This story is featured in the summer 2021 issue of St. Thomas Lawyer.
As a lawyer, the stress is real. In fact, according to a 2016 study performed by the American Bar Association and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, 28% of lawyers experience depression, 19% have symptoms of anxiety and 21% are problem drinkers. And that stress doesn’t start when you begin your first professional assignment. It has been reported that 96% of law students experience significant stress, compared to 70% of medical school students and 43% of graduate students.
While some stress is a natural part of any competitive profession, a significant amount of stress can create a laundry list of physical and mental health problems. Significant stress has been shown to cause or exacerbate health problems such as depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and obesity, to name just a few. Therefore, it is imperative that law professionals and law students have tools that allow them to effectively manage the stress they will undergo throughout their career.
Two of the easiest and most effective tools for managing stress are the use of breathing techniques and the introduction of stress-busting foods into your diet.
A practice of slow breathing (6-8 breaths per minute) for just 2-3 minutes a day has been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure on average by 15 points. This number is significant, especially when you consider that in 2018, high blood pressure was listed as the primary or contributing cause of death for nearly half a million Americans.
To start, try the 6-4-10 method. Inhale slowly for 6 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds and exhale slowly for 10 seconds. This method will slow down your respiratory rate and has been shown to increase alpha waves in the brain which foster a relaxed, yet alert, state of mind. By putting this method into practice, you can not only benefit from a reduction in blood pressure, but a reduction in stress levels as well.
Maintaining a healthy diet is another way to combat the negative effects of stress. Food can help to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and help stress in other ways.
A healthy diet starts by eating regularly. Your brain needs fuel and glucose helps it to work at its best. Eating regularly during the day helps to keep blood sugar levels stable. Stable blood sugar levels help to stave off any crashes in mental acuity and have been linked to academic success.
Eating enough healthy fat is another way to fight stress and improve mental performance. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like pistachios, walnuts, almonds and fatty fish like salmon are associated with improved brain function, and deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids can result in increased risk of depression and anxiety.
Finally, crunching raw vegetables like celery or carrots can alleviate stress. The vitamins and minerals can neutralize the harmful molecules produced when your body is under stress and the act of munching on the raw veggies is also a way to release a clenched jaw and ward off tension.
Given the statistics surrounding health and lawyers, it is clear that the ability to manage stress is vital to maintaining a high quality of life, both personally and professionally. Further, forming healthy skills and habits regarding stress will allow you to better serve clients and sustain a productive and healthy career in law.
Since it opened, the St. Thomas School of Law has focused on the education of the "whole person." Faculty and staff work to foster an environment where each student feels connected, supported and part of the school’s community. This whole-person approach also includes placing an emphasis on the importance of wellness.
St. Thomas Law has long had an active Wellness in Practice student organization and provided resources for students through the school’s Director of Academic Achievement Scott Swanson and the university’s Center for Well-Being.
In 2019, St. Thomas Law was one of the first law schools in the country to sign the American Bar Association’s Well-Being Pledge. It also formed a collaborative relationship with Mayo Clinic Sports Performance to advance the school’s commitment to and culture of wellness.
Mayo Clinic Sports Performance, a world leader in integrated performance training and nutrition for amateur, elite and professional athletes, offers law students, faculty and staff opportunities, on campus and at its downtown facility, to learn and form healthy habits through its four pillars of mindset/mental health, nutrition, movement and recovery/resilience.