By Charlene Gisele, Biohacker and corporate wellness consultant.
From a young age, my ambition was to become a lawyer. It was a dream that I thought would bring me great pride and happiness, having grown up with my father, who was a very successful insurance broker, as my role model.
I worked incredibly hard and graduated from Cambridge University with an MA in Law, then became a litigator at Jones Day, one of the biggest law firms in the world.
As my career progressed, I began to realise the reality was very different than I had envisaged. I was in a constant state of stress and working very long hours during weekdays and at the weekend.
I normalised the stress, as it seemed to be everywhere I looked. At the time, my body felt like it could handle the onslaught; after all, I was in my 20s, so I took health and wellness for granted, and didn’t appreciate the serious health damage my lifestyle was causing in the long term.
The fact is, working in a chronically stressed state accumulates both mentally and physically, so when my father had a heart attack and stroke, the shock of reality smashed the delusional tint on my mirror.
My father was my inspiration for my hard work, he was the reason I pursued my career. But his high-stress lifestyle came at a cost.
It was then I assessed my own health, realised that it had also been deteriorating for some time, and I had in fact burned out – I just hasn’t realised until that moment, I just kept pushing through.
After all, my colleagues were doing the same, they were all running on extreme stress, health was a foreign concept, we were all just abusing our health until breaking point.
Finally acknowledging that my dream of being a lawyer wasn’t fulfilling me as much as I had hoped was an incredible painful realisation.
I was forced to ask why I wanted to be a lawyer. Of course I wanted to help others, act as their counsel, and guide and help them finding solutions to their problems. For all the skills I had learned as a lawyer, the beautiful intellectual rigour of the profession, being a corporate lawyer involved far more paperwork than human connection.
So I stepped away from my legal career. I traded financial stability and career security for complete uncertainty but hope for my health.
I packed my bags, left my life behind in London and embarked on a world tour in search health and wellness, across India, Nepal, Arizona, Greece, Indonesia and Ibiza. I sought out the best teachers, learning yoga, meditation, breathwork and tantra, and became a teacher myself in all of them.
It was at this point that I decided to dedicate my time and efforts to corporate wellness consultancy – I wanted to combine my previous life in corporate law with my passion for health and wellbeing.
I found a powerful synergy in combining these two worlds to develop my unique programme: Health Consultancy For Lawyers. Having been there myself, I knew all the pain points.
Using what I learned from my years in law and innovation, you sometimes have to remove yourself from the box to think outside the box. So I dedicated myself to serving lawyers over being a lawyer.
Returning to the legal industry, albeit from a slightly different perspective, made me realise just how much time lawyers spend indoors, at their desks in particular.
The over-exposure to artificial blue light from computers screens and vitamin D deficiency from not getting enough natural sunlight often results in eye fatigue and headaches. So I encourage my clients to ‘walk and talk’ as much as possible – that means a taking a walk during breaks and not having breaks at the desk looking at the computer, also actually ‘booking’ in time for breaks in the first instance.
When sitting, I recommend implementing desk stretches and regular eye breaks by using a mask to rest the eyes for a couple of minutes, as well as taking conscious breath breaks.
A lot of my clients suffer from sleep apnoea, also known as screen apnoea, where they have anxious unconscious breath retention during a stressful day. The breath is shallow, often irregular as opposed to being long, smooth or conscious. Teaching lawyers to breathe properly, deeply and consciously is one of the first things I work on.
Another common experience I see among lawyers is poor nutrition with a lot of snacking, especially on those days where work continues long into the evening. That, combined with a lack of movement and long hours in a chair, often results in many suffering from chronic lower back and neck pain. It’s a real issue that is too often accepted as something that ‘comes with the job’.
It is possible for lawyers to excel in their careers and not be pushed to breaking point. We have to acknowledge that chronic stress and burnout does not have to play a part of the legal career route – something we know is endemic in the industry.
I really want to encourage law firms to embed a culture of wellness at the core of what they do, and to encourage mental and physical wellness practices and firm-wide, not only for the welfare of their team, but for the betterment of the wider industry too.