If you Really Want to Function at Your Best, Quit the Booze.

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If you want to perform at the top of your game, give up the booze. Whether you are a litigating attorney, an executive running a company or negotiating a deal, an elite athlete, pilot or other top performer, in order to function at peak levels, abstinence is your friend. If you want to stay at those peak levels, under stress and when the stakes are high, abstinence is imperative.

The detrimental effects of alcohol on human physiology have been well documented. It adversely influences “neural function, metabolism, cardiovascular physiology, thermoregulation and skeletal muscle myopathy” (Vella and Cameron-Smith, 2010, p. 781).

To measure the impact of abstinence on people’s ability to function, a team of researchers at New Scientist decided to work together with those at University College London Medical School to track changes in the body when individuals abstained from alcohol for one month. Their findings were a game changer.

Respondents reported that their sleep quality improved by 10%.

Participants also benefited from a whopping 18% increase in the ability to concentrate.

Take that one to the courtroom or boardroom!

As University of Virginia researcher Lorie Hood puts it, “Many people think that alcohol will help them cope with stress but the opposite is true. Alcohol disrupts sleep, causes cognitive ability to decline and actually increases anxiety” (2015).

Not only did the abstinence experiment show that when people give up alcohol they enjoy an increase in cognitive performance and better sleep, but they also gained improvement in overall health:

“Liver fat decreased an average of 15%, with some participants losing up to 20%.

Accumulation of fat in the liver is a precursor to liver damage — creating inflammation that can lead to liver disease. A reduction this large means that an almost immediate benefit of quitting drinking can help your liver slim down, dramatically reducing your chances of developing cirrhosis or other chronic liver conditions.

Blood glucose levels dropped an average of 16%.

This is incredibly significant among the benefits of the quitting alcohol timeline, since high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream are a sign of heightened blood sugar and can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Once those levels get under control, the risk is reduced.

Total blood cholesterol decreased by nearly 5%.

Heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., can be predicted in part by examining patients’ cholesterol levels. While an average decrease of 5% in blood cholesterol might not seem like much, it’s quite significant when achieved as a result of cutting out alcohol.

While researchers and spectators alike guessed that quitting alcohol would have several health benefits, all were surprised at the sheer number and quality of positive outcomes that were observed” (Vella and Cameron-Smith, 2010, p. 781).

So, while you may read that there are some health benefits to drinking a glass or two of wine per day, many researchers and clinicians in the field of human potential and performance agree that alcohol consumption does not lead to increased performance. As Hood puts it, “If you want to achieve and maintain maximum, sustained performance in a high stress, high stakes environment, alcohol is not your friend” (2015).

 

Resources:

Hood, L. (2015). Peak Performance in High Stress, High Stakes Environments [Keynote Speech, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients2(8), 781–789. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu2080781

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

 

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Understanding the Traumatized Witness

By: Lorie Hood

One of the biggest challenges Lawyers face is witness examination. You know your job, you have done the preparation and yet, somehow, at some point your witness seems to transform right in front of your eyes. You know the story. Witness “X” has presented in your office as thoughtful, credible, and in control of *her faculties and when she becomes stressed through the process of being questioned, she falls apart. Not the “break-down, cry, ‘I need a minute’” kind of fall apart, but the morph into what seems to be a totally different person.

The once thoughtful and articulate person suddenly stops finishing sentences or completely loses her train of thought. The pitch of her voice goes up and her speech becomes rapid and choppy. She may become overly defensive and appear aggressive or say things that seem to come out of the blue. What is going on?

“How did my witness suddenly become a complete train wreck?”

If your witness has transformed into a different person right before your (and the jury’s) eyes, you could be dealing with someone who has unresolved trauma. And while it’s not your job to diagnose trauma, it is your job to present your case.

It helps to understand what happens physically, psychologically and physiologically when unresolved trauma is activated. It also helps to have a few of the terms psychologists and trauma informed researchers and therapists use:

1) Trigger:  Something that sets off a memory or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.

2) Trauma:  Something that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope and produces a sense of helplessness, fear of devastating loss or death.

3) Flashback: a sudden recollection of the past which can involve any of the senses. The key is that the person relives the experience and is unable to fully recognize it as a memory.

4)  Reptilian brain:  The oldest and most primitive parts of the human brain and is shared by all reptiles and mammals, including humans. It is responsible for coping and unconscious and survival functions.

When an individual’s prior trauma is activated (I prefer the term “activated” over “triggered”), their fight or flight response hijacks their brain and body. Cortisol and other stress hormones flood their system and their reptilian brain takes over. Depending on the circumstances and degree of the trauma suffered, a person may become mildly agitated and distracted or completely unable to function.

“How can I help my witness regain composure and focus?”

While each person is unique, most people will respond positively to the following:

  • Realize that your witness is triggered
  • Focus first on yourself
  • Take a slow, deep breath
  • Make eye contact
  • Move closer
  • Slow your speech
  • Lower the pitch of your voice
  • Lower the volume of your voice

 

  • Realize that your witness is triggered: Just by recognizing that your witness may be experiencing the triggering of unresolved trauma, you will shift your perception. Most of us feel compassion for others when we realize they are hurting or struggling. It is also helpful to understand that if your witness is triggered, their reaction and perceptions are largely, if not completely unconscious and out of their control.

 

  • Focus first on yourself: While this seems counterintuitive to most of us, it is one of the most powerful tools available to you. First, it is truly the only thing under your control and second, your level of tension, intensity or stress—what I call “rev” (as in revving an engine), has an impact on those around you. So, even if you are happy and positive, if you are all revved up, you will likely add to a person’s level of angst if they are triggered. So, focus on yourself and try, to lover your intensity (rev).

 

 

  • Take a slow, deep breath: One way to lower your rev is taking a deep, slow breath. I am talking about a letting go, relax your body kind of breath. If you are able do this so that it is obvious (to your witness), it will almost certainly help to relax him or her. Much like a contagious yawn, when one person takes a slow, deep and cleansing breath and releases their own tension and anxiety, those around him or her unconsciously relax as well.
  • Eye contact: One of the most powerful things you can do to help your witness calm down and find their balance is to gain and maintain eye contact with them. We are social beings and have evolved to connect with others. When we make eye contact with another person, our frontal lobes which are our higher order thinking centers, become engaged. And, at this point you can probably guess what happens. When an individual begins to engage their frontal lobes, they are no longer operating out of their reptilian brain.

 

  • Move closer: Moving closer does a very similar thing as eye contact. It engages the social part of your witness, helps to focus them and moves them out of their reptilian brain.

 

 

  • Slow your speech, lower the pitch of your voice, lower the volume of your voice: When someone is already feeling overwhelmed, whether by the stress of being on the witness stand or by truly being triggered, anything that adds to that feeling of overwhelm, is unhelpful. By slowing your speech, you give your witness the additional time necessary to think and process those thoughts, bodily sensations and signals and emotions.

 

Obviously, you won’t be able to do all of these things all of the time and they won’t all work 100% of the time. However, think of them as skills that you can hone. Practice seeing, attending to different aspects of each of the above outside the courtroom. Watch people closely. Watch yourself closely. Try to approach these skills and understandings of human psychology with some curiosity and experiment with them. Learn to watch for signals that someone may be triggered. What does it look like? What feeling are elicited in you? The better you are at reading and understanding people and the more aware you are of your own responses and reactions, the more powerful you will be as a litigator.

 

 

 

*The author has used “her” in the above example for ease of readability however, the information provided applies to witnesses of either sex.

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