Ah, the holidays. That magical time of year after Thanksgiving when deals have to close and fees have to be collected by 11:59 on December 31st. What lawyer doesn’t have memories of filing with the SEC with Dick Clark on in the background, or signing hundreds of documents as Corporate Secretary to complete the reorg while the rest of the executive team was away skiing? All of this pressurized work is played out against a backdrop of familial and social obligations, media pumping holiday cheer, and the ready availability of way too much sugar and alcohol. What better time to take care of your most important client – yourself?
There is the immutable fact that the work needs to be done. Also, we may need to attend those holiday parties for client relations, or to stay in a relationship, or because we might actually enjoy them. At the same time, we need to take care of our health so that we wake up on January 1 ready to tackle the New Year. As a veteran of many Christmas Eve conference calls, here are some useful tips to stay well.
It is hornbook law that lawyers should take care of themselves throughout the year by exercising, staying properly hydrated, eating a nutritious diet, and getting enough sleep.1
Exercise is particularly important during stressful periods such as the holidays, as it will help you relax from the effects of the fight or flight reflex and reduce stress. It will reduce your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar and cause your brain to produce endorphins, which will make you feel happier and less anxious. If you have been exercising regularly throughout the year, you may want to cut back in light of the time constraints around the holidays. Trying to force full workout into your schedule should not add to your stress. A successful strategy is to exercise hard between Labor Day and Thanksgiving to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and to raise your metabolism to prevent autumnal weight gain. Then decrease frequency or intensity from Thanksgiving through New Year’s to allow your body to heal and enable you to deal with the demands of the season. It is all right to skip the gym to go to a holiday party. The rest will refresh your mind so that you will be eager to return to the gym or road come January. Just make sure you return to the gym or road.
If you have not been exercising, the holidays are the perfect time to start. Get up from your desk and do some stretches. Take a walk for half an hour and enjoy the cold air and look at the decorations. The exercise will make you more productive. It will also be a good start on your New Year’s resolution to exercise.
It is also important to stay hydrated. The relative humidity in a heated office is lower than that of the Sahara Desert. Sitting in your office all day will dehydrate you enough to cause lowered blood volume and higher blood pressure, as well as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, headaches, and impaired memory. If you drink alcohol at a party, that will dehydrate you further. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink water. By then you are already dehydrated and your body is just letting you know. Instead, you should drink water throughout the day until your urine is clear or slightly yellow tinged. By making sure you are hydrated, you will help yourself stay sharp, fresh, and alert.
Drinking water will also help you prevent holiday weight gain. If you drink water before a party or big holiday meal, you will feel fuller and will be less likely to overeat.
Your hunter-gatherer body wants to store fat during the fall and winter. Don’t let it. You can still enjoy holiday festivities while managing what you eat. Eat a breakfast every day of protein, carbs, and fat such as eggs with toast or oatmeal and fruit. This will keep your blood sugar level and give your brain the energy it needs to work hard. Stop having pastries delivered to the conference room. Cut out the 500-calorie grande coffees. If you need a mid-afternoon pick me up, go outside and take a walk or have tea with lemon or eat a good quality, low-sugar protein bar. You can enjoy holiday treats at a party, but have a small meal beforehand with some protein such as chicken or fish. You will feel satisfied and will want to eat fewer sugar cookies. If you have been exercising, your elevated metabolism will burn those cookies off, especially if you can squeeze in some end of the year workouts.
Realistically, at year-end there are not enough hours in the day to get the recommended seven and a half hours sleep. Getting enough sleep is important as it helps in many ways from enabling your body to recuperate from exercise, to improving memory, to preventing obesity, so you should do the best you can until crunch time. Getting five hours or less a night is not sustainable and has the equivalent impact as having two drinks. Take a 20-minute power nap in the afternoon to make you more alert and improve your ability to keep churning away.
With some self-care to exercise regularly, stay hydrated, eat a balanced diet, and get enough sleep, you will be able to accomplish what you need to do and maybe even enjoy that most wonderful time of the year.
This blog was originally published on the New York State Bar Association website.