Tips For Five Good Minutes At Work

Five mindfulness practices to find and maintain well-being at work

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Dr. Jeff Brantley, founder and director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at Duke Integrative Medicine, reads from his book, "Five Good Minutes At Work," during a DukeWell seminar in April. Photo by Marsha A. Green.

Silence settled in the Duke Integrative Medicine meeting room as Dr. Jeff Brantley led 30 men and women through a short mindfulness exercise.

"Feel your breath," he told participants sitting with eyes closed. "Simply notice what is happening in your body. Accept it and let it anchor you to the here and now."

The breath meditation was one of several tools Brantley shared during a recent seminar, "Managing Job Stress: Five Good Minutes at Work," sponsored by DukeWell, Duke's health improvement program. The seminar was loosely based on Brantley's book, "Five Good Minutes at Work," which offers 100 mindful practices for increased effectiveness at work. 

During the seminar, Brantley, founder and director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at Duke Integrative Medicine, offered quick ways to settle the mind and return the body to calm after the stress of conflict, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed. "Being mindful - paying attention to what is happening without being attached to any outcome - helps stop our minds churning and our bodies preparing to fight or flee," he said. 

Here are five practices, culled from the seminar and Brantley's book, to help relieve stress and bring your best to work. "The five good minutes concept is simple," Brantley writes in the book. "Take the time, for just five minutes to be present mindfully."

  1. Focus on a calming object. When negative thoughts fill the mind, ground yourself by looking at an object that invokes calmness, such as a plant or a personal photo. Then focus your attention on your breath for several minutes. When your attention wanders toward the negative thoughts, focus it gently again on your breath and the object. 
  2. Train your attention. Choose a rote task like washing your hands and train yourself to pay attention to the sensations of the moment each time you do it. "This is a way of practicing focusing our attention," Brantley said. "Focusing on physical sensations brings the mind back to the present."
  3. Take a power break. In his book, Brantley suggests taking five minutes for a silent meditation retreat away from all electronics. "Take notice of the simple vibrancy of your immediate surroundings," he writes.  Sitting quietly at your workplace, focus on your senses; listen to passing noises, enjoy patches of color and notice the warmth of your hands in your lap. Pay attention to the world around you without feeling the need to respond. 
  4. Take a hike. "Just before lunch, give yourself permission to get outside," Brantley writes in his book. "Take five minutes to be mindful of your natural surroundings. When it comes time to return, with every step you take toward your job site, become increasingly aware of the calming power of being outside."
  5. Have a mindful conversation. When talking with someone, consciously focus on listening. Steady your attention through mindful breathing, and notice, without judging, how your own thoughts can distract you. 

Linda Crabtree, a patient service associate in pre-operative screening for Duke Hospital, attended the seminar. She's interested in the coupling of western medicine with eastern meditative techniques. "Dr. Brantley's message about the importance of being in the moment was incredibly powerful," she said. 

The next day at work, Crabtree practiced being fully engaged during a conversation with a co-worker. 

"I paid attention to listening and to eye contact and how my brain was engaging in the conversation," she said. "I realized I could be aware that I was aware, and it felt really good."