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Contributing Author: Kirsten H. Pabst, NDAA Well-being Task Force Chair

Three things you can do for yourself today

Sometimes the thought of living a life of wellness is daunting. Trials, meetings, and family obligations are all competing for our time, leaving little for that elusive idea of ‘self-care.’ We tend to procrastinate on those tasks that are not currently engulfed in hot lava. Are any of these thoughts familiar?

“After this trial is over . . .”

“After the holidays . . .”

“After the kids (pick one) start school/graduate/move out . . . I’ll have more time to work on my own health.

The reality is that the time never feels right, often because our perception of “healthy living” seems like an insurmountable goal. I love Anne Lamott’s approach in her book, Bird by Bird, in which the author’s brother is tasked with writing a substantial report for school and is able to overcome the paralysis of being overwhelmed by breaking down each daunting task into small, easily digestible parts. Like most new skills, building resiliency — especially in a stress-laden job like that of a prosecutor — can take some time. But, starting small is still a start. So, let’s get going today.

1. Go for a walk.

We all know that exercise improves our physical and mental health. It is also a great anxiety reducer, thinking platform and stress-reliever. For those who have a regular exercise regime, I commend you. I really like to run and Missoula is fortunate to have a robust parks and trails system, so I try to schedule a run into my lunch hour three days a week. I pack a leafy lunch early on those mornings, knowing if I wait until I get hungry I’m more likely to inhale a burger. After a brisk run I think more clearly and can easily make it to the day’s finish.

Wait. What? You don’t have time? Consider these responses to the time crunch: First, your well-being is more important to whatever it is you are working on. Even if you are literally saving lives, you’ll be able to save more lives in the long run if you take steps to prevent stress and trauma-induced disease. Second, even small doses, like a ten-minute walk around the block or up and down the stairs, are shown to be helpful in reducing workplace stress. Finally, be an aggressive scheduler. Proactively block-out appointments (with yourself) on your calendar before those precious slots are consumed by the daily creep.

2. Try box breathing.

Box breathing is an anxiety-reduction technique developed by military special forces teams to improve individual and team functioning on dangerous missions. On a particularly challenging day in the middle of a contentious and bloody homicide trial, as a last resort to calm my racing heart, I thought I’d try a little box breathing. It helped and now I preach it, to my colleagues, partner, kids and anyone who is within earshot. Quick, effective and free, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

Here’s how it works. Sit or stand and plant your feet on the ground. Breathe in — preferably through your nose — to the slow count of 4. Hold it in for another count of 4. Slowly exhale to the count of 4. See where I’m going with the ‘box’ part? Hold for 4 more. Do the full ‘box’ at least 3 times. That’s it. Now, you’ll be better prepared, better oxidized and more grounded to complete your mission.

Box breathing has become a frequent flying tool in our house, applicable to situations ranging from 5th grade bullying to increases in steel shipping rates to judges denying motions to continue trials based on spikes in COVID cases.

3. Be grateful.

Studies show that the simple act of conjuring gratitude increases one’s own happiness and resilience and reduces stress. Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis said,

People who keep a gratitude journal have a reduced dietary fat intake — as much as 25 percent lower. Stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people. And having a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain.

Reduce fat, lower stress, AND help the brain? I’m in. Grab a post-it note of your preferred color and write down 5 things, in any order, you are grateful for right now at this very moment. Here’s mine for today:

• The rain finally stopped and the sun is shining

• My old dog Blue is snoring by my feet while I work remotely

• It is almost noon and I am still in my PJs and nobody knows!

• Mom’s soup recipe

• Horses

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Some people keep these notes in a jar, book, or drawer and review them on those less than stellar days.

Well-being is individualized and needs to be tailored to fit each person. I encourage you to start your well-being practice today by taking small steps to brighten up your world.

Click here for more ideas on small steps toward health

Here’s a video from Wexner Medical Center on small steps to heath

Here’s a video for helping kids be healthy from the Mayo Clinic

Written by

The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.

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