Events, Anxiety and Me
by Jenny Phillips
Everywhere you look these days people seem to be talking about wellbeing and mental health. In the events industry this is a particularly important topic with the nature of the work but sometimes I feel these are just words, slogans or hashtags and that people are just jumping on the band wagon as this seems to be a popular thing to talk about, and it’s hard for people to really understand the impact this can have on your job.
It’s fantastic that mental health is now talked about, back when I initially starting suffering from panic attacks after a particularly difficult family break up when I was a teenager, it took many months for the doctors and school counsellors to even take what I was saying seriously, with me trying my best to describe the symptoms. None of them seemed to understand what I was trying to tell them and with many completely inappropriate measures put in place by my school at the time (which probably made me feel worse) It wasn’t till I was finally referred to a doctor at a local hospital that I finally understood what was happening. She diagnosed me with panic attacks and anxiety and sent me off to see a psychologist. Talking about what I was feeling helped but for me what really made the impact on my anxiety was the practical things I could do, and putting me in an environment where I was more comfortable.
Starting a career in a pressured environment like events doesn’t seem like a good idea if you have anxiety, but at the time when I was in my early 20’s, I had it under control and wasn’t even planning on getting into events, a lucky temp job opportunity for an international publisher turned into an events career and initially as I was just assisting on the events it didn’t seem to be a problem. With their events based all over the world it gave me the chance to travel and initially this was exciting, but as the responsibilities of running parts of the events increased, along with the travel, long days and no sleep, the anxiety started appearing again.
The thing about anxiety is it doesn’t necessarily have to stop you from doing whatever is it you want or have to do, both personal and work related, but it can really affect the enjoyment of it, as you have this internal voice constantly worrying, making you feel uncomfortable or always on the lookout for the symptoms. Even if it’s something you are excited to do there can be this nervousness that is more extreme than it should be to a point where you feel physically sick, or feeling overly self-conscious of others noticing this unease or thinking there’s something wrong with you.
I’m not the sort of person that likes to feel restricted, bit of a rebel at heart really, and hate feeling that I can’t do something I want to, so after a particular bad time on an overnight flight back from Qatar, where I was quietly (so none of the other passengers could hear me) sobbing to myself in the darkened cabin thinking I can’t do this job anymore because I was so tired and anxious, I realised I needed to do something practical about this, as that was always something that has helped me before. I need to look at what was making me anxious and see what solutions I could come up with to help, for me this was being prepared and having a backup plan, spending time understanding more about how events work, how I needed to interact with others on an event and what environment I need to be in to work best. Over the years people have always commented on how calm one of my events is and how everything always seems under control, but this is an environment I worked at creating, I can’t stand people panicking on site as it brings up my anxiety so by creating this calm environment everyone is more relaxed and making better decisions and actually enjoying the event rather than feeling like it’s a massively stressful time.
I think it’s also quite often the case that when you are running events and being the main person in charge of it, you don’t necessarily want to tell anyone that you have anxiety, I know that’s certainly true with me, I’ve never really mentioned it, I’ve never wanted anyone to think I can’t do my job because of this, or wanted someone asking me are you ok with that pity look on their face, ‘no I am really ok, slightly annoyed now because of the way you are asking me that’ maybe that works for some people but I’m the strongest most resilient person I know so treating me like this doesn’t help me, and I think that’s an important point, not everyone with anxiety wants to be treated the same way.
If you suffer from anxiety it’s never just going to go away, you’ll have times when you don’t think about it, then it might show up again and you will always have that tendency to worry, thinking of all the things that could go wrong. For events this is actually an asset as you are more prepared but some symptoms aren’t helpful like, focusing on the negative aspects of life, assuming that it won’t happen for you or even feeling like you don’t deserve it, you’re not good enough or you’re making a mistake, and it can feel like you are constantly fighting with yourself. But I’ve discovered through my own experiences that you can manage it, and still do the job or anything really that you want to do, well within reason, nothing illegal or anything really bad but you get my point.