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  • May 05, 2021

    Running on Empty? Wisconsin Lawyers On Being Mindful of Wellness

    Wellness is more than an occasional spa treatment or that much-needed vacation. In recognition of Well-Being Week in Law this week, here are some ways your colleagues make their health a priority.

    Shannon Green

    Bria Kelly

    Bria Kelly of Boca Raton, Florida, took this photo from her back yard during the pandemic summer of 2020. “I was in desperate need for some fresh air, and trying to just get some sun and practice some grounding,” she says.

    May 5, 2021 – As the saying goes, “no one can pour from an empty cup.”

    “Taking time for yourself makes you more resilient in your work and in your personal life. By taking care of yourself, you allow the best version of you to show up for the things and people that you care about.”

    These words of wisdom, from Milwaukee attorney Ashley Smith, underscore the need for lawyers to make sure they take time to relax and renew themselves.

    Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish. In fact, it is necessary. “When I am not taking care of myself or creating adequate time for myself to decompress, I do not have the energy to wear all of the hats that I wear or to be so many things to so many people,” Smith said.

    “After expelling all my energy on work and being present with my loved ones, I can always feel when I am running on empty. That’s when I know I need to recharge and replenish,” said Chinoso Osuji of Milwaukee.

    It is a good idea for lawyers to ask themselves, “Are you being mindful of your well-being?” said Jason Magill, State Bar of Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) coordinator.

    Ashley Smith smiling

    Ashley Smith of Milwaukee makes sure to replenish and refresh to avoid 'running on empty.' She says small, incremental changes can build on wellness and have the greatest impact. Photo: Tati Photography.

    Wellness isn’t a one-time spa day or that annual vacation. Yes, there are times when work must come first, says Mary Spranger, WisLAP manager. There are many dimensions to self-care, she says – including physical and mental health, “as well as social, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects.” Even a small moment can address this variety, to look out a window, listening to music, or doing something not related to work.

    “What we suggest you consider, though, is that a lawyer’s needs can’t always come last,” says Magill.

    “Think of yourself first,” advises Judge Todd Bjerke, La Crosse, chair of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Lawyer Well-being Task Force. “Are you rested, in shape, and properly nourished to allow you to interact as necessary with your clients, the courts, your family, and your friends?”

    Wisconsin lawyers find many different ways to take care of themselves – from taking simple breaks in their day to developing good habits that lead to better health. It’s such a necessary part of professional practice, in fact, that the Institute for Well-Being in Law has organized the Well-Being Week in Law – May 3 to May 7, 2021. This week is a chance for you to think about the best ways for you to refres​h and reset -- to reframe the way you see health and wellness in your life.

    Evann Derus

    Evann Derus of Milwaukee loves to go hiking with her husband, Ryan Derus. Here, they explored Iron Mountain, Michigan.

    Be Gentle With Yourself

    “It is important to remember that no one is perfect,” Smith said. “Sometimes I fall back into bad habits. In these moments, I try to remember to grant myself grace and remember that improving myself and my well-being is a process.”

    “Start with a small goal and let it grow into a habit,” says Julie Spoke of Madison. “If you want to meditate, just do one to two minutes each day. If you want to go for a walk or run, try just 10 to 15 minutes. Once it becomes a habit, then you build on it.”

    Well-Being Week in Law Is May 3-7, 2021

    Join the legal profession in leading and participating in Well-Being Week in Law (WWIL) activities that promote health and happiness across the legal profession.

    Refresh, reset, and reframe the way you see health and wellness in your life. Here are some resources to get you started:

    Short Breaks, with Variety

    Work in several small breaks during your day. Get up and move. Take a quick walk. “Even a short break to grab a glass of water can often be enough to break up stress and provide a fresh perspective on my work,” says Evann Derus of Milwaukee.

    Shannon GreenShannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.

    Judge Bjerke takes a quick moment between hearings to attend to his physical health – which means getting up off the chair to walk around, “briskly if possible,” and doing some simple stretches.

    During a work day, Osuji takes a moment to change her view while working at her desk. “This can be as simple as turning away from my computer and facing a window.”

    Jaclyn McCaffery of Madison takes a short break during lunchtime “where I stop and do something non-work related or just listen to a favorite song. I find that even this small amount of time away from work makes it easier for me to focus for the remainder of the day – a sort of mini reset.”

    Or try a short meditation using a phone app. “The Peloton and Calm apps are great for this purpose,” Derus said.

    Bria Kelley of Boca Raton, Florida, starts her day with meditation and stretching. “I turn on some meditation music and do a quick, easy stretch for about 10 minutes before I start work. It's a very small practice and doesn't take up much time, and can truthfully be done at any point in your day,” she said. “It wakes up my body and mind, and allows me to start my day with peace before anything hectic gets in the way.”

    David Lasker

    David Lasker of Lake Delton enjoys time on the water with family. “I live on the lake,” he says. Last August, he took a pontoon boat ride with family to celebrate his 75th birthday.

    The Weekend Unwind

    Derus takes time on weekends to work out with her husband. “It gives us an opportunity to reconnect, which is especially appreciated after busy weeks.”

    Weekday evenings and weekends allow time to unwind with family, friends, and activities away from work.

    Alexander Lodge of Chicago connects with his “relatively big extended family,” which includes video calls and dinners. “My family helps ground me, and they are always finding ways to make me smile and destress from a long workday.”

    Kelsey Schanke, Milwaukee, takes a weekly horse jumping class. An equestrian growing up, jumping is a new discipline that offers her both mental and physical challenges. “I dedicate this time to enjoy being outside, meeting new people, and learning a new skill,” Schanke said. “Even on the toughest days, I always leave the barn happier and less stressed resulting in a better mood throughout the week. It has certainly impacted my overall wellness positively.”

    In Flemington, New Jersey, Emily Kelchen and her husband watch or listen to baseball to unwind. She also makes it a priority to get outside at least some point in the day. “When you are working from home, it is easy to go a few days in a row without leaving the house if you don’t make it a priority. Getting some fresh air puts me in a better mood, even if all I do is walk to the post office.”

    Kelsey Schanke

    Kelsey Schanke of Milwaukee takes horse jumping lessons in West Bend. “This photo is with Cravera Z or better known as just ‘C’. It has been a blast!”

    Madison attorney Sam Wayne took up chess again after a 25-year hiatus. “Yes, it was because we watched "The Queen's Gambit." There's so much depth to the game, and I have so much to learn after years away from it,” he said. “It's also been a great competitive outlet to focus on while I wait for the warm weather, and with it the promise of outdoor fun and games.”

    In Green Bay, Shari Lynn Stevens Vannieuwenhoven takes her family camping on weekends to unwind. “My family and I love to explore nature, take walks, go camping and play board games. Occasionally, I will take my daughter on pampering dates (such as manicures) to relax and connect with each other.”

    Jennifer Geller Baumann of Milwaukee also uses time outdoors to unwind. I kayak a lot on Lower and Upper Nemahbin lakes” in Waukesha County.

    Milwaukee attorney Krista LaFave has a list of small daily actions that have improved her overall wellness, especially during this challenging year. “I distilled them into small, bite-sized activities, like having a clean sink, meditating, reading a few chapters in a book just for fun, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, having my daughter’s toys put away.

    “On a stressful day, it can be hard to be motivated to do much after the workday ends,” says LaFave. But on those days, she makes a promise to herself to do three things on this list that bring her joy. “When I follow through on that activity, not only do I get that joyful moment, but I also get the joy of fulfilling a commitment to myself.”

    Jaclyn McCaffery

    Jaclyn McCaffery of Madison joined her friend, Eugene Krakow, for a pumpkin”race in October 2019. Getting outside for activities like running is a great way for her to refresh and renew.

    The COVID Break

    For many lawyers, the past year has meant that home is also office space, making it difficult to separate work from home life. The challenges of a year-plus pandemic also means finding ways to safely take the time needed for self-care.

    Schanke separates work from home by stepping away from her computer for short walks, and making sure to eat dinner away from her at-home work space. “Setting this boundary gives me an activity to look forward to at the end of each day. If I have to log back on, it gives me clarity and focus to finish evening tasks.”

    When the shutdown came suddenly last March, Dereya Pederson of Milwaukee says, “it was a flashing sign to slow down. My revolutionary idea was to do absolutely nothing! I think far too often we go-go-go, but there’s simple joy in stopping to smell the roses.”

    “I took each day as it came and, very naturally, I rediscovered old interests and discovered a few new ones. My children and I found cool science experiments to try, had dance parties, painted, did yoga, and read/listened to numerous books. Overall, it gave me the perspective that health is wealth and that time spent with family is truly priceless,” Pederson said.

    In 2020, I started blocking off early morning time on my calendar, says Emily Stedman of Milwaukee. “This secures my self-care time and makes it sacred. During this block, I meditate, read for fun, attend some self-care/self-development classes, plan my day, eat breakfast, catch up on emails, do chores, etc. I try to keep ‘billables’ out of this block as much as possible.”

    Sir Williams of Chicago has found a creative way to stay connected with family during the pandemic: “I've taken a deep dive into family genealogy research. It's provided an amazing way to use stories from our shared ancestral past to presently engage for the benefit of future generations. The experience has brought my family closer despite the isolating experiences of the pandemic.”

    Shari Lynn Stevens Vannieuwenhoven

    Shari Lynn Stevens Vannieuwenhoven of Green Bay loves taking her young daughter on “pamper” dates. “We started this as a birthday tradition for both of us, and then found it was a fun weekend activity during the cold months. It’s a perfect way to one on one time with just each other.”

    Take the First Steps

    Self-care refers to the steps you can take to create a life for yourself that you don’t need to escape from. Like many journeys, it can begin small, says Spranger.

    Start with the basics, says Emily Castro of Milwaukee. "Make sure you’re sleeping, eating, walking around, bathing, etc. Just do a little better than you were before, like getting a little more sleep. You'll soon see the improvement, and then continue taking those small steps forward. Just like law, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. "

    “If you're just getting started, pick one thing, start small, and become consistent with this weekly or daily,” says Kelly. It doesn’t matter what. “It's important to be consistent with whatever works best for you, and I guarantee you'll see results.”

    WisLAP is Confidential and Here to Help

    Feeling overwhelmed? The Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) is a member service of the State Bar of Wisconsin that provides free confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families in coping with substance abuse or dependence, mental health challenges, or other stressors that negatively impact the quality of life and the practice of law. The program is designed to help members and their families build on their strengths and to provide support through services that promote physical, mental, and emotional health. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

    “State Bar members are fortunate to have this fantastic, free and confidential assistance program, whose staff members are experienced, professional, and compassionate,” said Appleton attorney Jennifer Lee Edmondson.

    WisLAP offers the following services:

    • Initial evaluation
    • Referrals
    • Peer assistance
    • Consultation
    • Education, including CLE programs
    • Outreach
    • Intervention

    WisLAP 24-hour helpline: (800) 543-2625
    WisLAP Manager: Mary Spranger (800) 444-9404, ext. 6159
    WisLAP Coordinator: Jason Magill (800) 444-9404, ext. 6151


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