Health and Wellness for the Young Lawyer

Vol. 15 No. 10

By

Desiree Moore is the president of Greenhorn Legal, LLC, an intensive training program for law students and new lawyers as they transition from academics into private practice. Ms. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She thanks Dr. Peter Borten for his contributions to this article.

As a young lawyer, you are subjected to myriad daily pressures and demands. In the face of these, it is easy to compromise fundamental aspects of your life outside of work, including health and wellness. This is especially true early in a legal career, where the focus is on developing a good reputation and a respectable practice. While hard work and dedication are admirable—and indeed required of legal professionals—maintaining good health is essential, too. Without it, being a top practitioner, or even meeting minimum expectations in your practice, will be difficult, if not impossible.

This article identifies ten easy ways to optimize health and, in turn, your legal career.

1. Eat breakfast

As a busy professional, it is tempting to skip meals, in particular breakfast. But Dr. Peter Borten, a licensed acupuncturist and frequent writer and commentator on issues of nutrition, health, and wellness, explains why this practice is not recommended: “When you skip breakfast, you are asking your body to go a long time without food, and it responds to this by slowing down your rate of metabolism.” Consider a high-fiber, low-sugar breakfast (such as a bowl of oatmeal with a handful of walnuts and a touch of honey, plus a hard-boiled egg) while you catch up on daily legal news or review your weekly calendar. If a sit-down breakfast is not possible, pack a piece of fruit, some raw nuts, low-fat string cheese, or an egg to snack on during your daily commute.

2. Caffeine in moderation

With the advent of caffeinated beverages in colossal sizes, we are desensitized to the notion that caffeine is a stimulant (i.e., a drug). While coffee and caffeinated teas have some healthful properties, the benefits are minimal. According to Borten, “the energy boost we get from caffeinated beverages is not because they are chock full of vitamins and minerals. Rather, this energy is drawn from our own reserves; immoderate caffeine use thus depletes us over time. It can also contribute to anxiety and degrade our sleep.” To help limit your daily caffeine intake, consider switching to or incorporating herbal teas such as chamomile or peppermint into your diet.

3. Be mindful of your daily nutrition

Most law firms and government offices are located in financial districts where nutritious lunch options are limited. Eating healthfully throughout the day can be a challenge. In the evening, you may arrive home late after a long day at the office and opt for a bowl of cereal or take-out rather than a nutritious meal. With minimal extra effort you could be enjoying a satisfying meal that will support your health instead of harm it. “The benefits of establishing good nutrition in early adulthood are exponentially higher than if we don’t start until later in life, when our health has already begun to decline,” says Borten. “In order to thrive, we must find ways to eat good fat (almonds, walnuts, avocado, coconut, olives/olive oil, flax seeds/flax seed oil, etc.) and good proteins (nonfat Greek yogurt, smoked salmon or lox and other oily fish, lean meat, low-fat cheese, hard-boiled eggs or egg whites, beans, whey protein, etc.) throughout the day.” An easy way to eat better throughout the work week is to prepare healthful foods in bulk on the weekend so you will have them on hand for lunches and dinners.         

4. Maintain good posture

Sitting in a chair at a table or desk for eight or more hours a day is not conducive to good posture. Poor posture can have a long-term, negative impact. According to Borten, “the main detriments of poor posture are that it restricts our breathing and squashes our organs. Then there are the shoulder, back, hip, neck, jaw, arm, hand, and other structural problems it can lead to.” To combat poor posture, Borten says to “optimize your seating, desk positioning, and ergonomics. Hang up reminder notes in your workspace. The body simply functions better when it is held in an open and aligned fashion.”

5. Eat meals in an enjoyable way

Busy professionals tend to eat mindlessly. How many times have you scarffed down a sandwich in the middle of the day while hunched over your keyboard? In the evenings, it is tempting to park yourself in front of the television and eat without much regard for what you are putting in your mouth. However, as Borten advises, “the best practice is to eat in a slow, deliberate, seated, relaxed, and enjoyable way, without doing anything else at the same time (e.g., reading, typing, walking, driving, watching television). When you dine this way, you are reaping mental and physical benefits, and you are less likely to overeat.”

6. Get exercise

As a practitioner, it becomes increasingly difficult to find time in the day to workout. The long- and short-term benefits of a regular workout regimen, however, are undeniable. “The human body is very responsive to physical activity or a lack thereof,” says Borten. “Exercise that mobilizes every part of the body in every possible way is the best way to keep in good shape. Exercise that focuses on building core strength and controlling energy flow is also a valuable tool for promoting long life.” Affirmatively plan to workout every day. Then, when you invariably have to skip days due to work or social commitments, you are still managing a workout several times a week.

7. Limit alcohol intake

The legal profession is a social one. Socializing with work colleagues and potential clients is important for integration into your firm and for your career going forward. Socializing, however, should not be construed as a license to drink excessively. “If you are stressed and overworking, you need all the nutrients you can get. Alcohol interferes with the absorption and/or utilization of most of them,” says Borten. “If you drink to manage stress, you could be unwittingly contributing to more stress since malnourishment is a detriment to our biological coping mechanisms.” Not only are these behaviors unhealthful, but inappropriate conduct in front of your colleagues due to overconsumption can be fatal to your career.

8. Get good-quality sleep

“Americans epidemically overwork and undersleep,” says Borten. “A sufficient amount of good-quality sleep can prolong life. Insufficient sleep is associated with an increased incidence of obesity, which is a major risk factor for several conditions that shorten lives.” In addition to the long-term health risks, Borten explains that “insufficient sleep is also a major risk factor for accidents. If we are not well rested, we are running on lower than optimal resources; thus, we have a reduced capacity to deal with stress and diminished immune function” As an attorney, good-quality sleep is critical—you simply cannot afford to work at a reduced capacity.

9. Connect with others

The work of a new lawyer can often be independent in nature. When possible, seek projects that involve working as a team. Get involved in your legal community through pro bono and other volunteer civic work. Outside of work, make an effort to connect with others, too. “Most of the longest-lived folks in the world have people who check in on them, who expect to see them, who share warm conversation with them, who eat with them, and who otherwise connect with them,” says Borten. “Moreover, when we put ourselves in service to our community, we see our value, we see that we matter, and we take our attention off our own problems for a while.”

10. Learn to let go

This lesson applies to lawyers and nonlawyers alike. Borten asserts that “all the unresolved mental and emotional baggage we carry around directly contributes to imbalance in our bodies, and it also leads us to be negligent of our health. Everything about our past that we wish had gone differently, everything about our imagined future that we are anxious about, and everything about the present that we cannot accept—these all amount to resistance of life. And no amount of resistance changes any of it; it only degrades our experience.” Borten acknowledges that there are many techniques for letting go of this emotional baggage, and that “whatever the approach, the crux of releasing this stuff is having a willingness to feel it and a willingness to let it go. The more we let go, the more we find we are at peace.”

 

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