There’s plenty of advice out there on how to eliminate stress from our lives – and often that advice ends up causing us more stress.
That’s because it presumes we can eliminate stress, if we just do all the right things: eat better, sleep more, exercise regularly, meditate, change our attitude, plan ahead, get organized … ad infinitum. When the stress remains, it must be because we failed to do those things.
As your inner teenager from the 1990s might say, “Get real!”
“Real” means accepting that stress – especially the pre-conference kind – is inevitable. We can’t eliminate it, but we can learn to manage it.
No need to insult your intelligence with lots of “plan ahead and get organized” talk. You already know how to do that. You also know that despite how well you plan and how carefully you organize, things happen. The trick is to know that those Murphy’s Law moments are coming and be ready to deal with them.
It's not "What if?" It's "When?"
This can be as easy as changing the way you think about those moments, according to Judy Torel, a fitness trainer and health coach based in Albany. “Don’t set yourself up for the unrealistic expectation” that everything will go perfectly, she says. “Know that things are going to go wrong, and frame it like, ‘This is what’s supposed to happen.’ “
Feeling playful? Start a bingo game or betting pool with your staff based on where you think Murphy will strike first: materials lost in transit, speaker missed her plane, burst pipes in the expo hall. If your guess comes true, you win. If none of them come true, everybody wins!
This isn’t a mind game; acknowledging the unexpected as part of the process works on a physical level, too, reducing the level of cortisol – the stress hormone – in the brain.
You got this
Now that you’re ready for Murphy, remind yourself that he’s no match for your mad conference skills. No matter how overwhelming the situation, chances are you’ve faced a crisis as big – or bigger-- before, and you dealt with it. It’s your job, and you’re good at it!
“Two different sentences can cause completely different chemical reactions in your body,” even if they say basically the same thing, Torel says. Think “The keynote is in 15 minutes, the speaker is in jail, and everything is ruined” versus “The keynote is in 15 minutes, the speaker is in jail – but we’ll figure something out.”
Walk this way
Never underestimate the power of a five-minute power walk. Bring your sneakers to the office and schedule two five- or 10-minute walks into your day. Here’s the important part, Torel says: “Walk fast enough to get yourself huffing and puffing. When you do that, you’re physically burning off the stress hormones.”
Don’t aim for breaking a sweat – you still have to look presentable! – but be sure to get your breathing and your heart rate up. Not only will this reduce your cortisol levels, but it will activate what Torel calls the “brain candy” hormones – endorphins, dopamine, serotonin – that elevate the mood.
If you can, work these power walks into your routine during the conference as well. Your brain and your colleagues will thank you!
Do the java jive
Unless you’re one of those folks whose body simply can’t handle caffeine, a cup of coffee may be just what you need during a stressful stretch. Caffeine stimulates the brain and helps you think clearly, Torel says. It also helps get your brain and body back in sync to help you weather stress more effectively.
About 85 to 100 milligrams of caffeine – the equivalent of one cup of joe – should be sufficient. Don’t overdo it and land on the express train to Jittersville.
Keep the home team in the loop. Remind them in advance that your schedule will be tight. Help them be prepared to help you.
At work, delegate whatever tasks you can to your colleagues, but know their working styles and delegate accordingly. Don’t give the project that requires weeks of planning to Susie Seat-of-the-Pants or Do-It-on-Deadline Dan; let Methodical Mary handle it.
Remember, though, that Susie and Dan produce brilliant work, too, or they wouldn’t be on your team. Assign them the right tasks and be accepting of their working style. Give trust where it’s due.
Deadlines vs. Guidelines
Some deadlines are non-negotiable (the hotel needs the dinner head count and meal choices a week before the event). Others are flexible (the name badges should be ready two days before, but if you’re still attaching clips and ribbons the morning of … nobody’s going to starve).
If you’re delegating work, be sure your colleagues know the difference as well, and that they know what kind of deadline they’re dealing with.
“It's not you; it's me"
Everyone deals with stress differently. Learn to recognize your colleagues’ coping styles so you don’t take their behavior personally and add to your own stress. If you know that Warmhearted Wanda turns into Officious Ophelia at pre-conference time, you won’t be left wondering what you did to make her mad.
The same goes for your own style versus theirs. Give them a heads-up so they know “how you get” at this time of year.
You may be feeling as if there aren’t enough hours in the day, but you do have time to relax and recharge. Take every opportunity to do so. Veg out. Chill (with or without Netflix). Go to the coffee shop or the park.
No time for any of those? Torel recommends a 10-minute stretch break. Lie on the floor, feet above your head, eyes closed. It works – and everyone can find 10 minutes, no matter how busy they are.
No matter what goes wrong, Murphy is not going to totally ruin your conference. It will be a successful event where a few things happen to go wrong. Celebrate that success. Reward yourself and your team for another winning effort.
Pre-conference stress is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be unbearable. Expect it, welcome it, deal with it, and enjoy the ride!