Jennifer Mercanti shares her strategies for staying healthy as a lawyer
We are living in unprecedented times. I would like to share some of the aspects of holistic wellbeing that have helped me to manage as a lawyer and mother (with two small children under the age of five) through this pandemic.
Good mental health and the ability to live in the present moment are important attributes for resilient lawyers. Many of us are constantly trying to slow down our thought process and will use various tools and mechanisms to attempt this. I practice yoga and was certified as a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance in 2012. Initially, I trained in Hatha yoga but as my job and life became more stressful, I found myself gravitating towards restorative and yin yoga. These types of practices help you to slow down the nervous system and calm your mind. For lawyers having anxiety or stress, I recommend incorporating a restorative or yin yoga practice and meditation into your daily routine.
Emotional wellbeing contributes to healthy self-esteem, self-confidence and emotional intelligence. Lawyers with positive emotional wellbeing are more resilient and handle relationships in a healthy way. Daniel Goleman, an author on emotional intelligence, suggests that there are five elements to emotional intelligence, that include empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and social skills – all of which are important character traits for lawyers. In 2014, I was trained to become a certified professional coach and became much more self-aware as a result of this training. If there is an opportunity to become more self-aware and empathetic through courses or training this would likely improve our emotional wellbeing and help address challenges faced in the legal profession.
One of the most important aspects of holistic wellbeing for me has been physical wellbeing. When I was 21, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and told by a medical specialist that I would be in a wheelchair within a year and unable to walk. This was devastating for me and I took the matter into my own hands. Instead of following the traditional medical route, I decided to pursue natural and holistic remedies. I saw a Chinese medical doctor and naturopath, changed my diet, and improved my exercise regime. After a year, I recovered and showed no continuing signs of rheumatoid arthritis. Today, I practice yoga regularly and also do Zumba, spinning and take frequent walks.
Another important aspect of physical wellness is nutrition and sleep habits. With two small children under five in our home, it is never easy to achieve a full night sleep, but I aim for six to eight hours of sleep each night which is a key component to holistic wellbeing. With respect to nutrition, I have always focused on clean eating and changed my diet in my 20s to become vegetarian. I still eat seafood and dairy but eliminated red meat as it is proven to cause inflammation and aggravate joints. I also regularly speak with my dietician and naturopath and ensure that I am maintaining a good balance of foods and vitamins. When I asked my naturopath, Dr. Rachel Vong, N.D. what holistic wellbeing meant to her she said: “Holistic wellbeing is a state of optimal wellness in which an individual thrives on all levels of health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual”.
The next important aspect of holistic wellbeing is spiritual wellbeing. Spiritual wellbeing can be described as having a purpose in your life and to be connected to a power greater than yourself. I have noticed that the most profound people in my life have a great sense of spiritual wellbeing. In my view, it is likely one of the most important sources of inspiration and leadership. Spiritual strength does not necessarily mean religion, and it is very personal. With a higher spiritual sense, you can access intuition and help to create more gratitude and positive attitudes in the workplace. Keeping a gratitude journal or using a gratitude app can help with your spiritual wellbeing in addition to meditation.
Likely one of the most deprived aspects of holistic wellness during the pandemic has been social wellbeing. With the government mandates to maintain social distance from friends and extended family, we have been placed into a small social bubble. Social wellbeing and inclusion means being supported and connected with the society and world that you live in. Your family, friends, work, and community are part of your social network. This is why being isolated from any of these groups can affect your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing. I strongly encourage lawyers to continue to find ways to interact with co-workers, friends and family during this time.
Social wellbeing is also where the integration of values come into play. During the past six months, I have had to realign and integrate those most important values into my life. During my coaching training, we focused on identifying our key values and ensuring that our values were aligned with our actions. Many people have a strong list of values but are not aware that they are not aligning their values in the way that they live. If your values and actions are misaligned, you will not be able to cultivate a happy and successful life. I encourage lawyers to review their values and identify whether their actions are aligned with their current values or whether they need to be realigned as a result of current circumstances. For example, if family and health are very important to you but you are not making time for either of these items, your values are not in alignment with your actions.
Overall, attempting to include all of the aspects of holistic wellness including emotional, physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing will enhance optimal wellness and enable lawyers to become more resilient, especially during these challenging times. Chelsea Ladd, certified nutritionist practitioner and founder of The Soulful Co sums it up this way: “Wellness is not a destination and it certainly does not have ‘one size fits all’ formula. To me, it’s all about taking the time to get curious about the little (or sometimes large) hints and signs it is giving us. Our bodies are wise, if you follow the trail of clues, they’ll lead the way to the answer.”