Law Office Management
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Managing Stress: Your Success Depends On It

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.

Your secretary is out sick, your biggest client is complaining about the fee, your computer does not work, you're scheduled to be in two courtrooms at the same time, your bookkeeper forgot to mail all of last week's checks and you have meetings every night this week.

It should come as no surprise to you that practicing law and managing a law firm, especially as a solo or small firm practitioner, is extraordinarily stressful. There are constant demands on your limited time by a seemingly unlimited number of people.

It should also come as no surprise that it is critical to learn how to manage stress - yes, stress can be managed - if we are to be successful and healthy. It is important to remember that it is not what happens to us that causes stress, but how we react to what happens to us.

After spending many years as an administrator for a firm and having my own consulting practice, I have learned that the only way to get through some days was to laugh. That's right - laugh. The use of humor and laughter could make the difference between success and failure, health and sickness, happiness and misery.

Countless studies have been done over the years involving patients and the effect laughter has on their ability to recuperate. One of the best known cases of humor/laughter being used to cure an illness was the case of Norman Cousins, then editor of the Saturday Review, who was diagnosed as having a debilitating spinal disorder. In his now world-famous Anatomy of An Illness, he describes the medical profession's inability to cure his disease with accepted medical practices. In desperation, he took his condition into his own hands, checking himself out of the hospital and into a hotel. While at the hotel he watched Marx Brothers films and read humorous books. He believes, as did the New England Journal of Medicine, that his attitude, daily doses of laughter, and proper diet were responsible for his miraculous recovery.

Not only will laughter make you well, more importantly it will prevent you from becoming sick in the first place. Laurence J. Peter, in his book The Laughter Prescription, says that "the ability to get out a laugh at everyday situations is a safety valve that will rid you of tension that might otherwise build and damage your health." Laughter is physically, as well as emotionally, good for you. According to Jane Goodman, M.D., Director of the Humor Project at the Saratoga Institute in Saratoga Springs, New York, "Laughter can provide relief from life's daily pressures and build up immunity for the long haul." William Fry, a professor of clinical psychology at Stanford University, has been studying the effects of laughter for thirty years and he believes that laughing ten minutes a day is equivalent to ten minutes of rowing. He refers to it as stationary jogging.

The benefits to laughing are: 1. it strengthens the immune system, 2. it facilitates breathing, 3. it exercises the heart, 4. it increases the pulse rate, 5. it speeds blood flow and 6. it promotes healing. (And it is cheaper than a health club membership, and you can do it anywhere.)

All right you're saying, laughing relieves stress. So what! All the laughing in the world is not going to fix your computer, make your secretary well, reschedule your court dates, or fix anything else that can, and will, go wrong. Laughter will not eliminate even one of your problems. It will, however, give us the presence of mind to solve all of them.

Our success, both personally and professionally, comes from our ability to calmly and intelligently handle the everyday trials and tribulations we encounter. We will not be able to do that successfully unless we are able to laugh. Psychologist William James said, "We don't laugh because we are happy - we're happy because we laugh."

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