Expert insight

Stress in the events industry, and how to tackle it

1 November 2017 by Julie Mann

New research shows that organising events can send stress levels soaring – so are you getting the basics right, asks Julie Mann.

Organising events can be an extremely stressful business. Over a third of event professionals will experience a mental health episode during their career – well over the national average of one in four people. That was the alarming finding of a recent survey by new industry campaign group EventWell. It held the first ever Event Wellbeing Week in September, to raise awareness of the problem of stress in the industry.

Among those who took the EventWell survey, 75% said that their workload and responsibilities were one of the main causes of high stress levels over the past 12 months. And, shockingly, one in ten were experiencing ongoing issues with mental health or depression.

With event professionals under pressure to plan show-stopping occasions on shoestring budgets, the ability to handle stress has never been more important. Here are some practical strategies for coping with the challenges.

1. Make sure you have back-up

Event organisers are experts in due diligence and forward planning. Whether you’re nailing the perfect venue contract, building a buzz about your event beforehand, or finding ways to put your delegates at ease, chances are you’ve done your prep.

But no matter how much is done in advance, there’s always the worry that something could go awry on the day. Forgetting to book pre-drinks may sound like a simple oversight to fix – but when you’re on-site, you might be juggling deliveries, delegate enquiries and AV technicians.

A big part of dealing with event stress is having a supportive team. Organise a back-up person you can call off-site, who will understand what you’re going through, help out and talk you down.

2. Take a time out from stress

People working in events need to remember that it’s OK to switch off for a moment. As a general rule, no one will die as a result! Temporarily removing yourself from the stress is a big part of managing work-related anxiety.

This might mean going for a walk outdoors, doing a yoga pose in a quiet corner, or even having a scroll through Facebook, if you enjoy it. Anything that distracts your brain for a moment can be beneficial. Simply grabbing a butty from the canteen, and taking five minutes to count to 10, can significantly lower your heart rate.

It’s also well worth putting time in the diary to catch up and de-stress as a team. If your team don’t have time to escape from it all with a full-on team-building experience, think about smaller exercises that could be fitted into the working day.

For example, we do ‘laughter yoga’ in the office. In this exercise, you start out by fake laughing, which quickly turns into real giggles. Strange as it sounds, it releases a lot of tension, cheers you up and bonds you all as a team.

3. Look after yourself properly

Frequent travel and irregular working hours can impact on wellbeing – as can not looking after yourself. When we’re busy behind the scenes at conferences and events, we often don’t prioritise eating properly. But if you’re skipping meals, or living off snacks and junk food, you’re unlikely to have the energy reserves to cope with a hectic schedule.

The EventWell survey found that 84% of event professionals have tried eating a healthy balanced diet in an attempt to stay fit and well. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast such as wholemeal toast or porridge with fresh fruit, and ditch the short-lived sugar highs from snacking. Don’t cut out carbs completely if you want to keep your energy levels up all day long, but opt for wholegrain and wholemeal options.

Making the most of your time outside work can also be helpful. Research proves that physical activity can reduce your risk of stress as well as improving sleep quality, mood and self-esteem. Perhaps not surprisingly, EventWell found that just under two-thirds of event professionals have tried to reduce or manage stress over the last 12 months by taking regular exercise. Staying active is one way to unwind outside work. But remember, it’s okay to relax and do nothing sometimes, too!

4. Be there for colleagues

A study by the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences found that the stress hormone cortisol is actually contagious – so when one person is stressed out, it can make everyone around them feel the same. It’s really important to recognise the symptoms of stress in a colleague, and to address the issue sensitively and directly.

Trust your instincts about your teammates, and get to know everyone’s different reactions. One stressed person will become very dramatic and start shouting, while another might put their head down and you’ll never hear a peep from them. However, both may be suffering equally.

Stay vigilant to those tell-tale signs, approach the person suffering, and say, “Hey, let’s take a five-minute break and get a breath of fresh air, or go for a coffee.”

At the end of the day, there’s a fine line between enjoying the adrenaline rush of an event and suffering from anxiety. If employees are to stay on the right side of this tipping point, it’s up to companies and colleagues to be aware of the signs and solutions.

Above all, if you think someone is stressed, tell them it’s OK to feel like that – and ask what you can do to help.

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