The only thing more stressful than what happens inside a law office at holiday time is what happens outside the office.
Ordinary days – already stressful enough – are upended. Routines are thrown off. To-do lists grow longer.
But new research has uncovered ways of not simply managing outside stress but preventing it from arising in the first place.
For example, we have long known that physical exercise is an effective stress-reducer. But a new study shows it also scrubs the blood of bad stuff that accumulates during stress and damages the brain. In other words, exercise is a stress vaccination.
Translation: take a brisk walk before sitting down at the Thanksgiving table. When your crazy, confrontational cousin goes off on another rant, you will see him in a clear pure light instead of lobbing the gravy bowl at him.
Better Holidays Through Science
Tis the season to be stressed.
Gifts must be purchased. Family and friends are on the way. Fruitcake must be consumed – lots of it, so as not to offend dear old Aunt Ida.
And throughout this festive time, you hear a persistent jingling sound in your head. It is coming from a dark corner of your brain. It is a warning bell sounding the alarm on the emails flooding your in-box. And the approaching deadline in the Smith file. And the ever-diminishing prospect of settling the Jones case.
You try to block it out. You attempt to be merry as you strap on your Gobble Til You Wobble apron and start slicing the turkey.
But it’s no use. Your stress level is through the roof. And it rises even higher when, in your distracted state, you slice off the tip of your thumb.
Activate Your KAT Anti-stress Agents
Okay, stop. Rewind the tape.
Return to your last day at the office before the break. Instead of frantically squeezing in a few final law tasks, close up early. Go for a jog or a swim. Lift weights, ride a bike, do yoga … anything that stimulates your skeletal muscles. In the process you will be immunizing yourself against future stress.
That amazing discovery was made by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. They found that exercise does not simply build muscle mass – it also cleanses our bodies of stress-linked gunk, in much the same way the liver and kidneys filter out other types of impurities. The specific protein (PGC-1a1) and enzyme (KAT) are less important than the takeaway: physical exercise is a natural detoxifier that can stave off stress and perhaps even depression.
“[W]ell-trained muscle produces an enzyme that purges the body of harmful substances,” writes a principal investigator. “It’s possible that this work opens up a new … treatment of depression.”
Here are some other recent breakthroughs on the stress management front.
Feeling Cranky? Go Shopping!
People who are generous with their money are less stressed than those who are stingy.
This finding comes from Down Under, where researchers in Queensland attached monitors to participants in an Ultimatum Bargaining Game. The object was to divide a fixed sum of money. Subjects who played hardball – by demanding more than half the pot, for instance – experienced increased heart rates and stress levels.
“The results indicate we have negative feelings when we treat someone unfairly, for example by offering below 40% of the total in the game,” according to the scientists. “There is an emotional and physiological cost and we feel uncomfortable.”
So you’d better think twice before regifting that hideous Father’s Day necktie. Go out and buy a nice gift instead. Otherwise, you might be the one who is stressed out.
Give Yourself an Anti-Stress Booster Shot
Did you know you can build up your tolerance to stress in much the same way you can learn to enjoy Miley Cyrus videos?
Keys to success: good friends, plenty of sleep and lots of long, hot baths.
And finally, a team of psychologists at the University of Exeter has found that being shown pictures of others being loved and cared for is the equivalent of taking a happy pill. The uplifting images calm the brain and increase our capacity to cope with stress.
And here’s the best part: you don’t even have to consciously pay attention to the pretty pictures in order to receive their therapeutic benefit.
So cue up “It’s a Wonderful Life,” hit the “play” button and enjoy another slab of Aunt Ida’s fruitcake. The tinkling you hear will be angel wings, not warning bells.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.