Attorney Wellness: The Science of Stress (and the 21-Day Challenge)
My name is Lance Breger and I was a hot mess. Not only was I a full-time personal trainer, but also running two startup wellness businesses simultaneously. I was working 7 days a week, sacrificing sleep for 6:00am clients, emailing and blogging late into the night, viewing meals as productivity speed bumps and existing in a chronic state of stress. It was only a matter of time before I crashed – hard.
In February 2008, I was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at George Washington University Hospital for a peritonsular infection. The extreme pain of speaking and swallowing plus the fear of potential throat surgery was the backhanded slap of mortality that I needed to change my life and priorities forever. After all, what good is a thriving business if you are dead?
Now as an Executive Wellness Coach and Founder of Infinity Wellness Partners (IWP), a comprehensive corporate wellness company that prepares law firms for the most productive and healthy work-life, I share important lessons learned through the challenges I faced in my life when I did not put myself first.
My mission in life is to make wellness a workplace priority every day and I do that by providing clients online/on-site training in four critical areas of wellness: fitness, nutrition, ergonomics, mind/body.
The Stressed State of Law
Today’s legal professionals are faced with the great challenge of maintaining their productivity and well-being while experiencing the most high-pressure and fast-paced work environment ever! The cause of stress in today’s legal industry is job pressure by billable expectations, career advancement, clients, courts, co-worker tension, bosses, and work overload.
This chronic state of pressure and stress is taking a major toll on job performance and health as 7 out of 10 individuals in the US report experiencing physical and psychological symptoms of stress according to the American Institute on Stress.
Scary stuff. On September 30th I will be leading an interactive Attorney Wellness Webinar: Stress-Busting, Energy-Boosting Desk Moves hosted by Rocket Matter!
To get you all primed and pumped for the webinar, I will be writing three pieces so you can have a comprehensive and practical base of knowledge, skills and strategies for reducing stress. My upcoming posts will cover the following topics:
- Science of Stress
- Mastering the Mind
- Balancing Physiology
OK, let’s get started by diving into the science of stress!
Science of Stress
As early humans our DNA was encoded with a stress response. This was a defense and survival mechanism critical in protecting ourselves against physical threats like wild animals and angry neighbors.
It’s essential to know that stress begins in the brain, which is a major clue in long-term stress management. Our brain processes incoming sensory information sent from our eyes, nose, skin, tongue and mind. If this information is seen as potential danger all heck breaks loose!
The very center of the brain sounds an alarm, which releases chemicals that direct our glands to send powerful hormones throughout the body that change the function of every single organ and physiological system.
We literally upshift into a fight or flight state where our body is best prepared to rumble or run for our life. Let’s look at many of the amazing happenings that occur in the body during the stress response:
- Circulation – 80% of blood goes from vital organs out to your limbs to flee or fight
- Brain – blood flows to prefrontal cortex for impulsive thinking and the brain becomes left-hemisphere dominant
- Heart – increases pumping rate and pressure to send more blood to muscles
- Blood – increases clotting in the case of a laceration
- Liver – stops detoxification
- Pancreas – increases the amount of blood sugar for available energy
- Digestion & Elimination – salivation, circulation to digestive organs and intestinal contractions are all inhibited which disrupts food digestion, assimilation and elimination.
- Muscles – create and hold more resting tension to ready for action
- Immune System – Increases in the short-term to protect against an animal bite, but decreases with long-term stress
Wow. All that in seconds of sensing a threat! This response was incredibly valuable for mobilizing us into serious action for short, intense infrequent bursts. It’s no wonder that stress response, when experienced chronically, leads to a whopping 90% of all doctors visits.
Times have certainly changed since our cave days. We are no longer hunting or being hunted, but our body has the exact same life-threatened response to modern stresses like appearing in court, traffic, board meetings, bills, and deadlines.
Guess how often the average American experiences this fight or flight response? 17 to 19 times per day! And everyone reading this knows that legal professionals are anything but average individuals. To make matters worse, we don’t use our stress we sit all day swallowing it.
Hope this science doesn’t stress you out, but makes the important connection of how chronic stress effects your two best resources – the brain and body.
Between now and my next post, Mastering Your Mind, I have a challenge for you.
21-Day Stress Challenge
Your 21-Day Stress Challenge is to become aware of your daily stress – how many times you experience it, the physical symptoms, and what situations trigger you. I chose 21 days because 7 to 21 days of a consecutive activity is the habit formation period or entrainment.
Use the following example to monitor your stress:
Symptom(s): Heart racing and tightness in chest
Situation: Nervous of running late to a client meeting
Rate: 6 out of 10 (10 high)
To officially accept my challenge write or print out the challenge contract and put it somewhere you can see every day. For bonus points share the challenge with a co-worker or loved one.
I wish you a tremendous month ahead and an enlightening 21-Day Challenge! I’d also like to invite you all to think of me as your personal Executive Wellness Coach and to share your experiences and questions with me: @lancebreger on Twitter or email me: email@example.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lance Breger is an Executive Wellness Coach and the Founder of Infinity Wellness Partners, a comprehensive corporate wellness company that prepares legal professionals for the most productive and healthy work-life through online/on-site training in four areas critical to wellness: fitness, nutrition, mind/body and ergonomics.