New Year, new me? Make self care your priority this year

07 Jan 2019 | 6 min read

The start of the new year always presents an opportunity for growth. A fresh start, this is often a time for reflection and determination as we each resolve our intentions for the year. There’s something about January 1st that prompts lofty expectation—whether this comes from cultivating a new skill, reprising an old talent or becoming more professionally astute—the initial few days of January see more gym memberships, more violin lessons and committing to more billable hours than any other time of year…

However, in an exhaustive survey undertaken by the ABA, it was found that over 25% of lawyers suffered from depression, and more staggeringly, lawyers are 2.5 to 3.5 times more likely to suffer from alcohol addiction. As a result, mental well-being should be high on the agenda of lawyers and law firms to ensure that mental health doesn't fall by the wayside.

LawCare, the Lawyers charity supporting mental health and wellbeing, have called for widespread changes to working culture in the industry. In an interview with Law Gazette, Law Care said: ‘We need to take a careful look at how we educate and train lawyers about mental health and wellbeing and prepare them for practice, every lawyer coming into the profession should understand that there may be a time in their career when they may struggle and know where to get help.’

While visiting the gym regularly sounds appealing, and learning the trumpet sounds like a fabulous herald for the year ahead, perhaps it’s time to turn our attention more inwardly? And look to the practice of self-care as the long term promise we can make ourselves this new year. We’ve pulled together a list of easy-to-integrate tips that can make a difference to your mental health without impacting your capacity to get work done.   

Reduce caffeine intake:

While coffee can often our first thought when feeling tired and sluggish, a caffeine boost may not be the best option when looking to power through a stressful day. The high caffeine content in coffee can ramp up anxiety and make pressurised situations feel much worse. So rather than reaching for the office’s coffee machine, try switching to a green tea or smoothie next time you feel in need of an energy boost. While the tea still contains a hit of caffeine, it won’t give you the signature coffee jitters come three o’clock.

Drink more water:

Staying hydrated throughout the day is key to our mental health. Dehydration has been proven to make the brain perform more lethargically, making it difficult for us to comprehend complex tasks and multitask. Keeping a bottle of water on your desk is a great way to help maintain your water in-take throughout the day and keep your productivity buoyant.

Desk yoga:

While contorting oneself into a downward dog in front of ones’ colleagues may not be everyone’s cup of tea, taking 5 minutes to stretch out at your desk can help improve your mood, reset your body and feel more grounded. Sedentary jobs put increased strain on your body for the hours you are seated and can lead to problems with back pain and muscular atrophy. Stand up and take 2 minutes to move your body using this guide.

Plants in work space:

In case you haven’t heard, doctors are now prescribing ‘nature’ in addition to other medical treatments. This comes in light of news proving time in nature can resolve problems of anxiety and reduce blood pressure. While we understand that a trip to a forest or mountainside isn’t possible for most professionals, increasing the greenery in the office can have a similar effect. As Discover Wildlife reports: ‘A range of studies have shown that people with a stronger connection to nature experience more life satisfaction.’ 

Turn off social media:

Social media is a huge aspect of our modern lives and most users are guilty of falling into all-consuming bottomless scrolling patterns. Platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are set up to provide users with a hit of dopamine when other users ‘like’ or engage with their content. As a result, we can often find ourselves addicted to these platforms, searching out likes and validation to sustain us. Why not tally up your time spent on Instagram? In most cases, this will make for horrifying viewing. Cutting down on your social media time can help improve your mental health and detach the connection between ‘feeling good’ and attaining ‘likes’. Leave your phone in your bag, keep it out of the meeting room and engage with the human environment around you. Having some down time from your phone will enable you to be more involved with your work and those around you.

Create clear boundaries at work and home:

Scheduling in time with your manager to create clear boundaries at work is an essential aspect of remaining mentally healthy. As Mind Charity acknowledges: “We know you’ll have times when you need to work overtime to meet deadlines but try to make this the exception not the norm. Long hours means you may be working harder, but not better—they’ll quickly take their toll on your concentration, productiveness and health.”

Find time to exercise or go for a walk:

A tried and tested tool in combatting poor mental health, exercise is a fantastic way to improve anxiety and depression. Making time for a lunch exercise class or walk can help reduce feelings of anxiety and provide a much-needed hit of endorphins. While we don’t advocate introducing a heavy gym schedule to your routine—who needs the guilt? —incorporating short, manageable bursts of exercise can help professionals feel better at work.

Organise a group activity:

Spending time socialising can be a great tool in improving your mental health. Rather than staring into your computer at lunch time, go for a walk with friends and colleagues, start a book club, take a frisbee to a park, hold a guerrilla gardening session, or game of tag rugby? Take time to enjoy time with friends and get re-energised for an afternoon of productive work.

Talk to someone:

Reaching out to a trusted friend, colleague or professional therapist can be incredibly helpful for improving your mental health. Developing a network of trusted listeners will help you to work through difficult phases in your life and enable you to find the support and help you need. If you feel your workload is spiralling out of control, take the opportunity to discuss it with your manager or supervisor. If you can’t resolve the problem of unrealistic goals, organisation problems or deadlines in this way, talk to your personnel department, trade union representative or other relevant members of staff. 

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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