Ten Best Practices for Mediators Derived from Neuroscience: Managing Stress (#4-5)

Stressors are commonly present at the start of mediation that trigger the physiologic stress response. Stressors include high emotions as well as dealing with an unfamiliar setting or process, meeting an authority figure, facing an adversary, and speaking in front of a hostile audience. When the stress response is repeatedly triggered, hormones build up and interfere with a parties’ ability to process information, consider other points of view and make decisions.


  1. Give parties time (at least 30 minutes) to recover from strong emotions and stressful situations before engaging in decision-making activities.

When parties have been subject to repeated stressors they will need time for stress hormones to diminish before they can effectively make decisions. Moderate stress levels help parties focus their attention, but too much stress makes it difficult to take in various viewpoints, reassess options and make decisions.

When parties are anxious, mediators can normalize the anxiety and discuss simple strategies to recover like taking a few deep breaths or a short break. Mediators should use time in caucus and breaks to make sure stressed parties have at least 30 minutes to cool down before moving into decision-making activities.


  1. Recommend journaling as a way for parties to deal with stress before mediation and during caucus sessions with the other party.

Journaling is an effective way to decrease high emotion which may act as a stressor. Mediators can ask parties to write down their feelings and goals prior to the mediation. This may be a useful way for parties to prepare, regardless of whether or not these journals are shared with the mediator.

Mediators can also suggest journaling during the mediation. Highly emotional parties may use the time while the mediator speaks with the other party to write down how they are feeling as well as what they want to accomplish during the mediation. This can reduce emotion and eliminate a potential stressor.

The entire Top Ten List can be seen here.

— Jill Tanz

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