A few practical tips for maintaining mental and physical health during trial, arbitration, work travel or any large and stressful project.
Trials are hard. It is not news to any of you that jury trials, arbitrations, and other complex work projects can be exhausting.
When I think back on some of the more difficult trials I have had, there is one in particular that always comes to mind. It was a two-week medical malpractice case involving the death of a 20-year-old during a surgical procedure. It was October 2013 and my son had just turned one. As with most trials, I did work in the morning, went to the courthouse all day, and then came home and worked late into the evening. We won the trial, but I remember looking in the mirror after it was over and thinking “you look awful – just BAD.” I had dark circles under my eyes, my skin was pale, and I just looked unhealthy and depleted. Unfortunately, I thought it was normal to look and feel bad at the end of trials and there were even a few occasions that I had gotten so run down during a trial that I ended up sick after it was over.
In recent years, I have developed a few strategies that help me feel better during and after trials which I have outlined below. Importantly, you need to take yourself into consideration during any energy intensive work activity and find what works best for you.
Get up and Exercise
When I tell people that I get up at 5:00 during a trial week to exercise, a lot of people are very surprised. How do you have time to do that? Wouldn’t you rather sleep the extra hour? Sleep is, of course, always important as discussed below, but I find that getting up and getting a little physical activity in starts the day off on a positive note. We all know that exercise is excellent stress relief so it only makes sense that we would keep exercising during a stressful work week. Also, if you normally exercise 3-4 days a week, deviating from your normal routine because you have a trial is likely to make you feel more tired.
Remember to Eat Something
It used to be normal for me to lose anywhere from 3-5 pounds during a week of trial because I would not make time to eat. I bet there are a lot of you out there who skip lunch during trial (I still do that) but remember to make yourself a priority and if you are going to skip meals, pack snacks that will give you energy (protein bars and trail mix are my favorites). Also, remember to stay hydrated. It took me way too long to figure out that the reason I would leave the courthouse with a headache at the end of almost every trial date was because I had failed to drink enough water. Make a case of water and box of healthy snacks regular trial supplies.
I hear stories all the time from trial attorneys who sleep 2-3 hours per night during trial. I used to really skimp on sleep but doing so definitely leads to fatigue, brain fog and getting run down or sick. During trials now, I give myself a bedtime and I let the rest of my team (and sometimes opposing counsel) know that I will be asleep by a certain time so that nobody will call or email me late at night and expect a response.
Take a Deep Breath
I am sure many of you have experienced the feeling of anxiety during trial, a big hearing, depositions or presentations. I once had a bright young attorney ask me, “Can you hear my heart beating?” while we were sitting and waiting on a verdict. I remember smiling at him and saying, “No, but that is a valid question.” If you find yourself in that moment where you know your heart is beating faster than you want it to, take a moment and just take a few deep breaths. I find it helpful to count (in for four, hold for four, and out for four). You will be amazed with how much better you feel if you get a little extra air.
Be Kind to Yourself
One of the hardest things for some of us to do is to let go of things that don’t go perfectly during trial. There will be times when you miss making an objection or you don’t win a legal argument during trial. If you lament over the things that didn’t go well earlier in the week, you will not perform as well later in the trial. Learn to cut yourself some slack and move on to the next task. Remember, you might be a great trial lawyer, but you are also a person.