Working Well: The ABCs of Emotional Health

By NJSBA Staff posted 06-06-2019 09:51

Editors Note: This article by Cheyne R. Scott was originally published in the June, 2019 issues of New Jersey Lawyer. Read the full magazine here.

Stress is caused by exposure to an activating event, the irrational beliefs about that event and the emotional consequences of those beliefs, commonly known as the ABC model, set forth by American psychologist Albert Ellis.1 Understanding the ABC model can help lawyers develop
effective ways of thinking and behaving in order to reduce negative emotions.

There is little doubt that when faced with stressful activating events, attorneys may repeatedly practice irrational beliefs that lead to stress and anxiety. For example, a common activating event would be receiving an email from the managing partner asking to be called immediately. The beliefs an attorney may experience may include: “I must have done something wrong,” “S/he must be upset with me,” and “I am getting fired.” The emotional consequences of those beliefs may be worry, fear and panic.

There is, however, a way out of this stressful cycle: the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of attending to the present moment and cultivating an attitude of curiosity, openness and acceptance in one’s experience.2 It is an effective way to identify, dispute and change one’s beliefs in order to experience less negative emotions.3 Specifically, mindfulness has been found to increase focus, reduce stress and anxiety and lead to healthier responses to challenging social situations.4 Common ways to practice mindfulness include meditation, yoga and gratitude
journaling. Meditation is correlated with increased memory and executive decision making.5 Yoga has been linked to lowering stress hormones.6 Gratitude journaling promotes optimism, productivity and overall happiness.

If you can practice mindfulness on a consistent basis, you will see the positive effects in your practice and everyday life.

1. A. Ellis, (1962), Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, New York: Stuart.
2. S.R. Bishop, M.A. Lau, S.L. Shapiro, L. Carson, N.D. Anderson, J. Carmody, G. Devins, (2004), Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition, Clinical Psychology, 11,
230-241. Doi:10.1093/Clipsy.bph077.
3. Z. Segal, M. Williams and J. Teasdale, (2002) Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse. New York; Guilford Press.
4. A. Chiesa and A. Serretti, (2009), Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction for Stress Management in Healthy People: A Review and Meta-Analysis, The Journal of Alternative and
Complementary Medicine, 15(5), 593-600. D. Belinger, (2015), Mindfulness, Anxiety, and High-Stakes Mathematics Performance in the Laboratory and Classroom, Consciousness and Cognition, Dec. 2015, 123-132. Britta K. Holzel, Sara W. Lazar, Tim Gard, Zev Schuman- Olivier, David R. Vago, Ulrich Ott, (2011), How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action from a Conceptual and Neural Perspective, Perspectives in Psychological Science, 2011; 6(6); 537-559.
5. Sue McGreevey, (2011), Eight Weeks to a Better Brain, The Harvard Gazette to-a-better-brain/.
6. J. Thirthalli, G.H. Naveen, M.G. Rao, S. Varambally, R. Christopher and B.N. Gangadhar, (2013), Cortisol and Antidepressant Effects of Yoga, Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 55, 405–408.

Cheyne R. Scott, Esq. is with the firm Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo, PC