Alex Beiner, TBA Plc
Alex has written this post for ILEA UK as part of our #EventWell17 blog series
As event professionals, we have the enviable task of taking concepts and bringing them to life in the real world. We create things you can see and touch; things you experience through the body, not just passively experience on TV or online.
As a mindfulness meditation teacher and an event professional, I’ve always thought this creates an interesting intersection with mindfulness. Mindfulness is hugely effective in not just relieving stress in the moment, but changing how we react to future stressors. The reason it links so closely with the kind of work we do is that we become mindful by coming into the body; we use non-judgemental awareness to come into the present moment, which is experienced through the senses.
But in the fast-paced world of events, with deadlines and fires to put out all the time, how can you help your team be more mindful, and by extension, less stressed and more effective?
1. Understand what stress is
To support your team, you need to know a bit about the science of stress. Your body has an autonomic nervous system responsible for involuntary activities like heart rate and respiration. It includes two interrelated ‘strands’: the PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System) and the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System). The SNS is responsible for your ‘fight or flight’ response. When activated, your body secretes hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, diverts blood to the limbs, dilates the pupils and increases the heart rate.
We have evolved this response to survive, and it served our ancestors well when they encountered a hungry tiger in the jungle. However, the SNS isn’t picky. It will activate just as readily to a difficult client, or a supplier sending the wrong piece of kit. We call this initial stressor the ‘first dart’. The second dart comes when we replay the first dart in our heads, thereby releasing the same chemicals all over again and creating a cycle of reaction and stress. This cycle builds on itself until the body can’t handle any more and we burn out
2. Create opportunities to break the stress cycle
If you don’t give your team a way to release their stress hormones, they will build until they get sick, disengaged or too stressed to think effectively..
Mindfulness meditation breaks the stress cycle by creating distance between the stressor and our reaction to it – moving from autopilot into conscious decision. Have a professional teach your team some simple mindfulness techniques they can use on-site and in the office. The PNS can be activated in as little as 3 minutes, and there’s always an opportunity to come into the body and focus on the breath no matter how busy we are. As Zen philosopher Alan Watts said – “If you can’t meditate in a boiler room, you can’t meditate.” Teaching your team practical mindfulness skills allows them to take personal responsibility for their own well-being.
3. Create a mindful culture
This is perhaps the most important element of all. The culture of your agency or company needs to be one that recognises and promotes well-being. If people are working in an environment that encourages reflection, introspection and vulnerability, people won’t feel they need to mull over their stressors without any support. Nothing is quite as effective in relieving stress as a combination of mindful awareness and sharing your concerns and ideas in a free and open environment. Human beings thrive in communities – so make your workplace a supportive community that gives people the time to connect with themselves and one another.
In summary, helping your team feel more focused and relaxed is about much more than giving them some downtime. It’s achieved through understanding the biology of stress and relaxation, giving them opportunities to break the stress cycle, and most importantly, creating a culture built around well-being. These cultures are more productive, more creative and enjoy higher staff retention – and it’s as simple as giving your team space to breathe.