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The wellbeing advocate: An interview with Eloise Skinner

The number one question we have for ULaw alum Eloise Skinner is where on earth she finds the time. On top of a fairly exacting day job -- corporate tax lawyer for US-headquartered Cleary Gottlieb -- she’s written a book, teaches yoga, volunteers for charity, runs career development workshops and tries to spread the gospel of wellbeing in an industry not renowned for its focus on personal welfare. In advance of her Instagram Live session with us on Thursday 21 May at 13:00 for Mental Health Awareness Week, we caught up with Eloise to discuss the importance of wellbeing in the legal sector.

Admittedly it’s not an original question. “People always ask me this”, Skinner laughs, “and they hate the answer”, which is partly that “people have more time than they think they do”. It does sound like something only a chronic overachiever would say -- but the point is that if you make commitments in areas you’re passionate about (and only those), you’ll manage to fulfil them.

“The other thing is that I’ve always been a restless sort of person, so I always want to do more than I have time in my day for”, Skinner says. The solicitor is well aware that not everyone has the freedom to allocate their time the way she, at 27, does. “Obviously everyone has different levels of responsibility”, she points out. “A lot of it I’m doing in my personal time”.

Take her Junior Lawyers Handbook, published by the Law Society in September 2019. Designed to help people “navigate the transition between student and young professional”, she took only one day off work to complete it, with the writing taking up a year’s worth of weekends and annual leave.

It may sound unappealing, but Skinner seems to keep from burning out by building relaxation into her regular working day. Wellbeing, and particularly how to achieve it in the context of a “manic City career”, is her pet subject (and the topic of her second book). The particular stresses of long hours under pressure aren’t just evident from Skinner’s own experience -- she encounters their effects in her yoga students too, who are often fellow City professionals.

Most people are familiar with the basic idea of yoga, an often instructor-led form of exercise that involves taking up a series of postures and breathing in certain patterns. What’s less obvious is the relevance to busy professionals struggling to cope. The Londoner – who grew up on a council estate in the East End -- is keen to stress that she’s not in the business of evangelising, but says that for her it’s been life-changing.

“Yoga introduced me to a form of embodiment that I hadn’t been aware of before. Even though I was a very active person all through childhood, yoga’s a different form of movement. It makes you very aware of being in your body. That’s one of the things that’s been so important to me working in a job that’s mainly with your brain”.

But unlike, say, running on a treadmill -- which is also a good stress reliever for many -- it isn’t purely a physical outlet.

“Anxiety, high adrenaline, inability to sleep, mood swings, energy levels that are all over the place - which are things I’ve experienced parts of in my career and in my life - all of those are regulated by the body but they come from the mind interacting with the body”, the ULaw and Cambridge graduate reflects. “The skill of being able to listen to your body, read it and understand what it needs and how to respond to it is such a valuable tool to have”.

The beauty of yoga, along with other wellbeing techniques like meditation and mindfulness, is that it can relatively easily slotted into a working day. That’s key to Skinner’s thinking on wellbeing: while many deplore the breaking down of work/life boundaries, she thinks it’s “inevitable”. The question then becomes how to temper work with outside interests, rather than trying to keep the two in separate silos and getting upset when one intrudes on the other.

“I carry my work phone and my personal phone around with me everywhere”, Skinner points out. “My whole life is always blended - I’m never fully in one place or the other. The response to that is either to let it continue and think ‘now I’m always working’, or you bring elements of yourself into work and elements of how your work has shaped you into the other things you do in your life”.

The ultimate goal is “to make the City a place where you can have a full life. This hasn’t been my experience at all, but it does carry this reputation of a place where you go in and you’re just at a desk for 40 years, your life flies by and everything is a bit depressing and grey with loads of paperwork. What I would like to do, along with a lot of other people in the City who are doing similar things, is show that it can be a place for having a full, interesting, passion-driven career”. Ambitious, certainly, but a noble goal if ever there was one.

 

If you would like to know more about self-care check out our everyday mental health tips for students.