The world we live in is seeing rates of depression, anxiety and chronic stress skyrocket. As society continues to evolve, so does the pressures placed on humans to adapt to a new way of doing things. This, in turn, creates a substantial need for humans to be wary of the way their mental health is impacted.
As lawyers, placing added awareness on the state of your wellbeing is even more important, as you hold one of the most demanding occupations of all.
Firms know this and have for some time now been encouraging better work/life balances, offering greater support and flexible working arrangements to help tackle the issue.
However, what do you do when the wellness wagon comes to a standstill and you find yourself struggling? We heard from several experts, who offered some valuable tips.
Shifting screen time
As lawyers in this day and age, you rely heavily on your computer desktops, laptops, iPhones, etcetera; however, could you be negatively impacting your wellness levels as a result?
A study by Linda Stone, thought leader and former technology executive, found that those who sit in front of a screen either shallow-breathe or stop breathing for periods of time. The condition has a name, and is called screen apnea.
“I don’t need to drone on about the detrimental health impacts of holding your breath or shallow breathing, as we’ve heard it all before. But it is worth reminding ourselves that compromised breathing does increase stress levels, and impact our attitude, our sense of emotional wellbeing and our ability to work effectively,” says Katerina Petrogiannakis, who leads nbn’s corporate and IT legal team.
“A quick and dirty list of symptoms include: tightness in the neck and shoulders, kicking off the autonomic nervous system into the fight-[or]-flight response and releasing the stress hormone adrenalin, thrusting us into a deep, dark world of pain (so to speak).
“So why are we holding our breath? Simple, when we sit in front of our screens or stare at our iPhones, we tend to hunch, pushing our arms and shoulders forward and making it difficult to inhale and exhale fully. Add a dose of anticipation to the mix, which is generally a complimentary side dish accompanying emails and texts, and we are well and truly on struggle street when it comes to breathing.”
Good news though – Ms Petrogiannakis says there are ways to reduce screen apnea.
1. Be aware
“Do you hold your breath in front of your screen? When? Identify your triggers and remind yourself to stop and breathe deeply, focusing on exhaling.”
“Instead of calling or emailing, walk over to your colleague’s desk. Be conscious of taking breaks – get up and move around for five to 10 minutes.”
3. Conscious computing
“Use technology to break bad habits. I acknowledge the paradox, but a mobile app such as Stand Up! or GPS for the Soul, or even a simple Outlook reminder, will go some way towards reducing screen apnea.”
4. Improve your posture
“Look at making any necessary adjustments to your chair and computer setup to improve your posture. Get a stand-up desk if need be – everyone else is doing it.”
While it’s something every person has to do, sleep is significantly underrated when it comes to maintaining wellness levels.
The optimal length for sleep is eight hours, according to various research outlets, however as lawyers are increasingly busy this is something that often gets put on the back-burner.
Jerome Doraisamy, who is a speaker, consultant and author of The Wellness Doctrines, says one of the key catalysts for his “breakdown” in late 2011 was lack of sleep.
“In the lead-up to that moment, I worked two to three days per week as a paralegal, had a full-time study load for my double degree, volunteered 30 to 35 hours weekly as vice president of the Law Students’ Society, and – because I was so adamant about succeeding in every one of those areas – I ended up allowing myself only four or five hours of sleep each night, consistently, for almost two years,” he says.
“Ultimately, it wasn’t sustainable. Looking back, I’m not sure how I ever survived so long without proper sleep.
“Prioritising sleep, and ensuring I get enough of it, has improved my physical and mental health over the past five years, and has allowed me to perform exponentially better than I ever could at law school.”
Some tips Mr Doraisamy recommends for getting a longer, better sleep are:
1) Turning off devices at least an hour before bed
“Nothing makes me toss and turn in bed more than the strain on my eyes and brain from having stared at a screen for prolonged periods right before turning off the lights.
Give yourself time to properly unwind from technology to be physically and psychologically prepared for sleep.”
2) Find a mindful activity that allows you to switch off from the daily grind.
“In order to unwind, I read books and, recently, have discovered adult colouring. These things help me detach and focus on personal nourishment and growth. Podcasts, classical music or newspapers can also be beneficial.”
3) Be kind to yourself. You are, first and foremost, a person.
“You have base needs and desires, and sleep is central to achieving that. Give yourself the time and space to rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit, so your batteries are recharged and you can hit the ground running the following day.”
Reset with meditation
For Millie Swann, meditation is a vital tool in maintaining strong wellness levels.
As an executive business change strategist, she has seen her fair share of strategies on how to combat the pressures placed on those with highly stressful roles, such as legal heavyweights.
“I would love to see more senior people have a high-quality 15 to 20 minute meditation practice,” Ms Swann says.
“That meditation practice allows you to reset your brain. It's one of the most powerful things in that it actually allows your whole body to heal a bit and rest. From that place you can [be more creative].”
According to a study conducted by the University of Washington in Seattle, HR workers who performed an eight-week mindfulness meditation training course were found to be more focused and to have a less negative attitude towards work than a trial group who had been on an eight-week relaxation training course.
The proof is in the pudding, says business coach Peter Bregman.
In an article he wrote in the Harvard Business Review, Mr Bregman says meditation can help people resist the distractions and urges that reduce productivity at work.
“Research shows that an ability to resist urges will improve your relationships, increase your dependability and raise your performance,” he writes.
“Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behaviour or changing an old habit. It’s probably the single most important skill for our growth and development.”
Mr Bregman notes meditation can also help people when a negative thought or worry enters their mind. Instead of focusing on the challenge in a harmful manner, thus heightening anxiety and/or stress levels, meditation allows one to bring their focus back to their breath, consequently decreasing tension.
This mental discipline can be beneficial in the workplace, he notes, where constant distractions such as emails, phone calls and competing demands from colleagues and clients can easily distract you from your priorities.