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The Singapore Law Gazette

President’s Message

Wellbeing and Being Well

In this closing message for the year, I want to share something largely non-law related for personal reflection and resolve. In the larger scheme of things, our life in the law is impacted by our wellbeing.

We have been through an extraordinarily challenging year. Each of us, in our own way, need to introspect on our emotional and mental wellbeing. The importance of safeguarding and strengthening our psychological resilience cannot be understated. We still have fears, anxieties and uncertainties going into the new year and grapple with those. That is natural. Some of these could be at a basic level (e.g. overcoming health issues). But some could relate to secondary issues such as economic impact; specifically, the knock-on effect of COVID-19 on our law firm’s practice and business.

So here are eight tips for you on enhancing your psychosocial wellbeing:

  • Count your blessings. There are tragic losses of life at a pandemic scale and massive numbers of COVID-19 afflicted individuals. As I write this, UK rages a fresh war against a mutated version of the virus. Will the vaccines prove effective? We must never make light of someone else’s pain. But we can be thankful for the Singapore government’s management protocol of the pandemic including stringent public health measures that proved a bane at the time but now, as we reflect have given us a boon. We cannot take anything for granted of course and must continue to guard against complacency. But a valuable piece of wisdom from Professor Munidasa Winslow at a seminar in January 2017 on navigating professional stress and burnout involved keeping a gratitude journal. Once a week, in that journal, write down three things you are thankful for. Researchers have found that expressing gratitude, in a journal or otherwise, can have many different positive effects (helping with sleep, depression and even pain tolerance).1Thibodeaux, “How a Gratitude Journal can inspire you to change and claim the life you want” at https://www.inc.com/wanda-thibodeaux Neurologically, gratitude also activates the hypothalamus (controlling emotional regulation) and releases dopamine (a transmitter typically associated with feelings of happiness).2Alex Korb “How Gratitude Shapes Your Brain” (7 May 2020) at https://alexkorbphd.com/how-gratitude-shapes-your-brain We may not have a tradition of Thanksgiving like the US. But practically, there are many things to give thanks for: our spouse, our family, our friends, our work, to name a few examples.
  • Mourn your losses. Sadly, we have all experienced many losses this past year. Whether ill-health, bereavements, camaraderie with colleagues in firm or the Bar, cancelled weddings, indefinitely postponed travels, business closures. Some of us could yet still be staying in a period or place of grief. This truism of losses and grief is borne out by Owen O’Kane, psychotherapist and author of Ten Times Happier who wrote: “This [past] year has been a year of losses … . Naturally we immediately think of the sad human losses the world has seen. But there have been other losses economically, socially and individually. Many people have expressed a sense of lost time for what ‘should have been’ … . Nothing has gone to plan this year … . The consequence, of course, is that people experience this as loss and with that comes a sense of grief”.3Quoted in Dorking “Are you grieving for lost time? Why it’s okay to mourn the opportunities stolen by coronavirus” at https://sg.style.yahoo.com/grieving-lost-time-coronavirus-124505913.html Take time out to grieve your losses in an appropriate way. Mourn well in a bereavement setting and cherish the memories of the departed. Make the farewells you need to make. Even if this means a time carved out from busy schedules to sit still in silence, quiet contemplation or prayer.
  • Invest time with family and friends. We may look at some of our financial investments and wonder about how to diversify our portfolio and where is the best bang for our buck. But there is a priceless value in relationships. That investment is worth its weight in gold. Circuit breaker compelled us to spend time in close proximity with family. While it is true that for some, “familiarity breeds contempt”, for many of us, we reaped the dividends of strong relationship building. It is an open secret that most employees want WFH to continue. With WFH, we can connect with spouses at home (taking meals together as well) and spend quality and quantity time with children and loved ones. These were the bonds built in a painful 2020 which, if nothing else, was worth the annus horribilis. Beyond the home, there are relationships at the Bar. Brothers and sisters in law to reach out to and build a friendship with. In the final analysis, it is the state of our relationships at the Bar that will define our reputation with our peers. Sadly, there are lives at the Bar whose candle were extinguished this year. Life is short. We do not want to rue or regret the time one day of the could-have-beens and the should-have-beens. You could meet people physically or virtually or both.
  • Give to charity. In last month’s Gazette message, I touched on legacy giving. However, that is not the only modality in giving. The legal profession rallied strongly throughout 2020 to give generously towards (i) the Welfare Fund; (ii) the newly incepted Compassion Fund; and (iii) the Law Society Pro Bono Services (including via the COVID-19 Access to Justice response and the Harry Elias SC CLAS Fellowship Fund). Despite the bleakness of 2020, we are still relatively richly blessed compared to many others in the world (see my first point above on counting our blessings). As we give generously of our time, talent and treasure, we discern the paradoxical truth that t is more blessed to give than to receive. This quality of generosity (including in volunteering) enables us to contribute to a cause larger than ourselves. There is something positively soul nourishing when you can give to someone or something that cannot return the favour to you. This is altruism in its purest form. It is the spirit of pro bono contribution. While you and I could have different pet causes that we may espouse, the essence of the spirit underlying giving is the same: generosity.
  • Learn a new hobby. Cultivate an interest, learn a hobby, refresh a long-forgotten skill or participate in a recreational activity (whether sports or arts). Play a musical instrument, cook a meal, do gardening, have a walk or run, play sports, go for it to the extent feasible. True recreation has the power to re-create you. We need a regular space and time to unwind from regular routines. The way an extrovert and introvert will recharge our batteries will be different. However, we need to take that time out on a weekly basis even before we re-start the weekly grind when the new year opens. Research has shown that people with hobbies rarely suffer from stress, depression and low mood.4Howell “Why is having a hobby beneficial for your mental health” (7 April 2020) at https://www.psych.reg.org/hobby-mental-health/ It is vital for your mental health to find activities that you find meaningful and enjoyable.
  • Read, read and read. As lawyers, we need to read. Cultivate a voracious reading appetite. Read widely and not just law books. Here is a list of the 21 most anticipated books of 2021 drawn up by Time Magazine. Read different genres, different authors and different literary styles. Inculcating a habit of reading and lifelong learning will broaden your horizons. You will also learn to appreciate different dimensions of a problem: history, geography, economics, psychology, sociology, philosophy, religion, literature to name some. This will give you a multifaceted lens to look at problems, make for interesting conversational topics and add growth in knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
  • Imbibe the uplifting. Watch uplifting or inspiring television shows or movies or read news articles. There is too much bad news in the world these days that are assaulting our senses. While we need to be pragmatic and realistic to face facts and not be oblivious to realities to confront, we need not swing to another extreme of feeding ourselves a constant stream of negativity and toxic materials. This could have a deleterious impact on mental health. By being judicious on what to partake in, you could enhance your mood and lift your spirits. Be intentional about entertainment. The problem with some amusement is that it is just that – “a-muse”ment that leaves you emptyheaded but not recreated. Moreover, be discerning about the news reports you read. There is a potential mood discourager effect rather than the mood enhancer you hope for. And it could get worse. Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist Shwetambara Sabharwal equates the psychological impact of toxic news to chronic stress disorder.5“World Mental Health Day/Is the news making you ill?” – Mint Lounger at lifestyle.livemint.com (published on 10 October 2020)
  • Take a break to recharge your entire being – body, soul and spirit. We live fragmented, disintegrated lives when we should be living our lives (even our lives in the law) as integrated human beings. For some of us who have been pouring and pouring out ourselves for others (including “high maintenance” or emotionally demanding clients), we need a time out (even if we are not staycationing). We do not naturally have inexhaustible reserves within ourselves. If we are not sufficiently rested, we will be fatigued while navigating the new challenges of the new year as well. So do not stinge on this. There is something called “compassion fatigue” as well but self-care to ensure that we have enough in your tank for the new year is vital. If not, something could snap in our uniquely people-centric profession that calls for empathy, where appropriate.

Happy year-end holidays and for celebrants, Blessed Christmas! And to all readers, a Happy New 2021 filled with the hope of a brighter, better and breakthrough 2021!

Endnotes

1Thibodeaux, “How a Gratitude Journal can inspire you to change and claim the life you want” at https://www.inc.com/wanda-thibodeaux
2Alex Korb “How Gratitude Shapes Your Brain” (7 May 2020) at https://alexkorbphd.com/how-gratitude-shapes-your-brain
3Quoted in Dorking “Are you grieving for lost time? Why it’s okay to mourn the opportunities stolen by coronavirus” at https://sg.style.yahoo.com/grieving-lost-time-coronavirus-124505913.html
4Howell “Why is having a hobby beneficial for your mental health” (7 April 2020) at https://www.psych.reg.org/hobby-mental-health/
5“World Mental Health Day/Is the news making you ill?” – Mint Lounger at lifestyle.livemint.com (published on 10 October 2020)

President
The Law Society of Singapore