Having mediated several thousand disputes over close to 20 years, I sometimes forget that for one or more of the parties appearing at mediation, he/she has never been in a mediation (It is quite new and foreign to him/her.) and so may be quite anxious about it all.
Thus, my job is not only to help the parties resolve the substantive dispute but also to calm the anxious participant.
So- first let’s define anxiety. According to anxiety.org:
Anxiety is the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous or unfamiliar situations. It’s the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event. A certain level of Anxiety helps us stay alert and aware, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, it feels far from normal- it can be completely debilitating.” (https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety)
Anxiety can manifest itself in numerous ways. According to a LiveScience post entitled “How anxiety affects the body: 5 physical symptoms according to science” by Anna Gora (February 8, 2023), anxiety shows up as physical symptoms in several parts of our bodies. These physical symptoms “…are caused by the excessive production of stress hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline and vasopressin.” (Id. at 1.) When released, these hormones activate the body’s “fight or flight” response which, in turn, triggers certain physical responses such as increased heart rate, sweating and rapid breathing. (Id. at 1.)
Anxiety can also cause migraine and chronic headaches, especially the tension headache which feels as though there is a tight band one’s head. (Id. at 2.)
Anxiety can also cause cardiovascular symptoms such as a tight chest or a pounding heart. Why? The anxiety causes the blood vessels to constrict which, in turn, causes high blood pressure and an increase in heart rate. (Id. at 3.)
Then there are the digestive symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, nausea and constipation. The stress hormones brought on by the anxiety, “… can also disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut, leading to inflammation and other digestive issues.” (Id. at 3.)
And it can also bring on poor immunity. The excessive amount of cortisol produced due to anxiety can disrupt the production of white blood cells that fight infections. (Id. at 4.)
Finally, it can cause breathing issues and dizziness. A person who is anxious may experience rapid, shallow breathing, and dizziness. (Id. at 4.)
So, what techniques are available to calm down an anxious person? The Anxiety & Depression Association of America lists several. They include taking a time out, limiting the caffeine being served, have the parties engage in deep breathing, have the parties count to 10 slowly and repeat as necessary, use humor- and get the parties to laugh, maintain a positive attitude throughout the mediation, and perhaps gently discuss with the party that he/she can not control everything so that he/she puts the stress in perspective and realizes that the situation may not be as dire or as bad as he/she thinks.
A lot of food for thought for my next mediation with an anxious participant!
…. Just something to think about.
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