What, Me Worry?

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Being involved in a lawsuit or even just in a dispute can be stressful, worrisome if not anxiety ridden. Believe it or not, being the mediator trying to help the parties resolve their dispute can also be stressful, worrisome, and anxiety producing. The mediator never really knows what is going to happen next or who is going to say what. Is the whole thing going to resolve or blow up? While mediators are supposed to be flexible, that flexibility comes with stress, anxiety and worry.

So, what is the difference between stress, anxiety and worry? A recent article in the New  York Times, “The Difference Between Worry, Stress and Anxiety” by Emma Pattee (Feb. 26, 2020) focuses on this topic.

According to the author, “[w]orry is what happens when your mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain outcomes or things that could go wrong.” (Id.) It is ““…the cognitive component of anxiety”” which “happens only in your mind, not in your body.” (Id.)

In contrast, stress “…is a physiological response connected to an external event.” (Id.) Stress is the response to an external event such as a deadline or taking a test. (Id.) In simple terms, it is the response to a threat which may evoke the fight or flight response. Such stressors will cause us to have ”…a rapid heart rate, clammy palms and shallow breath.” (Id.) It causes the adrenaline to kick in which eventually wears off.

Then, there is anxiety. Anxiety is the culmination of stress and worry. Its cognitive element is worry and its physiological element is stress. Thus, anxiety affects both our mind and body or both psychologically and physically. (Id.)

So… how to deal with this threesome?

When you are worried about something, give yourself a limited time to think about it and then mentally move on to other things. Also, think about how to resolve it- what steps should you take next… and put your thoughts on paper. Writing it all down helps!

If you are stressed, since this is the physical component of anxiety- get some exercise. Walk around the block a few times. Think about what you can control and what you cannot and focus only on what you can control. (See: The Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.“) And, don’t compare your stress level with others. We are all different; that is a given. (Id.)

And Anxiety: try to distract yourself from being anxious by listening to music, exercising or some other activity. The author also suggests limiting your intake of sugar, alcohol and caffeine as these stimulants can exacerbate your anxiety. Finally, wiggle your toes- seriously! By focusing on your toes, you will forget about your anxiety!

So—the next time I see a party full of anxiety during a mediation, I will suggest she wiggle her toes. No doubt, I will get a very strange look and an even more interesting response. But, I will consider it as another tool in my toolbox for resolving disputes.

…. Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

Featured Mediators

View all

Read these next


Why are Lawyers Good Mediators?

In court, a lawyer’s role may be likened that of the client’s champion, and in most cases they represent their clients with great focus and passion.  But lawyers, especially those...

By Anwar Kashif Mumtaz

The Power of Context

“Although humor is present in all human groups, its content varies significantly across cultures. Many jokes don’t translate well—or at all—because of differences in social structure and cultural norms. There...

By Michelle Brenner

Beware of Mediation.com and Arbitration.com

See July 2014 Update: Reported Complaints About Mediation.com See September 2012 Update The following email message and attached PDF were received by me very recently from a long-time mediator and...

By James Melamed, J.D.

Find a Mediator