“Can you close the blinds on the windows? I can’t handle the movement outside.” Anxiety increases our heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. In turn, too much rapid movement around us can further induce anxiety by escalating the sympathetic nervous system response. This is why the majority of our mediations and coaching sessions occur in rooms protected from external movements.
“Why do I have to talk to her? Everything is fine. I will go to work, do my job and leave.” Anxiety increases our desire for the easiest route to resolution, even if it is not the most effective, just so our system can settle. We often need to hear what is in it for us in order to try a different route to the one our system is being pulled towards.
“I keep waking up at night wondering how I could have handled this differently.” When we are sleeping our brain continues to process what occurred during the day, week, month, year, etc., except it is the equivalent to operating a car without using the brake pedal. When we sleep, our limbic areas take over while our prefrontal cortex shuts down. The result is that as we dream without rational control, and cortisol is released into our system and wakes us up to protect us from the perceived threat.
“I know you told me what to expect in the joint mediation session, but can you tell me again? I don’t remember exactly what you said.” The increase in cortisol levels causes the hippocampi to be stunned, thus impairing our short term memory. When in conflict situations, it is common for people to forget details, lose their car keys, not remember where they parked, or to have periods of ‘vegging out’ where they don’t know how they got from point A to point B.
“But you are mine and I don’t want to share you with X [the other party].” This comment is by far the most telling in terms of what anxiety does to us. Anxiety creates the desire to bond, to find a safe person to console us, hear us, support us, and guide us through our anxiety. Participants in coaching and mediation hold on tightly to the coach/mediator they have bonded with and look for cues of ongoing confidentiality, presence, and safety.
In conflict situations, anxiety management is key:
- Accept the anxiety.
- Manage your self-talk.
- Ramp up your self-care.
- Engage in strategies that soothe your skin.
- Take a break from the anxiety.
The key to resiliency is accepting reality as it is; part of your reality can be anxiety. This does not mean accepting being miserable, but rather recognizing that your friend, anxiety, is tapping you on the shoulder and needs your attention. To deny it, will be to induce it further.
The voice inside your head will trick you, it will tell you that this is the worst situation ever. It might tell you that you can’t handle this or you don’t deserve this or this is all your fault. It will talk you up. Your job is to question your self-talk and balance it. How realistic is what it is telling you? How will you cope if the worst outcome happens? How do you want to be, or perceived, when the situation is over?
The conflict situation will pass, and it will be resolved in some fashion. How you will be after it is all said and done, depends on how well you take care of yourself during the conflict situation. Truly listen to what your system needs moment by moment and grant yourself these essentials. It may be warm milk, a blanket, a safe conversation, a hot water bottle, exercise, a nutritious meal, etc.
The brain and the skin are made up of the same material in utero, so when you soothe the skin you soothe the brain. This includes massage, acupuncture, facials, putting your hand over your heart, and a good old fashioned hug.
It’s helpful to oscillate between noticing and settling your anxiety and just getting on with day-to-day living. Ask yourself every so often, “If I wasn’t attending to my anxiety right now, what would I be doing?” Then go do it.
Know too, that our role as conflict management practitioners is to support you not only in resolving the conflict, but managing, challenging and settling your anxiety.