Leading a healthy life, even if (especially if) you are a lawyer
02 Nov 2020
Being healthy – what does that mean?
There is a formal definition – The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines “being healthy” as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
I’m not sure if the WHO (not the band) has met many lawyers these days…. but a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being is not how I would describe us. But that is (probably) a hugely generalised statement. The truth of the matter is, for many people the idea of “being healthy” looks very different – it sometimes consists of simply eating your daily fruits and vegetables, getting in some exercise at least twice a week and for others it consists of speaking to their psychologist (or life coach), whilst running on the treadmill and brushing up on the latest case law, before having a carb and starch free, vegan breakfast (to go) #overachievers. And still there are other lawyers who are scrambling just to keep this s#*t show together, by whatever means necessary. Getting through their days, mind and body intact, is their idea of “being healthy”.
Clearly, if 2020 has taught us anything, it is this – being healthy means (very) different things to (very) different people.
I’m not sure about you, but when Lockdown happened, I was relieved. And then completely freaked out.
Relieved because the usual humdrum of rushing around going to gym, doing grocery shopping, meeting clients, completing work, making dinner and still fitting in some time to have a conversation with my husband that didn’t consist of “yes” or “no” questions, had to stop (by law) and with that, I could slow down too – *Bliss*.
At first there was this overwhelming sense of “*sigh*, this is the good life” – groceries could be delivered, gyms were closed and there was nowhere to rush to. I could hold meetings with clients telephonically or via Skype, Zoom or Microsoft teams. I could even stay in my yoga pants all day. My fluffy and oh so comfy sheepskin slippers became my “go to”. Hygiene concerns out the way – I mean I did wash my hair and brush my teeth – life slowed down. Completely. And the first two weeks were amazing.
But this is when I freaked out. Because with this slowing down and taking an easier approach to life, my health started to suffer. My yoga pants hid the fact that kg’s were starting to pile on – I eventually had to hide my scale away (for sanity’s sake). Not being forced to do squats by my trainer (who insisted that I could do this at home – I couldn’t), meant that my fitness levels decreased (at a rapid rate) – hanging the washing had me gasping for air. And with the slowed down pace and eating whatever we had in the fridge – which now consisted of starch (because everyone has rice stocked away somewhere) and chocolate for breakfast – because you need a “pick me up” (a true story) – an unhealthy lifestyle became the norm. Leading a sedentary lifestyle was not something I ever saw myself doing. Nor is it recommended. And yet, there I was – working from my couch, in my yoga pants, snacking on Big Korn Bites, not having done a squat or lunge in months.
And yes, I was freaked out.
But is this “freaking out” just during lockdown?
Stress is no joke. As if the legal profession didn’t already have enough to deal with on a day to day basis, adding on the urgent changes required to keep it all going – like keeping up with technological trends, changes in legislation and even relevant case law. All whilst ensuring you remain relevant – posting on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and even your own website. It can be very daunting. The stress just piling up. Suddenly that bottle of Jack Daniels looks very tempting at 11am on a Tuesday morning. Because as a lawyer, you have a lot of people depending on you – colleagues and staff, clients, professional acquaintances, and your own family. Trying to meet everyone’s needs can become an extremely stressful endeavour. Let alone wondering if your “bum looks big in these pants”. Where and when does it end?!
And that is exactly why it is so important that you put yourself on your long list of responsibilities. In order to practice law at your most effective level, your health and wellness (both physically and mentally) must be a top priority. As we are all well aware, 2020 has certainly shed some bright lights on wellness issues, and they didn’t come out of nowhere, nor did these wellness issues arrive just because of Covid. They have existed for years – and they won’t be going away once we all head back to the office (if we head back to the office). This new ‘normal’ that we have found ourselves in, has thrown our bodies into some uncharted waters (I would know, even my yoga pants are starting to be less comfy). The lack of physical exercise, (whether you used to go to the gym or just walk around your office throughout the day), has had some negative side effects. It’s critical, more than ever, that we keep our bodies (and minds) healthy.
Where do I start?
Firstly, put down that party size packet of Big Korn Bites (I’m talking to myself here)….
Jokes aside, even a busy lawyer must be able to fit in the very basics of a healthy lifestyle. Often with very little advance planning (no amount of “I just don’t have the time” is a good enough excuse). In fact, you’ll find yourself better able to take on your hectic schedule once you ramp up the old health indicators. And it is here that we find our silver lining – because during this crazy “covidness”, we have a real opportunity to examine our lives, our stress levels, our health (physical and mental) and take the necessary steps to ensure that we change (whatever needs changing) for the better – change what we need to in order to live the lives we want to.
So here are some tips from the AJS team to help improve your daily physical wellbeing –
- Take a daily multivitamin – an easy and efficient first step in improving your health is to take a daily multivitamin with minerals. Start from the inside out. Put the bottle of vitamins on your desk or near your kettle and take the daily dosage at the same time every day (if you can);
- Drink more water – without sufficient water, you become dehydrated and may suffer from headaches, tension and unhealthy cravings. Drinking water can alleviate these symptoms and even promote weight loss by speeding up your metabolism and lessening your desire for food. Increasing your water intake also allows your body to efficiently eliminate toxins, which can resolve problems like acid reflux, ulcers and gastritis;
- Limit that “cheap” source of energy – sugar – while sugar may provide a quick burst of energy as it spikes your blood sugar, it ultimately causes an energy deficit—the “sugar crash”—that causes fatigue and exhaustion. Avoid refined sugars (called sugar, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, glucose or fructose) and replace them with whole foods and natural sweeteners. Whole foods that provide natural sugars are fruits (dates are a really good one) and cooked sweet vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and beetroot). Natural sweeteners include raw honey, real maple syrup, molasses, stevia, brown rice syrup and date sugar;
- Eat mindfully – we often eat while we are working at our computers, watching TV or on the run. And we usually eat more than we need when we aren’t focusing on our food. Instead, try paying attention to what you are eating. Look at your food before you eat it. Smell it. Savour it. And be mindful abut portion size;
- Get regular exercise throughout your day – one important fact about exercise, a little bit goes a long way. This is particularly true for aerobic exercise because it increases the oxygen in your body, which can improve health, both mental and physical, and aid in digestion, circulation and respiration. When it comes to trying to fit daily exercise into an already full schedule, get creative and think simply. Take the stairs, park further away from an entrance, get on the treadmill for a quick 15-minute run, go for a hike on the weekends instead of sitting on your couch (again). And every day, stand up, take a stretch break and walk the halls for a few minutes during every hour, and
- Try standing while you work – standing while working, even for just 30 minutes at a time (4 hours a day or more) can have a major impact on your health and body, and it’s not difficult to do if you have the right equipment…. Specifically, Sit-Stand desks, such as those offered by Teeter, also known as standing desks or height-adjustable desks, which make it very easy to change posture throughout the day while working. Healthline, has also outlined 7 benefits of standing while working and they include reducing back pain, lowering your risk of heart disease, lowering your risk of obesity and weight gain, lowering blood-sugar levels, improving mood and assisting with a gain in energy, boosting productivity that can even help you live longer.
And I’m not sure about you but those all sound “hellava” good to me….
But it doesn’t just stop with a healthy body. Lawyers, need to focus on their mental wellbeing as well.
Mental health is extremely important!
Covid has certainly brought laser focus to the state of mental health in the legal profession. Again, poor mental health existed long before Covid hit. Legal practitioners have been struggling with their mental health for years. Covid has just managed to shine a very bright light on the lawyer’s plight. Sadly so. There are so many issues we face – from dealing with the stress of billable hours (and being even more stressed when you are not able to make your required quota. Something Covid did not help with), to dealing with very emotional and taxing legal disputes, to tension with colleagues in a naturally tense environment to dealing with issues in your home life.
It is enough to drive anyone insane (or enough to drive anyone to drink – being part of the problem).
And lawyers have become more and more susceptible to poor mental health, to depression, to substance abuse and sometimes (tragically) even to suicide. Focusing on mental health, (something that is seemingly happening quite a lot at the moment) is not trendy and is not a fad for 2020. It is something truly serious. Something that needs to be addressed. Constantly. And is also something that you can take steps to improve yourself.
Ensure that you are taking care of your mind, body and soul.
Frieda Levycky of Braving Boundaries in her article 10 tips for lawyers who want to improve their mental health sets out the following practical steps that you can take to safeguard your mental wellbeing such as –
- ”Get to grips with your values – when was the last time you sat down and identified your core values? Often the struggles we face in life are either because we are not living by our core values or because two or more of our values are in conflict with each other. If this sounds familiar, consider working with me to re-discover your core values and bring your life back into balance. Book a discovery call for more information
- Sleep – poor sleep has been linked to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. According to Harvard Medical School, studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. For professionals, 8 hours sleep may not feel like an option. So, concentrate on quality over quantity. Block out the blue light. Web MD succinctly describes how blue light (that bright white light emitted by our electronic devices) messes with our body’s ability to prepare for sleep. It blocks a hormone called melatonin that makes us sleepy. So, 30 minutes before bedtime, instead of scrolling through social media and emails (we all do it!), grab a Nicholas Sparkes off the bookshelf and lose yourself in the fictional world.
- Keep active – lulls in mental health can leave you feeling sluggish and less inclined to exercise but it’s important to try and keep yourself moving. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and releases endorphins, our body’s own anti-depressant. It also releases other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which lifts our mood. If you’ve got a sport you love, build it back into your weekly routine. If not, try out something completely new.
- Sing – yes, gents, you too! There is nothing quite like belting out a good tune to lift your mood! Here is a list put together by Billboard if you are looking for some positive inspiration. Singing is a natural anti-depressant. Like exercise, it releases endorphins and makes you feel happy. Scientists have also proven that a tiny organ in the ear (the sacculus) responds to the frequencies created by singing. The response creates an immediate sense of pleasure, irrespective of how good or bad your singing is. Watch out Elton John!
- Eat well – eating foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, protein, and fatty acids is key to keeping your brain in good working order and therefore improving mental health. Eat regularly throughout the day to maintain a constant blood sugar level and avoid those dreaded sugar crashes. Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, limit your alcohol intake (as it has a depressant effect on the brain, which can result in a rapid worsening of your mood) and make sure you keep hydrated. We all need a treat now and then, but if your mood is low, improving your diet is a quick and easy area to make improvements.
- Meditate – I won’t lie. It’s not for everyone. But if you are stressed and are looking for a simple way to take time out from the relentless pace of daily life, then meditation and mindfulness exercises are a great place to start. It can be a challenge to begin with, but free apps such as Headspace, Simple Habit and Oak can all help you to train your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.
- Prioritize priorities – let’s be honest, yes, work is demanding, but there are successful lawyers and entrepreneurs, with the same number of hours in the day, who manage to have a happy and fulfilling life outside of the office. What secret do they know that you don’t? They make a choice. They have balance. Next time you hear yourself saying: “I just don’t have the time”, I invite you to consciously stop and ask yourself these three questions:
- “What am I prioritising here?”
- “What am I sacrificing?”
- “Is this the option I want to choose?”
- Live within your means – we live in a world which encourages us to overspend. It’s all well and good wanting to keep up with the Kardashians’, but a decadent lifestyle can handcuff you. By reining back our outgoings, we give ourselves freedom, flexibility and a lot less stress.
- Maintain your external relationships – invest time and energy in your relationships outside of the office. They matter. When things get tough at work, colleagues can often feel conflicted. It is your friends and family outside of the office who will be your greatest support. So take the time to build and maintain these relationships.
- Seek external support – coaching, counselling and mentorship services, such as those that can be found at Braving Boundaries, offer a confidential space to talk and think through any personal difficulties with a trained professional. Many people find it helpful to do this with someone who isn’t a friend or family member”.
Adding on to the above, at AJS we also believe that having an online practice and account management system and document automation system in place (such as those provided by AJS and XpressDox) will assist in easing stress and tension in your every-day practice by saving you time and ensuring accuracy both within your practice and within your document drafting process thereby guaranteeing structure and order.
If logic applies, this saving of time will support lawyers by enabling them to use their newly gained free time to undertake the activities that will improve their overall health and wellbeing – less stress and anxiety, leads to a positive outlook which will lead to a healthy mind and healthy body.
And that all sounds like a win-win to me.
There is one additional (and crucial) detail we almost forgot to add. And that is – to laugh. As much, as loud and as often as possible. Mark Twain and Madeleine L’Engle said it best –
“Humanity has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand” — Mark Twain
“A good laugh heals a lot of hurts” — Madeleine L’Engle
With all that said and no matter how much good advice you are given, it is up to you to get yourself off of that couch and put yourself (and your health) first. Don’t do it for anyone else. Do it for you.
And in the immortal words of RuPaul –
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