Try These Stress Relief Strategies When You Have 10 Minutes Or Less


WomensMedia, Contributor

June 26, 2015

By Paula Davis-Laack

I was inspired to write this blog post when my friend sent me an article from called “Confessions of a Burnt-Out Physician.”  Having experienced burnout myself, I’m keenly aware of the toll burnout takes on people who are trying to do good work in the world.

Her story has stayed with me as I’ve gone on to work with other clients and companies that are having burnout concerns.  Most recently, my cousin, who is a critical care nurse, told me that she didn’t have time to go to the bathroom in her entire 12-hour shift.  My shock quickly faded once I realized that I had done the same thing as a busy attorney.  There were many days when I didn’t eat, ate late in the day, or ignored my own personal needs in favor of billing more hours and attending to the needs of my clients. I wasn’t using strategies to avoid burnout.

The way we work isn’t working when scores of talented people can’t attend to their basic human needs.  Until the larger systemic issues are fixed (or at least acknowledged), these and other stories continue to push me to create stress-relief strategies that can actually be incorporated in your super-hectic day.  Here are 7 such strategies to try when you have 10 minutes or less.

Change your passwords.  This technique is a form of priming – creating cues in your environment to prompt you to act in a certain way.  I recently read about a guy who used this specific password technique to process his anger after his divorce.  He changed his password to Forgive@h3r, and it worked.  His next password was Quit@smoking4ever, and it helped him stop smoking.  Think about how many times you enter a password during your day.  Make that password something that is going to help you create the environment you want.

Try 4-7-8 breathing.  Many busy professionals tell me they don’t have enough time to develop a full-blown meditation practice.  This is the closest thing to meditation that I’ve been able to do, and it’s helped me relax in numerous situations.  If you’ve been feeling less focused, more scattered, or having more knee-jerk reactions to stress producing events, try this technique, which originated with Dr. Andrew Weil.  Sit in your chair or on the floor with your back straight.  Breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, then exhale for a count of 8.  Repeat this for five minutes.  I like this technique because you can do it whether you’re in the car (it doesn’t require you to close your eyes) or waiting to be introduced to speak at an important meeting, to shift your stress response from threat to challenge.

Savor something.  Savoring involves mindfully engaging in thoughts or behaviors that heighten the effect of positive events and positive emotions.  There are three types of savoring:

  1. Anticipatory savoring: looking forward to a positive event;
  2. Savoring the moment: intensifying and prolonging the enjoyment of a current experience; and
  3. Reminiscing:  reviewing a past event to rekindle positive feelings.

Did you have a win at work?  Think about that and share it!  Are you looking forward to dinner out with your significant other tonight?  Take a few minutes and think about the delicious smells in the restaurant and what you will order.

Smile.  I can’t tell you how many times I go to the store, the doctor’s office, a restaurant, or other public place and the people I interact with look so cranky.  Emotions are contagious.  You may be pissed off, hung over, unhappy at work, or going through a tough time, but simply smiling will not only make you feel better, but you’ll also give the signal to others that you want to connect.

“If-Then” a goal.  Research has shown that if you add “if…then” statements to your goals, the likelihood of achieving that goal skyrockets.  This is how I use “if…then” statements with one of my health goals, which is exercising most days of the week:  “If it’s Monday morning, then I’m going to the gym.”  That becomes a habit, which puts my brain on autopilot.  If it’s cold outside, I’m tired, or just don’t feel like going, it doesn’t matter because it’s Monday morning, and Monday morning = gym.

Create your PERMA-H score.  Dr. Martin Seligman’s theory of flourishing involves five elements known by the acronym PERMA.  PERMA stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement.  I’ve added the last factor, Health.  Grab a piece of paper, and write the following:

P____  E_____ R_____ M_____ A______ H______.  Your PERMA-H score is you at your flourishing best.  What does that look like for you?  If you have 30 points to divide among each PERMA-H element, what does your optimal score look like (and each bucket must have a number greater than 0).

Mine looks like this:   P – 2;  E – 4;  R – 5;  M – 5;  A – 8;  H –  6.  TOTAL:  30.  When I’m having an off-day or am overly stressed out, I pull out my PERMA-H score and usually find that one of these areas isn’t getting enough attention.

STOP stress.  My husband and I recently traveled together to see my new nephew.  I was already feeling tired from a hectic travel schedule, and I was running short on sleep.  Not a good combination for me.  As I felt my frustration increase, I used this mindfulness technique from Drs. Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein to re-balance in the moment.  The steps are as follows:

S:  Stop.  Literally, stop what you are doing and pay attention to how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.

T:  Take a breath.  Taking a quick breath or two helps you to re-center and re-focus.

O:  Observe.  Take a mental note of where you feel tension in your muscles.  Are your shoulders tight?  Is your jaw clenched?  What are you thinking, and are those thoughts productive or counterproductive?

P:  Proceed.  Now that you have a little additional information about the sources of stress in your environment, proceed with what you were doing.  The goal is to go about your merry way, but in a more intentional and balanced way.

Pick the two or three strategies that resonate most with you on this list and try incorporating them into your day.  I’d love to hear from you – what are some stress-relief strategies you use when you have 10 minutes or less?

Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP is a burnout prevention and resilience expert who helps companies and busy professionals prevent burnout and build stress resilience.  For more strategies and tips click here for a free copy of her e-book, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention.  See her Top Coach Page and her website


Halvorson, H.G. (2011). Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. New York: Penguin Group (for more on the “if-then” approach to goal setting).

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011).  Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.  New York: Free Press.

The PERMA equation concept originated with my colleague, Gretchen Pisano at

The information on savoring is from a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania held on March 27, 2010 as part of my master’s degree in applied positive psychology.  See also Bryant, F.B., and Veroff, J. (2006). Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience.  Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

This article was written by WomensMedia from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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