I asked my heroes and mentors at Filevine how they’re fighting stress and building joy this holiday break.
Their answers are a master-class in smart self-care during a particularly stressful year.
Here are 6 ways the top lawyers and legal experts at Filevine decompress:
1. Release endorphins with exercise
In the wee morning hours, you’ll usually find Filevine CEO Ryan Anderson on his Peloton bike.
“Exercise is the best way to decompress,” Ryan says. “You release endorphins. You feel productive. And there’s no better way to work off stress.”
Exercise has helped Ryan through the demanding years working as a lawyer and managing his own firm. As Filevine co-founder and CEO, he continues to make time for exercise to elevate his mood and manage stress.
All forms of aerobic exercise increase levels of the neurotransmitter endorphin in the body. ‘Endorphin’ is a merging of the words “endogenous morphine,” because it works on the same receptors accessed by morphine, increasing pleasure and decreasing pain. The idea of a “natural high” isn’t just a cute metaphor: endorphins actually work better than morphine at relieving pain.
Exercise can also reduce symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. That’s something everyone who has been through 2020 could appreciate.
2. Get away from screens
Exercise can also be a good time to get away from all our screens and devices.
For Cain Elliott, long walks bring relief from constant screen time. Cain, Filevine’s Senior Solutions Architect and former CIO at Margolis Edelstein, says:
While we're still in the midst of a pandemic and since I've relocated to Utah, I'm spending more time on walks with devices muted. Personally, I think that the best way for people addicted to new information and productivity to relax is to get away from flickering screens and read (paper or e-ink only).
Many of us have developed a love-hate relationship with those ‘flickering screens.’ They’re the only things keeping us connected to many of our loved ones. But they’re also tied to a host of problems, from eyestrain and headaches to compulsive behavior.
Neuroscientists are finding that our devices can be addictive, lighting up the same reward centers as snacks, money, and drugs. We crave new information from our phone, even if that information doesn’t have any use in our lives. Or even when that information makes us miserable (there’s a reason the term “doomscrolling” became so popular during the pandemic).
Creating structured time away from screens can break the ‘doomscroll cycle.’
3. Take a walk
Cain’s specific method of escaping screens deserves its own bullet point. From Aristotle to Kant, from Wordsworth to Thoreau, some of the best and brightest minds have been walkers.
“If I could not walk far and fast,” said Charles Dickens, who could routinely walk 20-30 miles in one go, “I should just explode and perish.” Friedrich Nietzsche, who walked 8 hours a day, proclaimed that sitting still was “the real sin against the Holy Ghost.”
One of my favorite walking philosophers, Søren Kierkegaard, wrote in a letter:
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.
Science shows why so many thinkers attribute their success and well-being to walking. Researchers at California State University, Long Beach have found that walking improves mood and increases energy.
“People seem to be interested in walking as a health benefit,” says Professor Robert Thayer of the research. “But here, we’re seeing it’s not just cardiovascular health and other kinds of physical health that are important, but psychological health as well. The more a person walks has a very real and immediate psychological effect that an individual can experience every day.”
4. Get in some one-on-one time
When it comes to winding down, “one-on-one time is a must,” says attorney and Filevine co-founder Nathan Morris. “Spending personal time with those important to you is almost always more meaningful than a big group activity.”
Nate is affirming something scientists have shown in dozens of studies: close, satisfying relationships improve your mental and physical well-being across nearly every metric.
One study which followed more than 309,000 people found that “lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.”
When it comes to your health, strengthening relationships with friends and family is comparable to giving up smoking, losing weight, and exercising.
The longest-ever longitudinal study on health reaffirmed this finding. In 1938, Harvard researchers started following the lives of sophomores to better understand what leads to happiness and health. 80 years later, they concluded that close relationships were more important than genetics, cholesterol levels, or social class when it came to living long and happy lives.
5. Embrace music
Filevine is full of musicians. One of them is Mara Adams, licensed patent attorney, the Director of the deadline management tool Timely, and singer in an all-lawyer rock band. She relies on music to decompress, especially during the holidays.
Over the years, Mara has taught jazz improvisation and choir at her kids’ schools. “Being at the center of a choir as it comes together and prepares for a performance is its own high,” she says. “You witness the transformation from chaos to focus.”
“I like to have kids do a couple sad songs alongside all the upbeat holiday music, so they can slow down and get into that reflective winter mode,” she adds.
Eric Coffman, founder of the legal intake platform Lead Docket and the former COO of Colombo Law, also decompresses with music. But his genre is country. “This sounds ridiculous, but what soothes me is going for a drive on mountain roads and listening to Chris Stapleton,” Eric says.
This isn’t ridiculous. The celebrated neuroscientist Oliver Sacks wrote an entire book on the mental health benefits of music. In Musicophilia, the masterful Sacks shows how music improves our emotional, mental, and physical state, increases our sense of motivation, helps us access memories, and makes social engagement easier.
Music therapy shows promising benefits for various mental health conditions, including depression, trauma, and schizophrenia. It allows us to process emotions, trauma, and grief, while calming anxiety.
6. Build it into the daily routine
Attorney Emelia Schinke suggests that whatever techniques you use to decompress, the most important part is building it into the bones of your daily routine.
Emelia, Filevine’s Vice President of Legal Affairs & People, calls these her “non-negotiables.” Here’s her own daily routine break-down:
- Get my workouts out of the way first thing in the morning, before I can let excuses creep in.
- Spend 10-15 minutes practicing mindfulness/meditation each day.
- Plan easy, healthy meals I can prepare over the weekend so I don’t rely on takeout when my schedule gets full.
- Practice good sleep hygiene by unplugging and going to sleep by 10 pm each night.
Emelia’s focus on routine is also backed up by the science of human health and behavior. Researchers have found that the best way to make smart decisions is to make it so they’re no longer decisions, but rather just a habit.
Making lots of decisions leads to decision-fatigue, which impairs your will-power and harms your ability to self-regulate. Routines fix that. Rather than deciding to go running, you simply go running because it’s the time of day when you always go running.
Experts on habit formation recommend beginning with habits that are so small and simple you can’t say no. By slowly incorporating healthy and relaxing activities one at a time into your regular daily schedule, you train your body to automatically respond to certain time markers, so it’s no longer just up to your beleaguered brain.
Afterward: strategically deploy your rested mind
Following the Thanksgiving break, Ryan Anderson begged his employees for one thing: don’t squander your creative energy.
“Rest brings us joy, reduces anxiety, and repairs our body and mind,” Ryan wrote to every Filevine employee. “But for me the most precious dividend of relaxation is creative energy. Unfortunately, this dividend is fleeting and easily wasted.”
If your schedule tomorrow is booked end-to-end with pointless meetings, administrative tasks, and uninspiring busy work, you will waste your creativity on the quotidian. Try to take the morning and apply your rested mind to something big, something that will move the needle.
After a break, it’s tempting to dive straight back into the daily grind, addressing a flood of ‘mini-emergencies.’ But a rested mind is your most precious resource. Use it for your highest-order thinking. The rested body and mind can help set your path for the big, structural issues you need to face for the years ahead.