Your Wellness Everyday Self-Care Tips

30-Second Stressbusters for Legal Professionals

When it comes to stress, legal professionals face a double bind: We have more work-related stress than most, but we also have less free time to do something about it!

Jon Krop, JD

Good news — managing stress doesn’t need to be time intensive! Sometimes, the most effective stress-relief techniques can take as little as 30 seconds.


Don’t get me wrong: It’s helpful to invest some time in self-care when that’s an option. If you have 15 minutes to meditate, or an hour to get a massage, I definitely encourage that. But the reality of working in the law is that often, you won’t have that time.

In this article, we’ll explore three ways to calm your stress, anxiety, or overwhelm in 30 seconds or less. Applying bite-sized methods like this is actually a time-tested approach. In the Tibetan meditation tradition, there’s a famous teaching: “Short moments, many times.” Let’s draw inspiration from that and dive into these 30-second stressbusters.

Cognitive Reframing: From Anxiety to Excitement

Quick takeaway: Turn anxiety into fuel by reinterpreting it as excitement, a similar physiological state with more positive associations. This can be as simple as telling yourself, “I’m excited!”

When we feel anxious, our instinct is often to try to calm down. That’s a tall order, since being anxious and being calm are basically opposites.

When you’re calm, your heart rate and breathing are slow, and your muscles are relaxed. When you’re anxious, your heart rate and breathing are elevated, your muscles are tense and you experience a rush of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

“When you’re caught in a negative thought, ask yourself ‘Am I sure that’s true?’ to counteract our tendency to believe what our thoughts tell us.”

However, there’s a state similar to anxiety: excitement. It also involves increased heart rate, accelerated breathing, and a release of adrenaline and cortisol.

Recognizing this similarity, Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, has found in her research that by reframing anxiety as excitement, individuals can more effectively navigate stressful situations. Simply saying “I’m excited” during moments of anxiety can have profound effects, fostering a mindset that views challenges as opportunities rather than threats.

Vagus Breathing: Calming the Body and Mind

Quick takeaway: To calm the body and mind, 1) slow your breathing, and 2) breathe into your belly, instead of your chest.

Vagus breathing is a method that stimulates a cranial nerve called the vagus nerve, which triggers a physiological relaxation response, calming the body and mind. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Slow your breathing to about six breaths per minute or slower. To get there, you can inhale for a count of five seconds and exhale for the same count.
  2. Breathe down into your belly, rather than breathing from the chest. Chest breathing is associated with stress and tension, whereas belly breathing further stimulates the vagus nerve and relaxes you. You can place a hand on your stomach to check that it’s expanding outward when you inhale.

Vagus breathing is fast-acting, discreet and as simple as it gets. A must-have for your stress-management toolkit.

Questioning Thoughts: “Am I Sure That’s True?”

Quick takeaway: When you’re caught in a negative thought, ask yourself “Am I sure that’s true?” to counteract our tendency to believe what our thoughts tell us.

Derived from cognitive behavioral therapy, this technique helps us avoid getting pulled into negative or anxious thoughts. Here’s the idea: We have a tendency to take our thoughts as true, when actually they’re often distorted, and sometimes they’re just false.

To counter this tendency, when an anxious thought arises, just ask yourself, “Am I sure that’s true?” This is often enough to loosen the grip of the distressing thought. If you need more help, you can ask one of these follow-up questions:

  • What evidence is there that this thought is true?
  • Are there any assumptions hidden in this thought?
  • Could there be another, equally plausible scenario?         

Simple though this technique may be, it can shift your whole mindset in an instant.


Sharing self-care methods is tricky, because it might seem to suggest that feeling stressed is your fault and that coping with it is your responsibility. I don’t believe that. The problem is systemic, not merely individual. We’re embedded in an industry and, for many of us, in organizations that are not set up to prioritize health and well-being.

What I want to see is widespread change in the way legal organizations structure themselves, create their culture, and shape incentives around work and well-being. And, slowly, this change is starting to happen.

In the meantime, though, I want you armed with the tools to preserve your own well-being and to thrive in an often-challenging field. I hope these three methods — cognitive reframing, vagus breathing, and “Am I sure that’s true?” — will help you the way they’ve helped me.