Finding an effective way to bring balance into my day as a busy lawyer was often a major challenge. I thought that my tiredness, poor mood, poor sleep, and lack of energy and brain power during the day was because of the demands of the job.
I had some of the traditional tools to help me in those situations, but it turned out that I was missing the foundations for health and wellbeing that I now know have helped me to thrive in my career without the burnout.
Those foundations were not what we often think about: being productive with our time, being more efficient, learning how to say “no”. Productivity skills have a place, but they’re not so useful if you still feel tired during the day, you can’t think clearly, and your mood is low.
I want to invite you into what my day looks like, and the things I do, so that you too can become someone who is busy and breezes, rather than battles, through your day.
Creating your foundations to be un-stressed and un-burnt out
Creating your foundations involves getting to the root causes of your tiredness, poor mood, and lack of energy. It starts by closing the gap between how we’ve been designed as humans to live, and how we actually live our modern day lives. I call it a “lifestyle gap”.
Closing that lifestyle gap is about changing your own behaviours. We know that 85% of the risk for chronic diseases is not genetic, but environmental. So, doing the things that optimise your environment are important. For example:
- Getting good quality sleep.
- Managing your stress.
- Eating real food.
- Bringing plenty of movement into your day.
- Managing your environmental toxins.
But what if I’m “too busy”?
Doing all those things might sound like a tall order when you are busy. You might be saying to yourself, “how can I do that?”, “I’m too busy!”, or “I don’t have time”. It’s natural to want to search for a quick, effective solution.
Starting with one almost-impossibly-small next step is the key to closing your lifestyle gap. It must be so almost-impossibly small at the beginning that you might laugh out at how ludicrously small it is.
Time and time again, my clients find this effective for lasting change. For example, if you want to stand at your desk for at least half your day, try starting off with five minutes once a week.
My six daily tips
So here are my six tips. One of them alone is not the magic bullet but incorporating them one at a time will make a difference and will help you form your own solid foundation for breezing through your day.
Express your gratitude
Write down or share with someone what you are grateful for. This is a great antidote to the negative thoughts you might be ruminating over during the COVID-19 pandemic. It shifts our attention away from negativity and toward positivity.
I didn’t believe the power of this at first, but the science helped me overcome my scepticism. A study of patients with heart failure showed that the group who received not only the standard care but also did gratitude journaling saw a decrease in inflammatory markers and an increase in heart rate variability, which corresponds to a decrease in the stress response.
Go outside first thing in the morning
Getting good quality sleep was tough. My mind often races, so although I fell asleep easily, I would wake up in the middle of the night. Aside from practising meditation and breathing practices like the 4-7-8 breath, kick-starting your circadian rhythm in the morning is a key foundation for consistently good sleep.
Going outdoors and exposing your skin to natural light not only gives you a dose of Vitamin D, but the sun (even on a cloudy day) tells your brain to start the body’s hormone cascade for the new day. These daytime hormones, like cortisol, help you be awake and alert during the day and, as artificial and natural light levels lower and evening time approaches, hormones like melatonin start circulating, gradually increasing our sleepiness ready for bedtime.
Eat real food
This was a revelation for me. Paying attention to what I ate allowed me to wake up feeling refreshed, have energy throughout the day and think clearly. It also helped reverse my autoimmune condition, psoriasis, and my hayfever symptoms. Eating real food is simple but takes some practice to weave it into a busy day. The key principles are:
- Eat the things that were only around during your great grandparents’ time.
- If it’s in a bag or a box, avoid it. Don’t be a pedantic lawyer though; a bag of apples is fine, a box of apple bars, not so much!
- Limit or avoid the four biggest sources of inflammation: industrial seed oils, refined flours (yes, even if they’re gluten free), refined sugars and soy.
Our sedentary lifestyles, whether we’re at our desks or sitting on the sofa binge watching the latest TV series, are one of the biggest lifestyle gaps we have. Studies have shown that even someone who is exercising regularly cannot undo the metabolic damage that is caused by being sedentary for excessive periods of time.
Aim for a standing or treadmill desk. If you are sitting, get up every 30 – 40 minutes, and move around. Perhaps do some light stretching, walk outside for a couple of minutes, or get a drink.
Dealing with your stress
Prolonged stress causes havoc for your health. One of the biggest sources of my stress were colleagues who sent my blood pressure rocketing! Stress increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism and promotes weight gain. This framework will help you to choose how you respond to the moments when colleagues (or family members) stress you out.
Schedule time for your self-care
One of the most common things I hear from clients is a sense that “self-care is selfish”. Do you care for everyone around you: children, partners, family members and colleagues? Yet when the target of that care and compassion is you, looking after yourself doesn’t happen as often as you might like.
Self-care might include some of the tips I’ve already shared. Look after yourself so that you can look after those around you. Schedule time for your self-care as if it’s an important meeting.