Wellness

UW School of Law puts an emphasis on the health and well being of our students, staff, and faculty. We want to create an environment that gives people the tools, resources, and support they need to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Dimensions of Wellness

The Wellness Program is based on the following seven different aspects of wellness:

  • Physical: Physical wellness is the health of your body, including diet and exercise. Are you leading a healthy lifestyle? Do you have a healthy diet? Do you exercise? Do you smoke? Do you take any drugs or drink alcohol? This is what we usually think of when we envision wellness.
  • Mental: Mental wellness is your ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and other challenges of life in a healthy way. When something negative happens in your life or you feel overwhelmed, how do you react?
  • Financial: Financial wellness is having control over your finances at the present while also preparing for the future. Do you have a lot of debt? Do you follow a budget?
  • Spiritual: Spiritual wellness is connecting with our spirituality or religious beliefs. Spiritual wellness does not necessarily mean being religious. It can include a connection to your religious beliefs, but it can also be a sense of balance or purpose. Do you feel connected to the world around you and feel at peace with yourself?
  • Occupational/Social: Occupational/social wellness is feeling like your career and personal lives are balanced and that you are satisfied with both. Do you feel that your job interferes with your personal life? Are you happy with the direction your career is going?
  • Emotional: Emotional Wellness is being able to notice, feel, and accept your emotions in any given situation. The more aware you become of your emotions and able to communicate them effectively, the better your emotional, and overall, wellness becomes. Do you have words to describe your feelings? Do you tend to respond or react to your emotions?
  • Environmental: The world around you plays a big part in your health and happiness. Environmental wellness is being aware of the interactions between your environment, your community, and yourself, and choosing to create more positive relationships between them. How do you interact with nature? What are your relationships like with your surrounding community?

April Wellness Update

The Reality of Balancing a Busy Career and a Healthy Life:  A Successful Female Attorney’s Perspective
An interview with Melanie Curtice 
by Ellen Sims

About Melanie: Melanie is a partner in the employee benefits group of the law firm Stoel Rives. LLC. She assists large companies with their health benefit plans, ensuring that they comply with all of the laws that apply to them. Melanie’s other projects include work around the Affordable Care Act (also known as ObamaCare) helping employers with preparation, compliance, and best practices. She also works with various health systems in regards to privacy and security compliance requirements on payments.

Melanie has multiple publications and has received many accolades. She was select by Best Lawyers magazine as the Seattle Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law Lawyer of the Year in 2014.

Melanie was kind enough to allow me some of her valuable time for this interview. I hoped to gain insight into the life of (my perception of) a successful attorney, who has very courageously chosen to seek balance within her busy life. I was curious as to her thoughts on health & wellness; what it means, how to achieve it, and any other wisdom from her journey that she would be willing to share with us. (If you’d like to learn more about Melanie, click on her name above her picture.)

E: You were appointed to the first governing board of the Washington State Health Benefit Exchange by former governor Christine Gregoire, is that correct?

M: Yes it is.

‘A Health Benefit Exchange is a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that creates a new marketplace for each state to offer health benefits to individuals, families and small businesses. Exchanges can be developed and implemented by the state of by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Washington State chose to implement a state-based exchange’(wahbexchange.org).

E: When did that process begin, what was your role, and what were your duties?

M: First enrollment was October of 2013 to March of 2014. We are in the second enrollment period now.

It is a massive undertaking by the state to do its own exchange. Just the IT project alone would typically take years in the making, and they only had about one and a half years to do this! And they did it. It is a work in progress, of course, constantly evaluating and making changes. It will take time to determine whether and how this all has worked.

My role on the governing board is a subsidiary of the enterprise. I support and work with management to make sure priorities set were the right ones, and set the strategic priorities in preparation for open enrollment. There have been hiccups, which are to be expected in a project of this size, and it takes time to get all the bugs worked out.

E: You were appointed as the Seattle office managing partner for Stoel Rives in 2012, which is the firm’s second largest office with over 170 attorneys and staff. You were doing this all while being on the board for the WA Health Exchange?

M: Yes, that is correct.

E: How did you manage your time? And were you able to have a personal life during that time?

M: I didn’t have a personal life. It was a challenge because I also had a full time practice, so all of my time during that was spent in and around those obligations. Exercise was the only thing outside of that that I created time for.

E: Would you mind sharing with us what you do for exercise?

M: I work with a trainer 3x/week and try to fit in at least one or two other times for exercise. All of this is done in a gym, which is unusual for me because before all these commitments I was a cyclist and spent a lot of time outside, so this was a new thing, but it was all I could manage the time for. I was also fortunate enough to be able to pay for a trainer, which is what I needed for motivation to get out of bed in the morning and go to the gym at 6 am, which is still what I do.

E: I find many professionals that are successful in their careers choose to workout in the mornings. Why do you think this is?

M: To get it done. I have so many things in the middle of the day and by the end of the day I’m either so completely wiped out or have evening commitments. It just wouldn’t happen otherwise.

E:  It is impressive that you made time for exercise, as I find that many people drop their personal care first when life gets stressful. I appreciate that you still make that a priority. If you did not maintain the exercise, how do you think your work would be affected, if at all?

M: I have had this happen and I just didn’t feel good. I didn’t have energy, and when I get off the cycle of exercise, which helps me also with healthy eating and taking time off for my body and brain, the lethargy and bad habits set in.

E: How do you keep yourself on track to maintain these healthy habits?

M: It’s as simple as making the commitment and sticking to it. I make a monthly commitment and set days and times. I plan everything around my travel schedule (I travel a fair amount for work), and then set the training times and pay, per month. When I make the commitment and pay for it, I stick to it. In the 5 years I have been working with my trainer, there is only one time I have missed it because I didn’t set my alarm and so I didn’t wake up.

E: Haha, I think many of us know about that! I guess you really needed the sleep!?

M: I definitely did. I believe that this is true for many who do what I do. When you make the commitment, you do it. With clients, or a trainer, or whatever, all of your time is valuable.

E: When many think about health, they think of the physical. What would you say health is? And is there a difference between health and wellness?

M: I’m not sure that I see them as different. When I think of health, I think medical, and trying to keep medical problems at bay. I see wellness as the same thing. Beside the exercise, I also try to fit in massage, because with the type of exercise I do, I need that. I also do 5-element acupuncture, not for anything other than overall general health. I also believe that getting proper sleep and eating the right foods keep me healthy so I can continue to do the things I love, such as cycling and skiing. I believe health and wellness are synonymous.

E: It sounds like you are into both prevention and consistency. I like that. However, I want to focus a little bit more too on the other aspects of wellness; the mental and emotional.

With the many people that you work with, how do you maintain a sense of mental and emotional wellness, despite being confronted with the emotions of all those around you?

M: It’s not easy. Some of that has changed with the two large commitments I had, and going back to this full time practice. It’s not easy to not allow things going on in others’ lives stick to you, and how the decisions you make impact them. Those are hard things. I believe that doing the things, I mentioned before, help with that and I also think having good friends and confidants to talk to is extremely healthy. I don’t think you can, in any of these jobs I’ve mentioned, avoid stress, and I don’t think it is about avoiding it. You know, stress isn’t always bad, I think it can really be a great motivator. But at the same time, I think you have to have outlets for it and people you trust that you can talk to.  I think that is really, really important.

E: Growing up when and where I did(Tennessee in the 1980’s), the thought was that if you saw a therapist, it was because you “had something wrong with you”, so we didn’t, nor did we talk about those things. However, I actually find therapists/psychologists very helpful too for providing a non-biased viewpoint. What are your thoughts on that?

M: Oh, yes, absolutely. I have seen one for years and think it is really important.

E: What about mentors; do you have any?

M: Oh, I do. They are not necessarily in the law firm or law practice, they are people I greatly admire for the things they have done in their lives, and they are not necessarily all professionals either.  You know, I am going to be 53 this year, which is shocking!

E: Congratulations! Haha!

M: Thank you! Haha!  And I have about three or four, 70 year olds in my life right now that are very dear  to me. They have done a lot of things in their lives and I so appreciate their perspective and mentoring around all this, and how to keep it all together.  I believe people who have a little more time and grade than me have some more ideas about how this all gets managed.

E: Have you ever felt like having an emotional breakdown in a time and place where that is not acceptable? And if so, what did you do?

M: You know the movie, I believe it is Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, where she shuts the door, unplugs everything, pulls down the blinds, screams and cries, and then plugs it all back in and acts like nothing happened? That would have been great!

E: So you didn’t do that?

M: I wish. I have felt the stress and pressure of not being able to do that, and that was upsetting. At one point, I got on a plane to see a good friend, walk on the beach for a few hours, and talk it all through. That was really helpful. Other times, I stepped up the frequency of massage, acupuncture and exercise to help deal with it. And sometimes it is just a matter of going home, being quiet, and feeling it. If you don’t allow yourself to feel it, it is going to come back in another way. It may be hard to do that, but I have learned that if I feel something, I have to let myself feel it. As hard as it is, or as stupid as it makes me feel, I have learned that if I don’t, it will come back.

E: And sometimes it comes back with a 2x4 in its hand!

M: Right, and then you get sick or something. I mean, how many times have you heard about people going on vacation and getting sick? That has happened to me and I don’t want that. I want to go on vacation and enjoy it.

E: As the body gets a chance to relax, it goes into recovery mode, which sometimes means getting sick because you’ve got to get that stuff out, and because you didn’t do it before. And all of that stress building up, too, can prevent a lot of flow in many ways, like a pressure cooker. I find the question is how can we relieve some of that pressure before it explodes?

E: Speaking of stress, let’s talk now about student loan debt. Do you have any advice around financial wellness while in school and just out of school?

M: Oh, it’s a hard thing. Law was my second or third career, if you will, and so I borrowed money to go to school. At that time, I also had a mortgage and had to help contribute to that. I hadn’t saved money beforehand, so any schooling I wanted to do  I had to pay for myself. Debt is hard to avoid unless you have family or others to help out. If you do have to take out loans, you have to be realistic about the debt and expenses.

For some public interest jobs you can have your loan forgiven, but you have to stick with that for a specific period of time. If you are interested in that, I recommend looking into it because they are very good jobs and good training. If you are going to go into the private sector, in the beginning, focus on paying your debt and also feeding yourself, which can be hard, especially in Seattle, as it is a very expensive place to live. It can be hard for young people to try and put this all together, which may mean to share a space with someone for a period of time. The bottom line is to let it be ok for a period of time because the debt provided you with some amazing skills that you will have and will be able to use to make a decent living and pay off the debt. In some respects it is just putting your head down and working and figuring out how to best manage it all. If it feels like a lot, that is an appropriate feeling, because it is a lot.

In the recent past, good jobs have been hard to come by, and what I mean by that is, to do what you would like to do and make a decent living, and be able to pay off the debt. It has been changing for a while now. Since I have been in practice it has gone from no jobs available, to no people for the jobs, to no jobs again, and I believe now we are headed back into jobs and no people.

E: Would you please speak with us about efficiency with time and effectiveness of work in relation to personal life?

M: I don’t think in the beginning of any job you are starting, especially a law job in either the public or private sector, that your time is your own.  Give up on that notion in the beginning, because you have to learn how to do this.  It is the only way you can learn being in the practice of law, which is a constantly changing endeavor. It is full immersion for the first few years and the time is not your own. You have to carve out some personal time and time for your life, but know that it is going to get interrupted.

It all bleeds together and you just have to find a way to take care of all your commitments. I think you have to learn how to manage all your commitments, work, family, personal, and you can’t compartmentalize these things. It used to make me crazy because I would say I wasn’t going to work on the weekends, but then something would come up and I would get so angry because it was infringing on my time. I had to learn how to think about it differently. The way we all work now, being connected 24/7, makes it really hard to draw firm boundaries. I think if you try to, you are going to make yourself crazy. Yet, if you draw some boundaries and are able to be flexible about it, you will get through it. And those times when it isn’t so busy, take advantage of that and enjoy that time for yourself.

E: Have you ever felt you were in one place physically, but your mind was in another place?

M: Always.

E: How do you manage that as far as boundaries go?

M: I think you learn to manage that, and don’t fight it. If you don’t fight it or try to push it away, you have a better chance of being in the moment of what you are doing.

E: Any advice around being in relationship while in graduate school and/or the first few years of practice where you spoke of your time not being your own?

M: I think the only thing you can really do is talk about it and put daylight on whatever the stressors are. Also, try not to solve it all yourself! Bring your partner in to try and talk through the issues, and try to solve it together. If you try and do it all in your head, you may totally miss what the other person needs and what you need. Communicate early and often. It may be as simple as, “I know I promised we would do these things, but this came up in work. What can we do about that?” Maybe you reschedule or whatever, but communicating that is important.

E: What were your passions in graduate school and have those evolved?

M: I wanted to be challenged, help people, find work that was meaningful to me and to others and to the world, and there isn’t a lot that has changed around that. To try and fit all of that into where I have chosen to work was unrealistic. The day to day work may not fulfill all that is important to me, so I look outside of work to find organizations that I can be a part of and be helpful and of service. To be of service is important.

E: There is another aspect of wellness we haven’t touched on that I would like to bring up; spiritual wellness. Did you grow up in an environment with a spiritual or religious aspect? And have you held on to that, or has that changed as you have become an adult?

M: I did grow up with a more organized religion, and that doesn’t work for me. I found my connection with the universe and things outside of myself, basically through the outdoors and through other people. And what I mean by ‘other people’ is by seeing that part in other people that is good and takes care of others and helps me focus on the fact that there…there is something out there that is bigger than us… I just don’t have that necessarily clearly defined. I don’t buy into these sort of dogmatic notions of right and wrong, good or bad. It is all very, very, gray and that, then, makes it a little bit harder, I think, because it is a lot easier when you can point to something that tells you what to do and how to think about it, and provides a structure and a context, and that is not for me.

E: I find that we, as humans, like to define things in order to understand them. I believe that God is too great to be put in a box.

M: Yes.

E: Not even Pandora’s box.

M: Haha, not even.

E: Any final words you have for the students as far as their well-being and integrating that into their career, and their seeking of success?

M: Sweat the small stuff when it matters, but not everything matters. If you make a commitment, stick to it and see if it works, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you have failed, it means it is not right for you. You are not going to find that perfect thing in work that fills and takes care of all the needs you have. Work is just a part of your life. And I remember one of the partners at the firm, who has become a friend, saying that this is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  I think about that still to this day. I think it is like life; it is a marathon, not a sprint, and that means you give a little bit of time to this, not all of your time. A sprint is more like giving a lot of your time in a short burst. A marathon means you give a small amount over time, and train for it over an extended period of time, which means you have room for other things in your life, and that is important. Giving all of yourself to work is a hard way to live. And there is so much more than work. It should just be part of your life. In the beginning, starting with a job out of school, that is about giving all of your time, but just remember that is a short time frame, it is not forever.

E: So, would you say that part is a sprint before the marathon? The uphill sprint?

M: Haha! Exactly.

E: Would you say your view of success has changed over time?

M: Yes. It used to be…well, you know, I am a competitive person and I think a lot of us are that do this, and we like to be at the top of your game…how that is defined changes over time. That means I have failed at some things and had to deal with how that felt. What I realized is failures have instructed the next round of whatever it is going to be. We all make mistakes and I will probably make a ton of them by the end of the weekend. It is just a part of the deal and I am grateful for those failures and the mistakes I have made because it has helped change my perspective about things.

E: Trial and error. And that is what this is.

Thank you, Melanie, for your time and for being so wonderfully you! I appreciate you and your nuggets of valuable wisdom. May all those that read this also gain insight.

March Wellness Update

You Are Not Alone. *1 in every 4 People Have This Condition
by Ellen Sims

She calls and leaves a message, “Hi! I was thinking about whom I want to have as a team leader for the committee and you came to mind. I am hoping that you are interested. I will email you with details.” After listening to the message I found myself extremely excited, and then noticed I couldn’t breathe. My mind raced, “What an honor! But…gah…I was thinking I didn’t even want to be on the committee because I am already so stressed out and now they want me to be a leader! Gawd, this would look so good on my resume and….but, if it is too much time…I’m already overloaded and my partner has griped about me not spending time with them. What do I do!”

Does this story ring a bell for you? Have you been in a circumstance of this nature? Do you have a hard time saying no? Do you create time in your schedule and then promptly fill it?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing a condition commonly referred to as FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is common among adults in higher levels of education, of Type A personalities, overachievers, and people-pleasers.

You could have FOMO if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, overwhelm, an inability to make decisions, fatigue, burn out, decreased productivity at work/school, lack of clarity, and/or feelings of resentment, disrespect, or under appreciation. These symptoms cause stress on your system and can lead to anger, increased consumption of alcohol, decreased exercise, decreased sex drive, divorce/break ups, heart palpitations, sleep deprivation, weight gain, and/or poor communication. *Contact your doctor today to learn more about FOMO.

Tips to cure FOMO:

* Denotes a joke.

February Wellness Update

4 Keys of Time Management
by Ellen Sims

Time is a hot commodity these days, but it isn’t something you can buy or hold. When is it that time moves fast and in other moments so slow?

Let’s start by establishing that time is relative. Humans are the only ones in this world who live on a clock. All other species live by their circadian rhythm. The sun and moon rise and set. Learn to release these mental restraints of time and you will be on your way to knowing how to work with it, expand or contract it. Sure, sure, a minute is a minute and an hour 60 of those minutes, but some minutes seem to last longer than others.

If you are holding your breath underwater, those minutes are going to seem a lot longer than if you were perusing Facebook. Time mesmerizes and awes me, which is why I have chosen to provide you with 4 keys of time management that I have found helpful:

  1. Be Flexible
  2. Prioritize & Organize
  3. Create and Maintain Boundaries
  4. Follow through

Read the full article to learn more.

January Wellness Update

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Trust
by Ellen Sims

It is something easy to lose and perhaps hard to gain, yet, I would argue many people desire and highly value its worth. It is the strength of any solid relationship, whether in business or in intimacy. How would you define trust? World renowned researcher, Brene Brown artfully and intelligently describes trust by breaking it down into parts, or anatomy, using an acronym B.R.A.V.I.N.G. (Watch video)

How would trust apply in business and economics? NY Times writer Joseph Stiglits explores trust, or the lack of, within the history of American society and economy in an article suitably titled, In No One We Trust. He states, “Trust is what makes contracts, plans and everyday transactions possible; it facilitates the democratic process, from voting to law creation, and is necessary for social stability. It is essential for our lives. It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go round. Unfortunately, however, trust is becoming yet another casualty of our country’s staggering inequality.” (read full article

Wish for more on Trust?:

  • “Who Can You Trust?” by David DeSteno, Harvard Business Review, March 2014
  • Intimacy: Trusting Oneself and the Other by Osho
  • The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work. by Charles Feltman

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