The 4A frame­work to stress management

Stress has always been rife in the legal industry. 

The traits that make us good lawyers – if not under­stood or coun­tered – feed our stress and impact our abil­i­ty to be happy. 

It’s a bit of a conun­drum. We need to be care­ful about mis­takes, but being over­ly per­fec­tion­ist can lead to black and white think­ing and pro­cras­ti­na­tion. We need to be aware of risks and what can go wrong, but con­stant­ly think­ing about the neg­a­tives can lead to a depres­sive out­look. Despite try­ing to lib­er­ate our­selves from the hourly rate, we still work in a pay per hour” indus­try where unhealthy work­ing prac­tices are mis­tak­en for success.

Being aware of the how the traits of lawyers can feed the stress cycle is impor­tant so we can take respon­si­bil­i­ty for man­ag­ing this. We need to build in pos­i­tive inten­tion, activ­i­ties and cul­tures to counter the neg­a­tive ten­den­cies and pri­ori­tise kind­ness, health and hap­pi­ness. This will lead to greater moti­va­tion, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and inno­va­tion – so everyone’s a winner. 

This has nev­er been impor­tant than it is right now, after what we have col­lec­tive­ly been through. 

We have sev­er­al default set­tings, uni­ver­sal real­i­ties that exac­er­bate our stress response. To that end, I want to award you 4As. The 4As can act as anti­dotes to the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of these defaults. Being the high achiev­ers you are, I know that’s an excit­ing prospect! 


We are each divid­ed into body, mind and con­scious­ness – or awareness. 

Most of the time we are on autopi­lot, tied up in our thoughts and at the mer­cy of our emo­tions. Stress starts with our minds but man­i­fests in our bod­ies phys­i­o­log­i­cal­ly, often lead­ing to chron­ic con­di­tions and impact­ing our men­tal health. A pri­ma­ry anti­dote to this is Aware­ness. If we can become aware of our thoughts, we can choose to not engage. We can man­age and be free of them and their con­se­quences. Build in the habit of reg­u­lar­ly check­ing in with your­self, as you might do with your own team. Take a breath and ask your­self how am I doing” and what do I need”. You may become aware of an under­ly­ing mood that you hadn’t noticed. You may realise you haven’t tak­en a breath for a while due to the stress of your inbox (“email apnea” is actu­al­ly a thing!). You may dis­lodge some rigid think­ing to cre­ate space for innovation. 

You can nev­er get enough aware­ness. Build­ing a prac­tice to reg­u­lar­ly inhab­it that space will make a notice­able difference.


Anoth­er of our defaults is that our great­est moti­va­tor is fear. Fear of not being enough. Our amyg­dala is ful­ly formed at the time of birth – primed for fear, look­ing for risks and ensur­ing that we are pro­tect­ed by our tribe. The need for accep­tance by oth­ers means ear­ly life expe­ri­ences will often lead us to believe that we are not good / clever / suc­cess­ful / appro­pri­ate enough. We become the nar­ra­tive we tell our­selves in order to fit in and be accept­ed, whilst all the while feel­ing defi­cient. That fear then dri­ves our behav­iours and char­ac­ter. We may become per­fec­tion­ists, peo­ple pleasers or over-achiev­ers in our search for acceptance. 

Sound famil­iar?

The first step is to under­stand what our fear is, how it crys­tallised and how it has impact­ed our lives. An imme­di­ate step to counter its impact is to devel­op ado­ra­tion… for our­selves. You are won­der­ful­ly unique and don’t deserve anyone’s judge­ment, not least your own. Espe­cial­ly as you now recog­nise that your thoughts and fears are not actu­al­ly you. Self-com­pas­sion is sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly proven to improve long term health and hap­pi­ness and equips you to help you serve oth­ers bet­ter. The con­cept of self-com­pas­sion is some­times con­fused for con­ceit or self-pity, but it’s actu­al­ly about being the very best friend you can be – to yourself. 


As human beings, we have a dys­func­tion­al rela­tion­ship with time. The past hurts. We are wor­ried about what might hap­pen in the future. We are wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen before we can be hap­py. We find it a chal­lenge to be present. Yet this moment is the only real­i­ty there is, so it means we are in dan­ger of miss­ing most of our lives. Regret­ting the past or anx­i­ety for the future is point­less, exhaust­ing and unhealthy. The anti­dote here is Accep­tance. You will have heard the phrase to con­trol the con­trol­lables’, but we must also under­stand and active­ly accept the uncon­trol­lables. I don’t mean that we should give up all ambi­tion, but that we strive con­scious­ly in the con­text of real­i­ty as opposed to flail­ing con­tin­u­al­ly in a world of fan­ta­sy. It’s only by first ful­ly accept­ing real­i­ty, can we ful­ly be present and then go on to be like water’ (à la Bruce Lee), which brings us to the next A. 


We also have a dys­func­tion­al rela­tion­ship with cir­cum­stance. Often our cir­cum­stances are not good enough. We com­pare our cir­cum­stances with oth­er people’s. We resist or reject our sit­u­a­tion, and/​or wait for some­thing bet­ter to hap­pen. We find our­selves in a con­stant state of resis­tance – swim­ming upstream, try­ing to con­trol all aspects of our cir­cum­stances and out­comes. Point­less and exhaust­ing. Auton­o­my is a basic human need. It’s our need and abil­i­ty to con­trol the con­trol­lables’. Tak­ing full respon­si­bil­i­ty for that which we can own allows us to enjoy the process and the out­come. That’s how we can enjoy the jour­ney rather than wait­ing only for the destination.

Final­ly, a thought about the extent to which our uncon­scious pur­suit of suc­cess may be con­tribut­ing to our stress. What is the suc­cess that we’re striv­ing for? Is it what our par­ents had want­ed for us, what soci­ety deems to be suc­cess, what our friends would approve of or the suc­cess a much younger ver­sion of our­selves had want­ed and which we are now trapped to pur­sue? Is the fear of not being good enough dri­ving us towards an emp­ty’ suc­cess and is that leav­ing us unhap­py? Is there a delta between what might real­ly ful­fil us and what we are chas­ing after? To what extent is this caus­ing a back­ground stress’ in our lives? Not liv­ing in line with our inner (often unex­plored) val­ues can cause anx­i­ety and give more fuel to our inner crit­ic. Bring­ing aware­ness of this is the first step to bring­ing more order and con­gruity to our lives. 

To end on a note of self-com­pas­sion again. For lawyers every­where right now. The way we pur­sue suc­cess is impor­tant. After a year of exhaust­ing chal­lenges, we need to push our­selves gen­tly, as a kind and encour­ag­ing friend or coach, not as an inner sergeant major.

I hope this frame­work gives you some­thing use­ful to reflect upon when it comes to car­ing for your­selves as pro­fes­sion­als and find­ing the sup­port you need after a year of con­stant stress.

At Lex­So­lu­tions, we work with law firms and in-house legal teams on pro­grammes to help them devel­op well­be­ing, cul­ture and inno­va­tion – whether at an indi­vid­ual or organ­i­sa­tion­al lev­el. We would love to talk to you about how this could work for you or your team. Drop us a line at @ hello@​lexsolutions.​com if you would like a chat on how we can work together.

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