You might not work on an oil rig, but practicing law can be pretty dangerous. All the long hours in courts, all that sitting and the stress associated with practice can become dangerous to the lawyer’s health.
Below are a list of some of the health hazards faced by lawyers and tips on how to improve on or avoid them for a healthier life.
Hazard 1: Maximum stress levels
Being a lawyer is stressful. Every job can be stressful at times, and the adversarial nature of law practice arguably makes it one of the more stressful professions. Whether private law firm, government agency, large or small firm, things can get hairy at times. Everyone feels overwhelmed, overworked and underappreciated at times. With so many responsibilities vying for your attention, it’s sometimes hard to remember to check in and take the time to take care of yourself. I have to admit, I even got a little stressed out thinking about writing this article on stress! Too much stress and a lack of stress management techniques can make daily tasks seem overwhelming, and can even be paralyzing at the exact moment when action is most needed.
- Get a hobby
“It sounds kind of lame,” says Dr. James Aw, chief medical officer of the Medcan Clinic, a health centre in Toronto. “But it’s important to remember who you were before life got so serious as a lawyer. Otherwise you’ll start to lose connection with old friends and communities.” Whether it’s playing an instrument, joining a sports team or writing poetry, Aw says it’s important to give yourself “permission to have fun and to play.”
- Work fewer hours
If you’re working more than 60 hours a week, and you know it’s hurting your health or relationships, then you need to work less, says Dr. David Posen, author of Is Work Killing You? Maybe that means working late three nights a week, rather than five. Or working Saturday, but not Sunday. And, as a bonus, Posen says you’ll likely be more productive when you are working. “In close to 30 years, I’ve never met an over-worked patient who couldn’t get the same amount of work done in less time once they took better care of themselves.”
- Spend more time with family and close friends
Your social calendar should not be crammed full with cocktail parties and outings with colleagues, says Aw. Even if you enjoy work events, he notes, an agenda hovers over each social encounter. Over time, that leads to higher levels of stress. Hanging out with family, he insists, is actually good for you. Make it a priority to have dinner with your spouse or catch up with your friends a few times each week. Aw says that those interactions give your mind a break: “There’s no agenda except that you love each other.”
Hazard 2: A serious lack of sleep
Lawyers are known to work into the night and sometimes round the clock. While you may think the only way to be on top of your schedule is to work long hours, there is also the need to ensure that you do not wear out your body. Working long hours may not be avoided but below are a few tips that may help:
- Set a time when you need to abandon all that you are doing and get some sleep. On of the challenges associated with this option is that some times our minds refuses to fall asleep. Often times we find ourselves going back to work after making failed attempts at falling asleep. Experts encourage that to achieve sleep within this period, you may need to turn your gadgets off an hour before you want to sleep. To prepare your body for rest, you need to disconnect from the world, says Jaan Reitav, a Toronto psychologist certified in behavioural sleep medicine. So if you get home late, shut down all devices — phones, tablets and laptops — right away. If you read a stressful (i.e. work-related) email or answer a phone call, he explains, don’t expect to nod off minutes after.
- Avoid late night movies. “Think about it: the job of a television producer is to engage the audience with a captivating narrative,” says Reitav. Watching television at night is more likely to rile you up than calm you down. Instead, Reitav recommends reading a book or listening to music. “Putting on beautiful music and listening quietly while practising deep breathing is an incredible way to relax the mind.”
- Listen to your body. “We all know people who can sleep for four hours, get up and have no trouble,” says Reitav. But those people are outliers — that is, genetic mutants to whom the normal rules of biology don’t apply. Most of us need about seven hours of sleep each night for our bodies and minds to properly recover.
Hazard 3: Not enough exercise
The legal profession isn’t one that keeps you on your toes, at least not literally. Most of us will spend a good chunk of our days sitting behind a desk. If we’re lucky, we might get a nice detour to a conference room or, on rare occasions, court – but mostly, legal brain work requires little physical stimulation.
All that sitting is terrible for you. Sitting for more than three hours a day knocks an average of two years off your life while easily adding an inch or two to your waste.
Below are tips that may help:
- Stand up. Sitting at your desk for hours on end is truly terrible for you, says Meg Sharp, executive director of personal training at the Cambridge Group of Clubs. It causes your blood sugar levels to spike and triglycerides — better known as fat — to clog your arteries. Standing up to stretch or move around at least once an hour stimulates your blood flow and flushes out your arteries. As Sharp puts it, “It’s incredibly powerful.”
- Work out in small doses. “Everyone says they’re short on time,” says Mark Hendricks, regional group fitness manager at Equinox Fitness Clubs. “I believe that is a bit lazy.” Especially, he adds, when a 20-minute workout — or jog, or squash game, or bike ride — three times a week can make a huge difference in overall health.
- Get a gym buddy. “It’s incredibly easy to let ourselves down,” says Hendricks. “But it’s not so easy to let others down.” And so, if you want to make exercise a regular habit, make that commitment with a friend — or even a client. (How’s that for motivation?).
Hazard 4: Eating out all the time
It is rather very difficult to be a lawyer in active practice and avoid eating out regularly. While you may not be able to avoid eating out as a practicing lawyer, there are a few things that would help you to ensure that you stay healthy while at it.
- Make smarter choices at food courts. You can eat out seven days a week; for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never gain a pound. The first step is to make a conscious effort to avoid ordering foods that are unhealthy and the next is to start learning which foods you can order. Speaking to dietitians and nutrition experts would be cheaper than paying hospital bills and the risk of dying.
- At restaurants, always ensure to tell the chef to use the options of heathy preparation. Example; grill, rather than fry or sauté.
- Eat breakfast. This would help to prevent your brain from releasing wave after wave of appetite-inducing hormones hours later. Experts say such release sets the stage for cravings which leads to overeating.