The pressure of being a lawyer takes its toll on your health and happiness. Here are a few tips for managing stress and learning to focus on your health first.
Most lawyers don’t make their own health and wellness a priority because other, more urgent things demand their attention.
In 2004, after 27 years as a divorce lawyer, I was totally stressed and decided to quit practicing law. I wanted to focus on healing myself and possibly others. My eyes were opened once I began my new career. I discovered that a lot of my stress was due to poor wellness choices — not the pressure and conflict inherent in being a lawyer.
Preventing the Trainwreck: 6 Steps for Managing Stress and Health
Since then, I have counseled many lawyers and written numerous articles for lawyers dealing with practice-based stress. Here are a few suggestions for becoming healthier and happier.
1. Establish Your Baseline
I used to joke that what I thought was happiness was just a low level of anxiety. If you are constantly stressed, you may not remember what happiness or relaxation feels like. Stress may feel normal to you. It is important to recognize happiness and know what you feel like when your body is relaxed — your baseline. Listen to relaxing music, meditate or do whatever helps you reach a state of relaxation. Then you will know you are stressed because it feels different from your baseline. For example, now when my blood pressure spikes, I know because it feels different than when it’s normal.
2. Become Body Aware
Scheduling regular preventative medical checkups and blood chemistry analyses establish a baseline for monitoring your overall health. Blood chemistry is a tricky thing, especially as you get older. Hormone levels, sugar levels and cholesterol levels have direct effects on our health and how we feel. Stress, for example, dramatically affects your adrenal glands and ongoing, relentless stress can lead to big health problems.
Devise strategies for managing stress you can use when you begin feeling its effects on your body. To fight its effects, take action to improve your overall health for the long haul:
3. Make Good Food Choices
My father was a high-profile trial attorney and was morbidly obese — as was his father, a trial lawyer turned county judge. For many centuries, obesity was a symbol of success and power. “Throwing your weight around” was more than just a metaphor, especially around my family tree.
My relationship with food has been passionate and emotional more than anything else. When I practiced law, there always seemed to be a dozen doughnuts in the breakroom, and potluck lunches with food that was high in sugar and low in nutrition were the norm.
Late nights spent working, travel, anxiety, depression and insomnia go hand in hand with late-night food orders and caffeine and sugar-fueled pick-me-ups. If you are trying to practice law on an unhealthy diet, you will get sick and likely become obese. A poor diet can result in high blood pressure, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and diabetes. That is not a good formula for success.
4. Step Up Your Exercise Routine
For some people, the walk from the parking lot to the office or the court is the only exercise they want — or can afford in their busy lives. Making time for exercise will not only make you healthier and help you feel better, but it will also make you feel better about yourself. The brain excretes several chemicals when you exercise — similar to taking morphine without the side effects. Exercise is one of the best strategies for managing stress.
Another benefit: Whether you work out at the gym, take long walks or bike, a regular exercise routine also gives you much-needed alone time to pause and reflect. This is also key to managing stress.
5. Loosen Your Collar
Seriously, studies have shown that closed collars and neckties can restrict the blood flow of oxygen to the brain. Really tight collars can cause headaches and even reduce brain function. Consider wearing an open collar and stop wearing neckties as much as possible.
6. Pace Yourself
While working a hundred hours a week or more may be good for your career, it is not good for your health or your family. If you regularly work long hours, have a plan for relaxation and recovery, including exercise. Use your vacation days. When you get older you will thank yourself for making your health a priority.
Becoming a Healthier Lawyer Requires a Strategy
The reality is the practice of law is stressful. The pressure takes a toll — especially if managing stress and your health take a backseat to other people’s needs. You need to deal with your stress and focus on your health if you hope to maintain a high level of satisfaction and happiness throughout your career.
Happy lawyers are a force of nature. Unhappy lawyers are trainwrecks. It is your choice.