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Why Is Managing Stress During Divorce so Important? Part 1

Rachel Alexander July 25, 2013

We all experience stress from time to time, but when we find ourselves experiencing unrelenting anxiety it may be our survival skill gone awry. Great to have the fight or flight response triggered if a bear is chasing us; not great to have the same physiological response when stuck in traffic. We are wired to live in an environment quite different from the highly sophisticated one we inhabit today, yetour trigger response has not adapted accordingly. That is, we respond with inappropriate life or death urgency to situations that would be better served by calm our more complex problem-solving powers.

Lisa Byrne, author of “Replenish: Experience Radiant Calm and True Vitality as you Live, Love, and Mother in Your Everyday Life,” presented her research on stress at a meeting I was fortunate to attend. I was struck at how useful her insights and techniques could be for divorcing clients. With her permission, I am bringing some of what she shared to this blog series.

An interesting misconception we have about stress is that we can “think” ourselves out of an intensely stressful state when in fact, our system isn’t set up to work that way. When we are under enormous stress, we literally don’t have access to certain parts of our brain. They are shut off, so even the most calming thought is not going to permeate and soothe the part of us experiencing stress, nor reactivate our logical parts.

Knowledge of our stress responses are brilliantly exploited by marketers. By creating a sense of urgency and scarcity – i.e. if you buy in the next 30 minutes, you get two for the price of one; or the first 10 callers get a special bonus, etc. – sellers invent an environment that activates our stress responses, and thus, our tendency to buy impulsively. Part of that marketing strategy speaks to the way we are biologically setup, in that the more pressure we feel, the more reactive and less thoughtful our decisions will be.

If stress inverts successful behaviors and undermines sound decision making, then it is critical that we look at ways to manage stress, particularly during a time as important (and stressful) as divorce.

Unlike the litigation process, which tends to promote anxiety, urgency, fear of lack and loss of control, mediation fosters a safe environment, encouraging respect, non-judgment, listening, and validation. This environment is antithetical to the hostile, adversarial environment in which survival stress is triggered. In the safe environment, difficult matters can be addressed without exacerbating anxiety. Therefore, when stress is lower, clients can engage in decision making having greater access to their strengths. They have the opportunity to come from their best selves rather than the part that is in “survival mode.”

In part two of this blog, we will look at specific techniques Lisa recommends that can be practiced during times of intense anxiety as well as regularly throughout the day, to maintain calm.

*Lisa Byrne earned a degree in biochemistry from Cal Poly State University and a Master’s in Public Health from Boston University. She is also a certified holistic health counselor for the Institute for Integrative Nutrition at Columbia University.