CBA Record May-June 2021
Lawyer’s Guide to Taking Control of Your Self-Care Routine By Erin Clifford
I f there was ever a time to kickstart a new self-care routine or revive a pre- vious one, it is now. For many, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a serious physical, mental, and emotional toll. However, it can also create an opportunity to pause, reassess, and start anew when it comes to self-care and healthy living. We are more than a year into the pan- demic and the drastic lifestyle changes it has brought about. Routines we followed for years are gone, in some cases forever. Remote work has kept many law firms and businesses afloat, but it has also led to longer hours, higher stress levels, and employee burnout. Some parents are still juggling remote work with remote schooling for the kids, and many from all walks of life are experiencing the mental health issues that arise from long-term social isolation. Just a quick look at the numbers clearly shows why most of us need more self-care in our lives. The CDC found that 6 in 10 U.S. adults have one chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes, and that 4 in 10 have at least two. Stress-induced lifestyle choices such as binge drinking and poor eating increase the risk of these chronic diseases, and it is a gross understatement to say that the past year has increased stress levels. Among a survey of U.S. adults recently surveyed by the American Psychological Association, 84% reported feeling “at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress,” including anger, anxiety and sadness. Lawyers are particularly susceptible to these issues. Many lawyers are “Type A” people who, even in the best of times, are prone to overachievement and stressful sit- uations. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that lawyers are more than three times as likely to be depressed, and twice as likely as the average citizen to become alcoholic. Throw in a pandemic and its accompanying upheaval, and it’s a potential recipe for disaster when it comes to our health. But it doesn’t have to be. Taking a little
time to assess our cur- rent state of health and make the neces- sary adjustments to improve it can lead to happier, more mean- ingful, and more pro- ductive lives overall. The change starts from within. The first step in this process is to understand what self-care is. Self-Care: It’s an Inside Job Self-care means nourishing yourself from within. It means taking care of yourself physically and mentally to nurture a holis- tic sense of wellness in every area of life. When life becomes stressful, our first impulse is often to focus on what we believe are “priorities.” Those priorities are normally external — that is, they con- cern events and responsibilities outside of our own bodies and minds. A common example right now is managing the stress of remote work with the stress of remote schooling. Another is allowing a job to become all encompassing, so that you are never able to really shut it down at the end of the day. In these kinds of situations, diet, exercise, spiritual health, and relaxation get eclipsed by these so-called priorities. The habit of deprioritizing health and wellness in the name of fulfilling external obligations can do great damage over the long term. As the old saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup, and if you sacrifice your physical and mental health for too long, the corrosive effects will start to cover every area of your life. Before you try to fix everything and everyone around you, first look to see that your own cup is full. Self-care differs from one person to the next. As a health and wellness coach, I strongly believe that taking care of oneself must first and foremost be about find- ing the elements that work best for the individual, from the food you eat to the activities you do to care for yourself.
Small Steps to Take Right Now My overarching self-care philosophy is to start small. For example, if you have never before tried meditation, don’t pressure yourself to master the act of sitting still for a full hour, or even 30 minutes. Instead, try 10 minutes each day to start, so you can get used to both the activity and the concept of taking a pause from your daily activities. You can add on minutes over time. There are many useful apps, too, that offer guided meditations and programs and can help you set realistic goals for your experience level. Exercise is another place to start small. If you have no exercise routine at all, don’t expect yourself to run a 5K within the first week. Start by setting walking goals (e.g., 5,000 steps per day, then 10,000 steps, and so on) before taking on more strenu- ous exercise. This “start small” mentality can be applied to virtually any self-care activity, including those recommended below. Eat Your Way to Calm Simply put, what you eat impacts your brain. Processed foods, sugar, fast foods, and caffeine can all increase stress, dete- riorate sleep quality, and eventually lead to more serious issues like obesity and diabetes. Put together, all this makes food one of the top areas of self-care to attend to. Take a realistic inventory of your cur- rent diet to get a sense of how much of the above foods you’re consuming on a daily basis. Then, keeping in mind the idea of starting small, begin to phase those foods out, replacing them with whole, plant- forward items.
24 May/June 2021
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