It’s a little bit like the airplane instruction to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Professional planners are caretakers who thrive on catering to client needs, meticulously organizing and anticipating. But focusing every ounce of energy on others can leave planners depleted of the attention they need to give their own minds, bodies, and emotions. The first step in guaranteeing a successful event is being at the top of your game—and that means prioritizing self-care.
“Whole professionals have to be whole people first,” says Nancy Snowden, manager of educational experiences for MPI. “We have people on the brink of literal breakdowns because they are compressed emotionally. We have to change in the way we treat ourselves. Empty people cannot create fulfilling experiences for others.”
Too often, professionals in high-stress fields treat exhaustion and burnout as badges of honor. Planners already have stressful jobs complicated by cancellations, rescheduled events, health and safety protocols, staffing shortages, rising prices, and ongoing instability. The anxiety and uncertainty take a toll. To re-energize and recharge, do what you do best: Make a plan.
Develop daily ‘anchors’
Don’t wait for a vacation or even the weekend to focus on your well-being. Incorporate self-care into your morning routine every day, advises Amy Englemark, a life coach and speaker specializing in teaching business leaders how to be healthy, wealthy, and happy. Intentionally nurturing yourself can change your thought patterns and proactively alleviate stress.
“Ask yourself, ‘What do you need before you start every day?’” Englemark says. “It can feel like you don’t have time for that, but that’s such a trap. Considering your own needs is the most generous thing you can do for people you serve, because they get someone with energy and happiness who is serving them.”
Be patient with yourself. In working with her clients, Englemark sees the chronic instability during the pandemic fueling doubt, anxiety, and overwhelm.
“It’s taking way more time for people to do what they’ve always done and way more time for them to serve their clientele,” she says. “So much more of people’s time is being taken up with daily COVID-19 protocols now, which adds more to your plate and can be frustrating because you feel like you’re not able to attend to the needs of your team or serve your clients the way you want.”
Many people are feeling stretched, and sensing a loss of control over life can be overwhelming. Nurturing emotional and mental wellness can help you bounce back.
Englemark recommends developing daily “anchors” that nourish the mind, body, and spirit. Those anchors could be some type of spiritual connection such as prayer or meditation, spending time outdoors, or making time for people who make you feel encouraged and refreshed.
During daily self-care activities, take time to pay attention to your thoughts.
“If you’re not catching thoughts like, ‘Today’s going to be a slog, and I don’t have energy and I’m not going to get the support I need,’ you’re setting yourself up for surviving instead of thriving,” Englemark warns. “Catch your thoughts. Instead of letting them rule over you, recognize the ‘I can’ts’ or areas where you’re making up a negative story about the future and decide intentionally what thoughts you will let take up precious mental real estate.”
Emotions can teach people what needs attention in their life. “Slowing down is a key to noticing how you’re feeling,” Englemark says. “Maybe make time to journal about the feeling.”
Consider what you would need to feel better about challenging situations and your ability to handle them. Focus on positive achievements to build an inner sense of capability, creativity, and resourcefulness.
“You can ask yourself, ‘What mountains have I already climbed that I’m not giving myself credit for?’” Englemark says. “We’re at such a different stage in history, and a question planners can ask themselves is, ‘What’s the pain my convention attendees or speakers are experiencing right now, and how am I perfectly suited and capable of solving that problem?’”
Ease social anxiety
If you’re feeling more anxious about your job and working with groups of people, that’s not unusual, according to Monica Parkin, author of Overcoming Awkward: The Introvert’s Guide to Networking, Marketing, and Sales and host of the podcast “Juggling Without Balls.”
Parkin says even people who considered themselves extroverts pre-pandemic tell her they’re experiencing social anxiety now.
“You’re not alone if you’re having some anxiety about returning to real life,” Parkin says. “If people can remember they’re not the only ones feeling this way and even the extroverts are freaking out … everyone else in the room is probably feeling the same way.”
Parkin echoes Englemark’s advice about intentionally making time for self-care to ease your stress level.
“Turning off social media is helpful when I’m trying to work on a big project,” Parkin says. “Then take time for mindfulness. Go for a walk and feel the breeze on your skin. Build in breaks. For planners, control the things you can and let go of the things you can’t control.”
Remember, you can control your decisions supporting well-being: what to eat, how much sleep to get, taking time to exercise, and reactions to people and situations every time you walk into an event or log onto a virtual meeting.
Choose wellness at work
Treating yourself well physically enhances emotional wellness, too. For example, wear comfortable shoes to work and pack a favorite smoothie mix to have a treat ready when you need it on a hectic day, Snowden recommends.
While looking for ways to increase self-care, do the same for coworkers and attendees.
“Taking active steps to relieve emotional and physical stress during a conference or event can be easier said than done for meetings professionals who are always on the go,” says Gladi Colon, complex director of event management and catering for Caribe Royale Orlando in Florida. “Work in small increments of time into your itinerary that are dedicated to relieving the stress your mind and body may be feeling, and make sure to encourage colleagues to do the same. If time permits, lead a five- to 10-minute group meditation session before your event starts so the entire team feels centered and calm before attendees arrive.”
Parkin recommends creating warm-up events or pairing attendees with a “buddy” at conferences to help people ease back into large-group social situations.
Incorporate time for breaks and mindfulness activities in event schedules, Snowden suggests. For example, offer attendees a lunch they can take outside to eat, or set up designated tables for people who want to network during breaks.
By offering choices and a less-hectic schedule, Snowden says, “you can change the way people not only anticipate showing up to your event, but the experience they have while they’re there.”
Delegate some responsibilities. The bonus is twofold: Handing off tasks reduces your workload and stress while creating opportunities for others.
“Develop the ability to hand things off to other people, to say: ‘I can’t do everything. This particular thing isn’t in my skill set.’ Is there someone else who would love to do this? Maybe they would love a chance to take this over,” Parkin advises. “You’re going to give yourself the gift of extra time, and you’re building a relationship with the other person. You’re saying, ‘I trust you with this,’ and you’re taking care of yourself in the process.”
The uncertainty of the pandemic has emphasized the need for communication, collaboration, and stronger professional relationships.
“We have to work with each other a lot more,” Snowden says. “Supply chain issues and staffing issues are causing complications that can cause a ton of stress.”
When tensions are running high, emotional intelligence is particularly vital to building and maintaining relationships. Self-management takes practice, Snowden explains. In emotionally charged situations, stop, calm down, and restart.
“Self-management and relationship management are critical,” Snowden says.
Take a fresh approach
Professional planners strive for excellence, even perfection, to give their clients the best possible experiences. But pre-pandemic strategies for planning, teambuilding, and activities might require a fresh approach this year—and that could be beneficial for planners and attendees.
“Be curious about embracing what new opportunities could look like instead of living in the land of comfort or how it was done before,” Englemark says.
The people who find the most joy and success in their lives and careers are those who take problems and turn them into challenges. People who grow through challenges tend to love their careers, have lower stress levels, and experience more happiness, Parkin says. When problems arise, approach them as puzzles to be solved.
“If the venue is not available, instead of panic, ask: ‘What is the silver lining? Is there a better venue?’” Parkin suggests. “When things go sideways, can you turn it into something positive rather than sit and stew in the negative?”
Practice the 80-20 rule
Shifting expectations can help, too. When feeling overwhelmed, remember that everything does not depend on you. Parkin says adjusting her perspective with humility and humor is a strategy she uses when faced with a demanding schedule and long to-do list.
“The world won’t fall apart if you don’t do this one thing. Let go of that need to be perfect,” Parkin says. “Remember the 80-20 rule: If you can get something 80 percent done, that’s almost done. … Is it worth me staying up until 2 a.m. to work on it when, honestly, 80 percent is good enough for most people and I’m the only one who will notice?”
When the feeling of being overwhelmed threatens to sap your energy and creativity, stay focused in the present, Englemark recommends. Channel that energy into the challenges you’re finding solutions for right now.
“A lot of overwhelm in people who are dealing with a lot of changes in their careers is caused by thinking too far ahead and putting a lot of pressure on yourself,” Englemark says. “Your solution is often right in front of you if you’ll just look for the next step.