6 steps to avoid burnout: mindfulness for event managers

Working in any type of creative industry can be stressful – be it advertising, digital, design or event management. Since ideas and execution are never black and white – this type of work involves multi-tasking, anticipating client needs as well as interpreting ideas and requests – most of us experience a healthy dose of good stress.

Event management is unique in its demands. Not only does planning an event require meticulous attention to detail as well as big picture thinking, event managers will also spend a lot of time onsite at an event – setting it up, running it and then packing it down, often interstate or overseas and out of one’s comfort zone. The reality of the job is that often you’ll have numerous projects in varying stages of planning, design and delivery – all requiring different skills, thought processes and even offices – all happening simultaneously. Sound familiar?

‘Burn out’ is no stranger for those who work in the events industry. There’s long hours, interrupted sleep, travel and client pressures, as well as the steady flow of adrenaline being pumped through your system – physically triggering your fight or flight reflex – when the actual event comes along. Some stress (in short bursts) is good. Good stress can lead to acute focus, giving us the ability to function efficiently and productively, and onsite this can create a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. However, there is a large distinction between good stress and bad stress, and the long-term effects of bad stress on the body, mind and soul are well known.

Below are a few ways to incorporate mindfulness practises into your work, to combat the bad stress and to minimise the likelihood of burning out:

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

1. Breathe

Sounds easy right! Since breathing is an automatic function of the brain and body chances are you may not even notice it or why it is important. When we are under the pump we often ‘shallow breathe’ – high in our chest – which can in itself induce more stress in the body. Symptoms such as fatigue, tension, anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness and a compromised immune system can result (most of us who have worked in events have experienced sickness on the day of, or days after a gig). By becoming more aware of our breathing and taking slow, deep and deliberate breaths is one sure-fire way to settle anxiety and nerves.

2. Reframe the situation:

Regardless of how much time is spent planning, things do go wrong onsite. For example: a traffic accident causes the AV to run late; 29 overlays are delivered instead of 30; the main entertainment has come down with laryngitis. We could give you a 1000 scenarios, all very real and all a reality of the life of an event manager.

An event manager often has to deal with problems as and when they go wrong – assess the situation, quickly find a solution, mobilise a team and manage a client – all with a smile on their face. It is so easy to drift into a complaining and blaming mode onsite, especially when you’re not in a balanced frame of mind. Negative chit chat onsite spreads faster than hair lice in primary school, and it is neither helpful nor positive. One way to refocus negative thoughts is to reframe them into a useful belief eg: Even though there are things I cannot control, I know this event is going to be a massive success (humour and positive perspectives within the team go a long way to achieve this).

Something as simple as “at least the dancer made it offstage before she pulled a hamstring” can go a long way to keeping the energy and mood onsite shifted in the right direction.

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

3. Walk:

The weeks leading up to an event often see Event Managers working long hours, managing last minute changes that can often have a significant impact on the timing or running of the event. Sitting slouched over a laptop is a reliable way to make you feel low and energy sapped. When the workload is hardcore you gotta move! Exercise increases all those ‘good feeling’ endorphins and is great way of managing stress. Walk to work, go for a wander when you have a break or if you are really strapped for time, every time you take a phone call (and those in events are constantly on the phone) get up and walk around – two birds with one stone!

4. Express yourself:

Frustrated. Stressed. Tired. Demotivated. These emotions are not going to do any good sitting inside you, so expressing them in a positive way is super important to avoid blow ups when things go wrong onsite. Be honest with how you are feeling and talk to someone about it – it could be a colleague, a supplier or the your favourite AV tech. When feeling like this everything can seem quite overwhelming – sometimes just getting it out enables us to move on. And likewise, if you are the person who is listening, put away your phone, laptop or comms radio and actually give this person your time and your ear. Five minutes offsite to grab a coffee and have a laugh is not going to make or break the event!

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

5. Zoom out:

The flowers are the wrong shade of lilac. The plates for the hors d’oeuvres are too round. The show caller is being rude. There is a traffic accident and suppliers are running a little late. So many tiny things can seem like HUGE things when you are zoomed in and delivering an event. If you let them, these things can turn you into a blubbering mess, incapable of making smart decisions and being a good leader. Take a moment, step back and think about the big picture. Number five is sometimes the hardest to cultivate, especially in a moment of stress.

The following checklist can help to put things into perspective:

  • Will you remember this moment next week? Or even the week after?
  • Will this small mishap be the thing that the client remembers?
  • Will this make the entire event a disaster?
  • Will the guests be impacted, or will they remember having a fabulous time?

6. Rest:

Resting after an event is imperative. You might feel grumpy, teary, exhausted and spent after you have wrapped up and left site – all signs you need to disconnect and step away. As a rule: for the number of days onsite running an event, you need the same amount of days to recuperate. Do not compromise your health by ignoring your body’s need to rest and regenerate (yes, we sound like your mother), we know this is especially hard because the next event is probably right around the corner. Take some time, and binge watch some Netflix, trust us.

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