California Lawyers Association

The Healthy Lawyer (Sana Advocatus): What We Already Know but Can’t Seem to Do

By Greg Dorst, JD, CADC II
Consultant to The Other Bar

Greg Dorst

We lawyers are smart people who are worldly in the sense that we pay attention to the world around us. In order to be good at our craft, we have to be aware of current developments as well as recent historical facts. We must also anticipate what could happen next; all of these demands indicate that we know a lot. I am absolutely certain that we know that the physical body has to be cared for in order to be healthy. This column does not have to tell you to eat right, exercise, get 6-8 hours of sleep per night and see your doctor regularly. There are different ways to “eat right” and exercise and we can talk about those things, but everyone knows the basics. Yet, on the whole, we do not do these things; the question becomes, why don’t we? And, does the answer paint a picture of an out-of-control, unhealthy lifestyle? As we examine the issue of “why” we don’t do these things it becomes clear that we have decided that they are too hard to do because of our crushing time demands. We have not prioritized our role in taking care of the physical body. Moreover, we may even feel that this kind of prioritization is not even under our own control. As long as we feel that our time is not our own, this circumstance will never change. The real question becomes, “How do I gain control of my physical life?” Hold on to this question…

Let’s turn to our interior selves where our “invisible” life dwells. This is where we live mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This interior space forms the basis of our relationships and the health of these relationships. All of our thoughts and beliefs are formed and informed in this “unseen” world. Our thoughts can be predominantly healthy or not. Our beliefs may serve us well or not. It is in this space that we have the ability to rationalize and minimize the value of everything, or we can blow everything out of proportion. We can refuse to pay attention to what is in front of us and dwell in the ravages of the past or the stifling fears of a future that may never come to pass. When the job of being a lawyer gets tough, it is in this space where we begin to try to find a way to relieve our suffering. This is often done by engaging in what people might call “unhealthy behavior.” Drinking, drugs, gambling, ill-advised relationships, isolation, comfort eating – you name the guilty pleasure – are subconsciously designed to relieve our suffering, which is often generally characterized as a lack of control. All of these things are happening in the mind and are guided by our mental and psychological health, which in turn may be affected by hidden trauma.

What we are often not aware of is the depth of our mind-body connection. This is to say that the mind, healthy or not, affects the well-being of the body. Moreover, the body, healthy or not, affects the mind. We know, for example, that the mind has the power to affect physical healing because we have done extensive research in the area of placebos. When the mind believes that a pill will help the body to heal, it will, in more than 30% of study participants, whether the pill is medicine or sugar. The mind plays an undeniable role in our physical health. Unhealthy thinking which may include anger, resentment, incessant guilt or various forms of self-loathing can create long-term physical problems. We also cannot deny that if the body suffers pain or is otherwise in ill health, the mind is profoundly affected. Clearly, a mind-body connection exists. Unhealthy behavior is centered in the mind. Going back to our question that we put on hold, we may not be able to gain control of our physical health because we are adrift in unhealthy thinking, which ultimately will produce unhealthy actions.

Patrick Krill’s article, “In a Year Full of Worry and Division, How to Protect Your Mental Health,” contains useful information concerning lawyer mental health and stability for this current economic and health crisis. Patrick Krill’s work as a consultant has helped us all to become more aware of lawyer vulnerability to addiction and mental health issues.

The information presented in this space, however, connects the “dots” in ways that all of us in the legal profession must recognize and understand. Our mental health and stability affect our physical well-being in dramatic ways. A healthy and safe physical world starts with a healthy thought process with practices and tools to reduce stress, anxiety, fear and worry. Calming the mind is important; being centered in the present moment for even a short period of time can rejuvenate each of us. Simply find a place where there are no computers, phones or other people to distract you. Get comfortable, in a seated position, and focus on the sound of your breath. Gently close your eyes and just “be still” in mind and body. At first, it will be hard to simply “be” with yourself but soon your mind will surrender to this moment of silence. Stick with this practice and the benefits will “fill your cup” and rejuvenate your mind. A healthy mind is the foundation for a healthy body.

Next month, we will look at unhealthy entanglements concerning our personal and professional lives. As always, please feel free to email me at gdorst2@gmail.com with ideas and issues for this ongoing discussion and resource.

Sana Advocatus

Here are some resources:

calawyers.org/health-and-wellness
www.otherbar.org
http://calbar.ca.gov/lap
www.drugabuse.gov
www.nami.org
www.aa.org
www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment
www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

This is part of a series of columns dealing with issues of attorney wellbeing. I encourage readers to provide suggested topics which will allow us to explore attorney wellbeing more deeply. Simply email me at gdorst2@gmail.com with suggestions and questions and I will endeavor to provide best practices, strategies and cutting-edge science to this space with the overall goal of healing, health and awareness, for all of us who either practice law or support those who do.

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