Pushed and pulled by competing demands, juggling family needs and increased work expectations, rushing, from one task to the next—living this way causes chronic stress, which is toxic to our systems, literally making us sick. Research has linked chronic stress to increased risk for anxiety, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attack, atherosclerosis, stroke, early dementia, and clinical depression. As Robert Sapolsky found researching baboons in Kenya and Michael Marmot learned studying British civil servants, it’s not so much the demands themselves, but the lack of personal control that makes our systems break down (Sapolsky, 2004)

Buddhist teacher, musician, and high-tech entrepreneur Lewis Richmond says we can regain our freedom and sense of control by working with the inner space of consciousness. In Work as a Spiritual Practice (1999), he offers a simple, subversive way to break through toxic stress.

Richmond tells of a Christine, a nurse in a large urban hospital. Downsizing had increased her work load, leaving her less time to care for her patients. She was always rushing, running down the halls from one room to the next. Richmond asked her to try a Buddhist practice, saying a mantram (or mantra), a short affirmation or spiritual phrase, while walking down the halls. By reclaiming that in-between time as her own, she began to feel less stressed, more caring with her patients, more at peace with her life.

Simple, but powerful, the mantram has even reduced stress in clinical studies of veterans with PTSD(Bormann, Hurst, & Kelly, 2013).

Reclaiming the open spaces—the available margins in your days—can help you find greater peace in your life.  

Instead of filling your mind with all you have to do, should have done, shouldn’t have done, try this simple practice:

  • Take time to clear your mind when walking from one work location to another, perhaps from your office to meeting.
  • Take a deep breath and release it, feeling your body relax.
  • Claim this open space as your own.
  • Say a mantram, a spiritual word or phase meaningful to you.
  • Repeat it silently to yourself.
  • Take another deep breath and release it.
  • Feel a greater sense of freedom and peace in your life.  


Bormann, J. E., Hurst, S., & Kelly, A. (2013). Responses to mantram repetition program from veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: A qualitative analysis. JRRD, 50, 769-784.

Richmond, L. (1999). Work as a spiritual practice. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

Sapolsy, R. (2004). Why zebras don’t get ulcers. New York, NY: Henry Holt.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

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