No, not health law. I am talking here about healthy lawyers. Oftentimes lawyers don’t make their wellness and health a priority because they are focused on other things that demand their attention.
I remember my father, a high profile trial attorney, was morbidly obese – as was his father, a trial lawyer turned County Court Judge. For many centuries, obesity was an indirect symbol of success and power. “Throw your weight around” was more than just a metaphor, especially around my family tree.
In 2004, I was totally stressed out and decided to quit practicing law and focus on healing myself and possibly others. My law practice was a large source of my stress, and I have written numerous articles for lawyers dealing with practice-based stress.
My eyes were widely opened by my new career of wellness, and I discovered that a lot of the stress I was experiencing was based more on poor wellness choices than the conflict inherent in being a lawyer. Here are a few suggestions for those who may find themselves in similar circumstances:
Loosen the necktie: Seriously, studies have shown that closed collars and neckties actually restrict the blood flow of oxygen to the brain. Really tight collars can cause headaches and reduce brain function. Consider wearing an open collar and quit wearing neckties.
Nutrition: My relationship to the food I consume has been passionate and emotional more than anything else. When I practiced law there always seemed to be a dozen doughnuts in the break room and we had regular pot luck lunches, which were high in sugar and low in nutrition. If we are trying to practice law on poor nutrition, we will get sick and obese. Not a good formula for success. I can help you with food plans, since it is critical that we eat wisely.
Exercise: For some people the walk from the parking lot to the office or the court is the only exercise they want. Exercise has two effects: (1) it makes you feel better and (2) it makes you healthier. The brain excretes several chemicals when you exercise that are similar to morphine, just without the side effects. It will not only make you feel good, but it will make you feel good about yourself. Exercise also lets you have alone time, which allows you to pause and reflect.
Body awareness: Lawyers should get regular medical checkups and blood chemistry analysis. Blood chemistry is a tricky thing, especially as we get older. Hormone levels, sugar levels, and cholesterol levels all have direct effects on our health and how we feel. When we are under a lot of stress, our adrenal glands can be dramatically affected. I had to start monitoring my blood pressure, which had risen to 150/100 or worse. Unchecked blood chemistry levels, coupled with a poor diet, can also result in high blood pressure, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
Baselines: I used to joke that what I thought was happiness was actually just a low level of anxiety. It is important to know what happiness feels like and what you feel like when your body is relaxed. If we are constantly stressed, we may not know what happiness or relaxation feels like. Listen to relaxing music, brain entrainment sounds, or whatever helps you reach a state of calm, so you will know when you are stressed because it feels different. For example, now when my blood pressure spikes, I know because it feels different than when it is normal.
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 have to work that hard regularly, have a plan for relaxation and recovery, including exercise. When you get older, you will thank yourself for making your health a priority.
Obviously, this only skims the surface of the areas I mention above. I have read dozens of books on each one. The reality is the practice of law is stressful, and we have to have a way of dealing with the stress and maintain a high level of satisfaction and happiness.
Happy lawyers are a force of nature.
Unhappy lawyers are train wrecks.
It is your choice.
About the Author
James Gray Robinson, Esq. was a third generation trial attorney, specializing in family law, for 27 years in his native North Carolina up until 2004. Since then he has become an individual and business consultant who works with a wide range of people, professional organizations, and leading corporations. Robinson’s mission is for all people to have fulfilling, peaceful career experiences and work environments. At the age of 64, Gray passed the Oregon bar exam and is again a licensed attorney.You can learn more about his work by visiting www.JamesGrayRobinson.com and to begin a dialogue about supporting you and/or your business, write him directly at James@JamesGrayRobinson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @divinelightmstr.