The Legal Profession: Preventing Burnout and Optimising Health
By Charlene Gisele, Biohacker and Corporate Wellness Consultant.
We hear the words “new normal” and “uncertain times” more and more but one thing is certain – health is the ultimate wealth. The world as we know it is shifting and that is why a rapid change in wellness practices is also necessary.
Wellness within law firms will increasingly focus on improving the mental and physical health of their legal talent and one way this can be maximised is by working with health coaches and biohackers to provide a more bespoke approach to the one-size-fits-all corporate wellness approach of days past.
Getting into a performance mindset
I am no stranger to the legal world. As a former lawyer at Jones Day, I have done those long days and all-nighters, pushing myself to my mental limits and to the point of burnout. I know the demands of the legal industry and understand the pressure lawyers put on themselves and their colleagues. There is nothing wrong with pressure – achieving excellence in your profession is a virtuous goal. However, it can become all too toxic quite quickly. One common observation I have of lawyers is that health is not a priority until it goes awry.
Neglecting mental and physical health is like leaving money on the table. Think how much more success you could achieve if your mindset and physical health are optimised for work performance? To perform at your best, you need to get out of that fight or flight mindset into a growth and opportunity mindset. The body goes where the mind leads it.
Long, stressful hours in front of a computer screen erodes at your mental sharpness. Where long workdays become long work weeks, and long work weeks blend into months, brain performance, such as how you process information, recall memories, and respond to external stimuli will deteriorate, and then age-related cognitive decline also starts to set in. To combat these effectively, corporate wellness programmes have to provide more rigour and cover all elements of health including sleep and recovery, breathwork and mindset, movement and exercise, nutrition choices and eating habits, metabolic health optimisation and an awareness of the environment i.e. light, air, water, indoors vs outdoors.
Common long-term ailments among lawyers tend to include headaches, dry eyes and migraines but these can be alleviated naturally within a few weeks through integrating the use of blue light-blocking glasses, and using red light therapy to support improved mental acuity – the light helps to stimulate the mitochondria within the cells and enhances blood flow to the brain, which helps heal stressed and damaged tissue.
An excessively sedentary lifestyle is another common theme among lawyers. Movement is incredibly important to both physical and mental health. Sadly, our modern lifestyles and work environments tend to reinforce a sedentary lifestyle yet we all know a lack of movement can set off a cascade of negative biological effects both in the short and long term. However, there are ways to optimise your daily step count and incorporate desk stretches and exercises that fit into your work lifestyle.
Take a breather
The lawyers I work with seem to be in a permanent, heightened state of fight or flight, so bringing in daily mindfulness, practising conscious belly breathing or one-minute deep breaths to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is crucial to preventing prolonged stress.
Quality recovery time helps you to become more physically and mentally resilient, qualities we can all benefit from. Just as an athlete can overtrain, so too can a person overwork at their job. Intermittent stress is effective at building resilience but chronic stress coupled with an absence of adequate recovery, only promotes inflammation and can accelerate ageing-related conditions.
Regular breathwork and mindfulness practices during the workday also boosts flow and creativity, both of which are not optimised at the desk. Increased creativity and ability to enter a flow state will have a positive impact on work as it’s in this state that your motivation, creativity and productivity are at their highest.
Although highly educated and extremely intelligent, lawyers often fall short on nutritional education (as do most of the population). Additionally, ‘time-saving’, desk-eating culture is rampant amongst lawyers but eating whilst working means that both activities are done in a sub-optimal manner, benefiting neither the body nor the file you are working on. Shifting these multitasking habits to get into mastering a single task will help you become more effective in whatever it is you’re taking on.
When it comes to choices of what goes onto the plate, I systematically notice an overconsumption of processed plastic wrapped or pre-cooked, ready-made meals to once again ‘save time’. Time pressure is too often cited but this is why nutritional education is important. Fundamentally, what you eat affects the brain, impacts cognitive performance, as well as energy levels, so is therefore a key element to focus on to optimise your health and performance at work.
Becoming a metabolic master
There is now an alarmingly high percentage of people in the legal community who are metabolically unhealthy. Being metabolically unhealthy can place you at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. Optimising metabolic health is about taking a holistic lifestyle approach – it is so much more than just body weight, so demand that corporate wellness programs offer strategies that optimise hormones, lipids, blood sugar levels, organ function, blood pressure, and waist circumference.
Biohack your way to wellness
Biohacking really resonates with lawyers because it is all about using state-of-the-art technology such as trackers to get quantifiable insights into your unique biology, physiology, and mental state to achieve optimum health, performance, longevity, and vitality. With these deep insights, it provides biological markers that can be tracked and improved. With technology, it is now possible to give recommendations based on a person’s unique requirements. The time of generic, broad-sweeping recommendations and tick-box gym memberships to cover off employee health is behind us, we can now all get tailored recommendations that will have the greatest impact on our wellness.
Although meeting in person has become near impossible, it does not mean that health and wellness has to be put on hold, quite the opposite. With growing physical isolation, it is ever more important to keep a strong bond going between colleagues and executives at all levels. This is where group online workshops, webinars, and virtual classes either live or pre-recorded, which can involve team-building exercises, is beneficial. They make for great team bonding experiences, fostering long-term team support, success, and camaraderie. Private coaching can then be provided in addition to provide a more tailored and personal approach.
Either way, regular corporate wellness workshops is a long-term investment into your executives’ and employees’ health, wellbeing, and productivity, both inside and out of work. Remember that health and mental well-being need to be sustained in the long-term. The days of working ‘harder’ without factoring in health are over. It is time to learn about working smarter to optimise both productivity and upgraded health.