What You Don’t Know About Stress Can Kill You
Every event planner feels pressure at some point but it needn’t erode into stress. If you want to make a career in event management, you need to recognize pressure and head it off before it erodes into stress, which takes a toll on your body and mind. Here are a few ways to do that.
The words pressure and stress are often used interchangeably. But we need to stop doing so, especially in the event industry. The significant difference between these two terms and how you deal with them could be the difference between you being a successful event planner and one of the many who burn out.
Pressure needn’t become stress. You can avoid event planning stress by:
- Recognizing you are to blame.
- Not shutting down.
- Letting it go.
- Being present.
- Reconnecting with your physical environment.
- Concentrating on action.
- Maintaining perspective.
- Avoiding fuel to the flame.
- Not giving more attention to the negative.
But since event planning often makes the top ten list for most stressful job (it was #5 in 2016), it’s important to understand what stress is and what contributes to it. And guess what? It’s not the job itself.
What’s the Difference Between Stress and Pressure?
All event planners undergo pressure as part of their event. It often surfaces in last-minute changes from the client, attendees who show up without RSVPing, or mix-ups on the vendor’s side. Whatever the cause, most event planners have to deal with those things that ‘make them sweat’. No matter how good a planner you are, there will inevitably be a certain amount of pressure you must deal with in this job.
Stress, on the other hand, is how you deal with pressure. Some people cave to stress and get sick from it, while others seem to thrive in those types of environments. So while they feel pressure, their body does not undergo stress. This is the optimal reaction to pressure. The quicker you are able to mitigate stress, the longer you can work successfully as an event planner.
How to Handle Pressure So It Doesn’t Become Stress
You can’t always control the amount of pressure you’re under. Sure, you can be prepared for all sorts of scenarios but when planning an event, there will always be things beyond your control, like the weather for instance. In these situations, you must learn how to handle the pressure of your duties so that the pressure does not erode into stress. Here’s how:
- Recognize you are to blame. Seriously. Does it matter that the vendor brought in the wrong shade of tablecloths? Yes, because you allow it to. Instead of thinking about it being just a material, you start thinking about the client’s feelings. How they may never want to work with you again. How your reputation will be ruined. How people will think you can’t manage your vendors. How you won’t be able to pay rent and you’ll be homeless. This snowballing effect is what causes the stress. The tablecloth is merely the impetus for your overactive imagination. Face it. The wrong color probably won’t leave you homeless. Recognize that it is your reaction to the pressure that causes your stress.
- Don’t shut down. After you recognize and own your reaction, try to control it. Often we experience a pressure point event (like the tablecloth example above). Instead of recognizing it for what it is, our minds go on fast forward exploring all the worst case scenarios of what could happen. Exploring those options brings us great dread. Dread makes us shut down.
What dread doesn’t do is help us in any way. For example, let’s imagine your event client invited all of his closest friends to the event. No one RSVP’d but everyone showed up. You couldn’t turn them away but you’re worried you can’t possibly feed all of them. You panic and start thinking about how the client, the other attendees, and the last-minute unexpected guests will all go unfed. You imagine the grumbling and yelling.
This causes you to shut down. This state doesn’t help you solve the problem. Instead, it compounds it because not only are you concerned about what could happen, you’re unable to think of anything to do to keep it from happening. If you worried only about the problem at hand, which is getting those additions in the door and enjoying themselves, you’d be able to deal with the potential problem (running out of food) without the alarming emotion.
- Let it go. Another time that pressure becomes stress is when we stew on the topic. The event is long over and yet you ruminate on everything that went wrong and how those things could happen to you again at your next event. Or maybe you chide yourself over the way it was handled. Just like the perfect comeback to an insult, you only think about it after the event is long over. And yet, instead of learning from the possible solution that just came to mind and tucking it away for future use, you are bothered by how you didn’t implement that idea instead. Thus, this long ago pressure becomes today’s (and possibly) tomorrow’s stress.
- Be present. The only concerns you need to have are those that are currently on your plate. Not issues that could become problems a couple of hours from now or those that were problems yesterday. You can only directly affect those currently before you. Try to deal with these and only these when you have pressure mounting. Correct what you have the power to correct and don’t be concerned with the what-ifs. Your extensive pre-planning will often help you address those concerns when they become concerns.
5. Reconnect. Another part of this that will help you be present is to stop living in your head and be aware of your physical surroundings. When we have time to think, we have time to worry, and stress about things that haven’t happened yet. Don’t do this. Instead, be aware of (only) the pressure on you currently by focusing on your current physical environment. Notice what’s around you, breathe deeply and concentrate on your breath, or concentrate on your senses.
6. Focus on action. The paralyzing part of stress occurs when we dwell on thoughts and not action. Thoughts have a way of running amok. As an event planner, you likely have a very inventive imagination. Whether it’s table-top décor or compounding a problem, you likely have a mind that can explore a multitude of options in very little time. Instead of worrying in your mind, focus on what can be actively changed through action.
You already know the problem. Don’t ruminate on it or explore all the horrific scenarios. Instead, start developing an action plan. Once your mind starts seeing the progress of action, it will have less time to worry.
7. Hold on to perspective. Did you just set the end of the world in motion or did your vendor not follow your instructions for the main meal? Holding onto perspective will help keep pressure from eroding into stress. That doesn’t mean you should tell your client to “chill” because an error in the appetizer isn’t Armageddon, but it does mean that you should reframe the situation to see what you could learn from it or how it isn’t the catastrophe that will end your career.
Maintaining perspective will also help you act diplomatically and talk others out of emotional reactions. Two stressed parties only exacerbate the issues at hand. But if one can maintain perspective, they are likely to be able to calm the other one more effectively.
8. Avoid the fuel to the flame. There are certain things that exacerbate pressure like lack of sleep, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. While it’s true many event planners run on these things during events (well, maybe not the latter), it’s important to cut back on caffeine and nicotine and get more sleep. These things can alter our perception of the situations and thus add more fuel to the flame.
9. Don’t give more attention to the bad than the good. People have a tendency to dwell on what’s not working and forget the things that are. The problem with this sort of thinking is that whatever you look for, you will find. If you concentrate on the negative, you will surely see more if it. If you find yourself ruminating on the negative, take a moment to look for all the things that are going well and the happy faces of those enjoying themselves.
Why Stress Is a Bad Thing
If you’re old enough, you may remember a commercial slogan in the 80s for Dry Idea deodorant – “Never let them see you sweat”. The commercials used celebrities who talked about three things in their professions you should never do and the last was always the product slogan. But as event planners, not letting them see you sweat isn’t enough. Internalizing your pressure, and thus hiding the ‘sweat’ can develop into life-threatening conditions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress often presents in the form of:
- Sleep problems
- Stomach pain
- Muscle pain
None of those conditions are ideal for keeping up the grueling schedule of an event planner. So if you can head stress off before it becomes an issue you’re better off.
But stress can also alter your mood and your behaviors. Stress has been known to give people reason to overeat, self-medicate, withdraw socially, give up their exercise routine, and even be prone to angry outbursts. Not only are these things not healthy for you, they aren’t healthy for your career either.
Stress also causes mood changes like introducing anxiety, depression, a lack of motivation, restlessness, and a lack of focus.
Stress Management Strategies for Event Planners
If you’re unable to keep pressure from eroding into stress, you can mitigate its hold on you through some of the following activities:
- Exercise. Regular physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. They improve sleep, which also helps with stress.
- Laughing. Look for ways to release stress through a good laugh, like watching your favorite comedy or spending time with funny friends.
- Relaxation activities. Pick your favorite and practice it regularly whether it’s yoga, meditation, prayer, or long walks. Whatever helps you let go and be more present will help you control your stress levels. The best thing about relaxation activities is that you can fit them in anywhere. Get off a train stop early and walk. Take the stairs and clear your mind or even go to the powder room and take a few deep breaths. You don’t need 20 minutes to perform any of these. You just need a few minutes of focus.
- Finding a favorite hobby. Most event planners may not have time for hobbies but those enjoyable activities go a long way in reducing stress. If you always carry your hobby with you, you can fit it into little stolen moments throughout your day like reading while you’re waiting on a client or knitting on the train as you commute.
The One Thing that Makes Stress Management Difficult for Event Planners
Okay, so we’re not trying to give you an out here. You still need to find ways to minimize your reaction to the pressure of your job so that it doesn’t lead to anxiety and stress. But one of the biggest hurdles that event planners face when it comes to managing stress is their compulsive nature. A good event planner deals in details and yet stress management teaches to let these small things go. Many event planners are Type-A perfectionists. It’s the nature of their job.
The more of a perfectionist you are, the greater difficulty you may have in following these suggestions. Still, that is no reason to ignore them. To do so, will only mean mounting pressure and stress, and stress will inevitably lead to health problems if it goes unchecked.
Ensuring that you do your best to keep pressure from mounting into stress will help you have a much longer career as an event planner. This job is not for the thin-skinned and meek of heart. But internalizing the pressure and ruminating about what-ifs will certainly shorten your time in this profession.
How do you find release from the pressure? Share your ideas in the comments below.
Additional Resources on Stress and Event Planning
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