of the day. When I am on my electric bike exploring the bike trails, parks, and areas of my beautiful Houston, I am the happiest person in the world. Smelling the honeysuckle, the magnolias, and all the other grasses and trees is a joy. I know the oxytocin is just flowing through me. I love seeing others enjoying the outdoors, seeing them with their children and their pets, and just noticing all of the variety of our humankind. We are all so unique and individual.

5. Gratitude Circles or Discussions

Organize regular meetings or discussions with colleagues where you can share moments of gratitude and appreciation. Create a supportive space for acknowledging each other’s contributions and fostering a culture of gratitude within the legal community. By incorporating these practical exercises into your daily lives, you can cultivate a mindset of gratitude, even in challenging circumstances. This can lead to greater resilience, professional satisfaction, and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in your legal career.

Setting Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life and learning to say no and prioritize self-care is not easy, but it is crucial to self-growth and happiness. Here are a few concrete strategies for saying no, prioritizing self-care, and fostering a healthier work-life balance.

1. Learn to Say No

Practice assertiveness and learn to say no to requests or commitments that exceed your capacity or encroach on your personal time. Politely decline additional work or obligations by explaining your current workload and the importance of maintaining balance. My firm routinely turns down work. It’s hard to believe this, but this week, I got a five-star review from a client whom we said no to and referred out. My assistant talked to her. In the review, she said, “I did not use her as an attorney, but she was SO helpful in helping me find the right attorney. I appreciate her help and kindness. She DID NOT have to assist me as her time is VALUABLE! In the future, if I need an attorney, she WILL be the first one I contact!!” How nice is that? Don’t think that saying no is always bad. I learned that lesson even more deeply because of this great review.

2. Set Clear Work Hours

Establish clear start and end times for your workday, and communicate these boundaries to colleagues and supervisors. Avoid checking work emails or engaging in work-related tasks outside of designated work hours whenever possible. As I have developed my self-care program, for the first time in many years I do not work on the weekend, and it’s uncanny how most of my clients are so respectful of my weekend time. They appreciate the fact that I take care of myself, and it’s also funny how much more productive I am during the week and how my billables are way up. I am much happier and more satisfied than I was when I was answering every text and responding after hours. Sometimes, I still start typing an answer during the weekend or late in the evening, but then I stop and say to myself, “No, this waits until the morning.”

3. Prioritize Self-care

Make self-care a priority by scheduling regular activities that promote relaxation and well-being, such as exercise, meditation, hobbies, or spending time outdoors. Treat self-care activities as non-negotiable appointments, just like any other commitment on your calendar. Boy, I know how this one can be hard to do. I have a gym next door in my office building where the trainer trains people for 30-minute increments all day long. I hear the clangs of the weights and the grunts of the heavy lifting, and while it used to annoy me, now that I strength train with her twice a week, I see it as healthy, life-giving energy coming my way. But I can tell you there are days when walking just that 20 steps to the office next door at 4:30 pm is hard. I feel like I am abandoning my firstborn child by merely stepping out for 30 minutes. That heavy work ethic we lawyers form in law school stays with us for so many years. I know it isn’t easy to prioritize your own personal health and mental happiness, but to really help our clients and be the best lawyers we can, we must. But I feel you. All I can say is just do it. Step by hard step. You are worth it.

4. Create Physical Boundaries

Designate a specific workspace within your home or office where you can focus on work-related tasks without distractions. When you’re not in your workspace, avoid bringing work-related materials or devices into areas designated for relaxation or personal activities. One thing I learned from a productivity specialist was to get some kind of icon, whether it be a baseball cap, a scarf, a belt, or a special wrap that signifies your work mode. That way, when anyone in the home sees that symbol, they know it is an “I’m focusing now” signal, and kids and other family members respect it. You are modeling good self-care behavior patterns for them, too.

5. Communicate Boundaries Clearly

Clearly communicate your boundaries to colleagues, supervisors, and clients in a respectful and assertive manner. Set realistic expectations regarding response times for emails, phone calls, and other forms of communication outside of work hours. I really got hold of this concept in the past few years as I delved deeper into self-care and wellness. I have found that people like being given boundaries, and they appreciate clear communication. For many years, I just expected people to somehow magically know how to communicate with me. Clients don’t really know what lawyers do or how hard we work. I take extra time and care in my initial consultations to explain how my staff and I are humans, we get sick, have life situations, and are not always perfect, and it has completely transformed my expectations of myself and others in just establishing those boundaries and being completely authentic in the moment. I love my clients, and we show each other so much more grace than ever before.

6. Delegate and Prioritize Tasks

Delegate tasks when possible, and prioritize your workload to focus on high-priority tasks that align with your professional goals and values. Avoid overcommitting yourself by setting realistic deadlines and assessing the importance of each task before agreeing to take it on. This is a hard one for me, and I hope I am getting a little better with it, but I still need some work. We need to ask ourselves, Is this something that contributes to my goals and priorities? If not, as shiny and pretty and fun as it may be, we need to say no. Learning to say no has been very challenging for me as I was a people pleaser and wanted to be needed. I can’t say I am completely over it, but I am making progress, and it is so freeing. Once you get a taste of really knowing what the highest and best use of your time is each day, it will get easier to do.

7. Practice Mindfulness

Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine to increase self-awareness and recognize when your boundaries are being tested. Take regular breaks throughout the day to check in with yourself and assess your stress levels and energy levels. By implementing these strategies, you can establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, reducing the risk of burnout and fostering a healthier work-life balance. It’s essential to prioritize self-care, communicate boundaries effectively, and cultivate habits that support well-being both inside and outside the workplace.

Mindful Communication

Enhancing interpersonal relationships through mindful communication and building a supportive network within the legal community will help lessen the effect of burnout. Mindful communication is a practice that involves bringing awareness, presence, and compassion to our interactions with others. In the legal community, where effective communication is essential for building positive relationships, resolving conflicts, and advocating for clients, mindful communication can play a crucial role in fostering trust, understanding, and collaboration. Here’s how mindful communication can impact relationships within the legal community, along with examples of key principles.

Impact of Mindful Communication

  1. Building trust. Mindful communication cultivates trust by demonstrating genuine interest, empathy, and respect for others’ perspectives. This creates a foundation of trust that is essential for effective collaboration and problem-solving. The lawyer-client relationship is one that is built on trust and respect.
  2. Enhancing understanding. By practicing active listening and empathetic communication, legal professionals can better understand their clients’ needs, concerns, and goals. This enables them to provide more personalized and effective legal advice and representation. The more range and capacity you have as you develop your mindfulness muscles, the more you will be able to be an active listener and empathize with your clients.
  3. Resolving conflicts. Mindful communication promotes constructive dialogue and conflict resolution by encouraging open-mindedness, patience, and a willingness to listen to opposing viewpoints. This can help prevent misunderstandings and facilitate mutually beneficial solutions. The new awareness that mindfulness brings can often disarm your opponents and can help you produce better results with less friction.
  4. Fostering collaboration. Mindful communication fosters a collaborative mindset in which legal professionals work together as a team to achieve common goals. By valuing diverse perspectives and fostering a supportive environment, mindful communication encourages innovation, creativity, and collective problem-solving.

Examples of Mindful Communication in the Legal Community

  1. Active listening. Example: During a client meeting, you practice active listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding to show understanding, and paraphrasing the client’s concerns to ensure accurate understanding. You refrain from interrupting and allow the client to express themselves fully before offering guidance or advice.
  2. Empathetic communication. Example: When communicating with a colleague who is experiencing a challenging case, you demonstrate empathy by acknowledging their emotions, offering support, and validating their experiences. You listen nonjudgmentally and express genuine concern for your colleague’s well-being.
  3. Fostering a supportive professional network. Example: You participate in networking events, bar association meetings, or mentorship programs to connect with peers, share experiences, and offer support. They actively listen to your experiences, provide encouragement, and offer assistance when needed, fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual support within the legal community.
  4. Mindful conflict resolution. Example: During a negotiation or mediation session, you practice mindful communication by remaining calm, respectful, and focused on finding common ground. You listen to opposing parties’ perspectives, acknowledge differences, and explore creative solutions that address everyone’s needs and interests.

By incorporating principles of mindful communication into your interactions, you can build positive relationships, enhance understanding, and foster a supportive and collaborative professional network within the legal community. This not only benefits your well-being but also contributes to the overall effectiveness and integrity of the legal profession.

In the June issue, once you have begun to explore and solidify your new burnout prevention techniques, we will explore how to maintain equanimity post-burnout. In the meantime, focus on your breath, take deep breaths in times of intense stress, take a few moments each day to walk around the office or outside if you can, and just know that you have the power to change your life, one step, one breath at a time.

Until next time . . . namaste. Please let me know if you have any tips, sources, or experiences with mindfulness you want to share at [email protected].

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour. —Zen proverb