LAST UPDATED: 13 December 2022

Managing Stress

EventWell's Helen Moon discusses stress management and mental health decline prevention for event management professionals.

Helen MoonHelen Moon

Managing Stress

If you have been putting on races for a while, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that organizing events is one of the most stressful jobs out there. How stressful? According to a 2019 survey by job searching site Careercast, it is in fact the 6th most stressful job you can do, less stressful only to careers like the military and firefighting. 

So what makes putting on events so stressful? What toll is it taking on people like you, working every day to make amazing races happen? And what can you do to manage your stress levels long-term and avoid mental health decline?

Today we’re going to be going over all that in a really candid discussion on stress and mental health in our industry with the help of my guest, EventWell’s, Helen Moon. Helen has been working in the event industry in different capacities for decades, and as the Founder and Chief Executive of non-profit EventWell has most recently been focusing her energy on providing mental health support to event management professionals. 

In this episode:

  • Why organizing events is an inherently stressful job
  • The sympathetic/parasympathetic system balance 
  • The three stages of the stress response and how stress leads to burnout
  • The social stigma around talking openly about stress and mental health struggles
  • Good stress (eustress), bad stress (distress) and mental decline
  • Striving for excellence vs striving for perfection
  • Stress resilience through the lens of your "stress bucket" 
  • The importance of sleep, nutrition and exercise in sustaining good long-term mental health
  • Breathing (really, it works wonders)

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Episode transcript

Panos  2:20  
Helen, welcome to the podcast!

Helen  2:22  
Thanks so much for having me.

Panos  2:24  
It's great to have you. Thank you very much for taking the time. First of all, can you tell our listeners where you're based?

Helen  2:30  
I am based in sunny Greenwich in London.

Panos  2:34  
Awesome. I lived there for, like, two or three years when I first moved to London. It's a beautiful place.

Helen  2:40  
Yeah, I've been here 16 years - it's 17 years now. I'm not too sure if I want to retire in London, but I can't imagine moving right now. So yeah, it's a beautiful part of the world.

Panos  2:57  
It is indeed. So it's a bit of a special episode and you're a bit of a special guest today because you're, sort of, a little bit outside the strict confines of the endurance events industry. Usually, we get people who are, like, directly working on events, but you are a veteran of the events industry at large. You've done a lot of things. Even before we get to EventWell, which is much more relevant to today's discussion, do you mind telling our listeners a little bit about what you've done in events through the years?

Helen  3:32  
Yeah. Definitely. Does it count that I've actually ran five half marathons and the London Marathon? 

Panos  3:38  

Helen  3:39  
Well, I'm not working in endurance events - I'm a partaker or was until I was nearly approaching 50 canister thing. Yes. Yeah. No, I'm still a partaker. So yes, I have worked in the UK events industry for 25 years this year. 1997 was my year of induction - shall we say - at the ripe old age of 24. Previous to that, I was a PA, which explains that transition from PA works into event management. I was an executive board level PA. Again at quite a young age to be, kind of, a senior-level PA. I fell into the industry completely by chance of having an exec-level, board-level PA. I applied for a role as a-- I sent my CV to a hotel in Sunny Southport. I live in sunny Greenwich now. I'm actually from Sunny Southport - which was what people officially call it-- Sunny Southport up in the Northwest. Then, the hotel General Manager basically said, "I'm not looking for a PA but I am looking for an event coordinator. You have event management on your CV. Would you give it a go?" The rest, as they say, is history. So I've worked on it supplier side of event planning and event coordination, which is a very unique kind of area of event management to work in because, predominantly, you are the event coordinator on behalf of a lot of customers and clients - some who are professional event managers. So you coordinate that liaison point. But actually, a lot of your customers and clients are people that have never organised an event before, particularly when it comes to personal events such as celebrations, weddings, and that kind of stuff. They've never organised events before. So you kind of step in as that professional event coordinator and organiser for them. So I did that for about seven years. Then, I moved down to London in 2003 and moved into product sales, again, in hotels and venues. So I spent 17 years in our industry in hotels and venues on the supply side. Operations is my true love though. I was quite good at sales. I managed to bring in some business, and people kept employing me - over 10 years of business - so I must have been pretty good at it. But my true love is operations. That's why I get there - because I'm happiest in there, the throws of an operation, but I also need that quiet element as well, which we'll chat about through the session and explain that a little bit. Then, in 2015, I moved on to freelance work and, then, in 2017, freelance event management work. So I'm actually a qualified event manager, event director, and marketing communications manager as well. Then, in 2017, I launched EventWell. EventWell was supposed to be an annual campaign for the events industry. It doesn't matter who you are in the events industry. It's supposed to be a campaign. It's Event Wellbeing Week next week. It's supposed to start on Monday. We will be delaying the start on Monday for obvious reasons. Because there's a little state funeral happening on Monday, we'll be delaying the start until the 20th of September. That has been happening since 2017, so the brand EventWell started with Event Wellbeing Week. In 2020, we introduced Event Wellbeing Day, closely followed by about a week-- after launching Event Wellbeing Day, closely followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the shutdown of the industry effectively. But after our first Event Wellbeing Week, we identified that-- I have a history in terms of mental health as well, which is my personal story and motivation for launching and starting EventWell.

Helen  7:48  
In 2017, we kind of identified that-- I kind of know. People that we work with and who helped to co-launch Event Wellbeing Week were aware that there was an issue in terms of mental wellbeing in our industry. It's not rocket science. Anybody who works in our industry is aware that there is an issue in terms of stress and mental wellbeing. We identified that the issue was a little bit more than we thought it might be, and it also coincided with that. Event coordination is said to be the fifth most stressful career by CareerCast in the previous year. We identified that approximately one in three event professionals will struggle with their mental wellbeing every year or mental health-related illness, of which mental health-related illnesses is stress and burnout. I decided to actually take the EventEell brand and launch it as a social enterprise. So we are a charitable and community social enterprise. We're an official not-for-profit. Basically, what that means is we have products and services that we are able to sell, which is a charity. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the freedom and flexibility to be able to trade. Then, what we do is the profits that we earn from the products and services that we sell-- we give that money away in the form of grant giving. So it is a charitable aspect of what we do. We give grocery shops. We give hardship relief grants. We pay for talking therapies for event professionals, as an event professional who've been supporting for nearly two years now, in terms of paying for their support and talking therapy. So there's a very important, very serious side in terms of what we do. But predominantly, we're here to campaign, educate and support better mental wellbeing in our industry - much needed, as identified in 2017, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. In a way, that was probably going to happen anyway.

Panos  9:58  
EventWell-- sometimes, when I try to understand things, I try to put them in my own words. Basically, what you're saying - which is something I see lots of costs-based nonprofits do a lot - is you provide event wellbeing services to the industry for a fee, and then you take those proceeds, and you channel them into other wellbeing projects within the events industry, supporting event professionals through, like, therapy sessions, educating, and other kinds of stuff, right?

Helen  10:29  
Yes, absolutely. So support falls under two kinds of categories. So support falls under our commercial and trading products and services, which are our quiet rooms and safe spaces that we provide onsite to events, which is our main service. That's predominately what we do now as of about a year ago. Our quiet room-- it's called EventWell Hub. Our hub service is now a year old. The profits from that service get invested into the campaign and charitable supports kind of elements of what we do, which is the grant-giving. So basically, those profits from event organisers buying products and services from us-- the profits from that go back into the pockets of event organisers and event professionals. So, we have a nice 360-degree kind of money come again, money going out, money coming in, money going gets. We ensure that money goes to people who need it. The whole purpose of giving people that support is to help to prevent mental decline because, for us, poor mental health is not necessarily about chemical imbalances as we've been led to believe for many years, mainly, because that comes out from our perspective, from the pharmaceutical companies that want GPs to keep on buying the drugs that deal with chemical imbalances and whilst there's place for medication - and this could be a whole other session - there's a place for medication, of course, that can help people in the short term. It's not really a long-term solution. We believe more that mental decline is due to the environments and circumstances where we live. There are five elements to wellbeing, which are career, social, financial, physical, environmental community wellbeing, and all of those five areas can have an impact on how we are feeling at any one time. So it's about career wellbeing. Is it fundamentally about, "Do I enjoy what I do every day?" Social wellbeing is, "My relationship is strong as it possibly could be." Financial wellbeing is, "Do I have enough money to do the things I want to do?" Physical wellbeing is, "Do I have enough energy to be able to do the things I want to do?" Then, community environmental wellbeing is, "Do I enjoy where I live? Do I like where I live?" So if you were to ask somebody, "How's your life? What do you think about your life?" Fundamentally, those are the five areas that we default to when we answer those questions, and stuff. So for us, mental wellbeing is about those five different areas, those five elements of wellbeing. Chemical imbalance has a role to play somewhere. Some people are more susceptible to poor mental health than others, and that comes down to genetics and DNA, so that biological kind of aspect of it does have a part to play, but more often than not, mental decline is triggered by the five elements that I've just talked about.

Panos  13:42  
Let's take a look at those. You mentioned earlier that there was a survey done and it's been done for a few years by a careers website called CareerCast, looking at some of the most stressful jobs out there. And the last one I came across, 2019-- event coordinator was on number six, and it's all the more noteworthy to see what the five jobs before that were, just so people understand where number six comes in. Number one is military personnel, so basically, being in a war zone. Number two is a firefighter - self-explanatory. Number three is airline pilot. Four is police. Five is broadcaster - similar kind of pressures, I guess, with a vert coordinator there. Then, you have event coordinator. So along the dimensions that you mentioned like physical factors, economic factors, all of that stuff, why is it that planning events is such a stressful job to do?

Helen  14:39  
Yeah. It'd be quite interesting because, actually, in 2016, broadcast wasn't there. So it'll be quite interesting to go, "What's going on in broadcasting?" My husband actually works in broadcasting media. So, from watching him, I kind of understand probably why broadcaster and stuff is actually snuck up in there. Cause there's lots of stuff happening in that industry from an environment-- I was just talking about the five elements of wellbeing. So, lots of things happening in that industry would explain that pressure and why that increase. Why is it there? Anybody who's worked in events for any period of time, whether somebody has interned right through to veterans, as we call - which are the people like us who've worked in events for a slightly longer period - knows that they are stressful and pressured. So event management falls under project management, and project management is hard work. It's hard. It's deadline-orientated. There's a lot of pressure. You're dealing with a huge amount of stakeholders. You're not just dealing with one or two people. For any type of event, you're dealing with anything from roughly about-- 50 people can be involved in an event right up to thousands. So imagine the kind of pressure from that. I don't know if you've heard in project management about forming, storming, performing. That is an actual kind of lifecycle of project management. Basically, what that talks about is-- you've got the forming elements at the start of the event where there are plans and the strategic kind of elements of putting an event together in place. So you bring people together and these are all new people. It could be that you've established relationships and you work with the same suppliers and the same people all the time. But sometimes, you can still have that kind of forming elements at the start - because the event might be slightly different. Then, what's after that "forming"? What you do tend to find is it goes into what we call a "storming period." That's why you get the battle of wits. You get people-- you start to learn about different people's personalities. We're all different. We're not robots. We're not machines kind of stuff. We're human beings. We've individual values and beliefs and ideas and things that we want to achieve and, sometimes, that can come into conflict with people. Then, you get into the "performing aspect", which I always say is the actual delivery of the event itself. So that's when everything seems to gel and come together despite how stormy that planning stage might have been-- everything comes together for that performing because, ultimately, you have a project to deliver, which is the events, whether that's a conference, whether it's endurance events, whether it's a training session, whatever that might be. There's still that delivery aspect. And what you've also got to do is you've also got to fit that in with what we call the three stages of stress, which are alarm. That's when the stress response has been triggered. Now, the stress response is controlled by what's called the autonomic nervous system - the ANS. The ANS predominantly has two main parts to it. We talked a lot about the stress response, which you'll have heard about, which is fight, flight, freeze. You have all heard the analogy "Fight, flight, freeze." 

Helen  18:06  
Something triggers you. You have all heard the story about the dinosaur chasing the caveman. Fight, flight, freeze. Does a caveman run away? Does it fight or does it freeze and hide? What people don't necessarily understand is there's a yin and yang and balance to everything in life. The Yang to the stress response to Ying is what we call the parasympathetic nervous system. So what normally happens is stress response gets triggered. There's a threat. There's a challenge. We feel endangered. We fight, we flight, we freeze. What normally happens after that in the pre-modern world is that our body or the ANS would then trigger the parasympathetic nervous system once a threat or challenge has gone away. The parasympathetic nervous brings us back to what we call "Rest and digest." So that's where our heart rate starts to be lowered. So the sympathetic nervous system increases your heart rate. The reason it does that is to put more blood around the body to get more oxygen to the muscles for us to be able to fight, fight or freeze. It also slows down what it deems to be at that moment in time non-essential life-saving functions, which is your digestive system. If you don't like public speaking, you get a dry mouth because your body's triggered the stress response. Saliva in the mouth is part of the digestive system. So food starts to break down in the mouth before it even goes down your oesophagus into your stomach. We have to think about things like that. The parasympathetic nervous system starts to bring back all of those functions, and slows down the heart rate. It starts to bring the body back to its balance, its equilibrium - its official name is homeostasis function - where everything's performing normally. Rest and digest. You can't have one without the other. The sympathetic nervous system has been triggered - the parasympathetic nervous system that you used to work in synergy with that - to help you manage your stress levels. You'll tend to find that if you have nice, lovely balance between the sympathetic nervous system and your parasympathetic nervous system, you've got a nicely balanced operating ANS, autonomic nervous system, you're less likely to suffer from burnout. That's the alarm stage. The parasympathetic nervous system just should really kind of kick off on what we call the resistance stage after the alarm stage. This is when the body should be returning to rest and digest, but what happens is it will, for a period of time, stay on high alert in case the challenge comes back. In prehistoric times, it used to be. In case the dinosaur comes back, you're still on alert a little bit. In modern life, particularly in event management, the challenge is still there, the pressure is still there, and the stress is still there - it doesn't disappear. How long you organise an event for will determine pretty much how long you're in that resistance stage and how long you stay in that resistant state. So this is the issue with burnout and event management. The resistance stage is longer. The stress and the pressure are still there. So it's much harder for our bodies, that ANS - autonomic nervous system - to be able to kick off the parasympathetic nervous system naturally. So we need to learn as events people to put ourselves in the best possible environment we can to help our bodies do that, but we don't.

Helen  21:41  
Nine times out of ten, we choose not to. Then, basically, what happens in the third stage of stress is what we call exhaustion. That is burnout. So you've got these three stages of alarm, resistance, burnout. Now you tie that up with project management of forming, storming, performing. Alarm for forming. Resistance for storming. Can you see how the two are going together? And then you've got performing, but it can very, very easily fall into exhaustion from the stages of stress if we haven't done certain things within that resistance stage and that storming stage. So we need to be really, really looking after ourselves and taking care of ourselves in the resistance stage. It's really important that we start from a stress management perspective that we understand that - that we start to understand and appreciate the biology because a lot of what we do as professionals is that the biology is going to work against us a little bit. That is why we have such high levels of stress. It isn't necessarily the fact that the owners can't just be put on employers and our bosses in terms of, "Oh, you're not taking care of-- it's on us as well as individuals to make sure that we're doing all we can from a self-care perspective to be giving our biological victims the best chance.

Panos  23:09  
Basically, what you're saying is what's sort of particularly stressful about event planning is the fact that - from the day when you decide to put on the event up until the last guest has left and probably a little while after that - you're constantly at pressure, feeling the challenges of the event. Basically, you're saying that part of the answer to that, which we'll talk more about later on, is finding ways throughout that period to, basically, bring down your levels of sympathetic system excitement, I guess, and just go back and give that a rest a little bit - which for many people listening in, I'm sure will sound much easier said than done, which I guess is part of the problem. In terms of mental health within the industry - the epidemiology of it - you mentioned that it's a quite common thing and you would know best because you research this and you speak to people all the time. In terms of how openly people in the events industry discuss these kinds of things these days - I'm sure there's gonna be cultural differences between even UK and US, let alone Western countries and the rest of the world - how far have we come in terms of people being open and feeling comfortable discussing these things when they come up?

Helen  24:29  
It's starting to become the norm, isn't it? It is starting to become what we call "Normalised", which is amazing to see. We still got a long way to go. I would say it's much more normal in our personal lives for us to talk about it now. We've got massive steps we still need to take in terms of our professional lives. Whilst we're comfortable in a social setting, talking to friends and family about something that we might be experiencing, we're not so comfortable talking to our colleagues about it yet. So it's the analogy that many people have heard. You'd have no hesitation telling somebody if you've broken your leg, or if you've got a cold or flu or migraine, but if we're feeling any kind of elements of poor mental well-being or feeling even the start of mental decline, then we shy away from the subject. There are lots of reasons behind that as well. There are lots of stigmas associated with that which we'll chat about. So we need to allow people time to get used to the idea. We are going to see increasing levels of poor mental wellbeing, while that happens, so that will feed the normality, if that makes sense in a way, because, in a way, it's becoming more common. But it's not necessarily the fact that more people are becoming mentally unwell. It's being fed as well by the fact that people are actually being their true selves and being completely honest, whereas it's something that they would have hidden before. So you'll hear lots of stories of people admitting that, "Yes, in 2002, I experienced burnout, breakdown, and only my wife, my husband, my partner, my girlfriend, my family, my friends kind of knew. Nobody at work had any idea." Because we've all lived in that world. We put our hands on our hearts and admit that if it's not been ourselves, we all at least have one colleague that we're aware of that kind of went on the two-week last-minute vacation, and then nobody really knew why, and they generally tend to find that that's somebody who's experienced burnout or has been signed off by their doctor for stress and told that they need to rest because it could be something more serious than that. Obviously, on a very serious side, it's important to have these discussions and to educate and for us to start moving the dialogue a little bit is the life-saving element of mental health conversations. I'm a survivor myself. I'm a very open person, so I'm very comfortable talking about this. I'm a survivor myself from attempting to take my own life through suicide. There'll be people that are listening to this conversation that will have experienced either of that themselves, but I've never spoken about it openly, or they'll know somebody themselves personally, or they'll know somebody who knows somebody. So, as a very serious side, that is a consequence of us not having these open conversations. We saw World Suicide Prevention Day on Saturday. So it's just really important that we keep on having these conversations and drive things forward for change.

Panos  27:50  
This perception I have - and maybe others do - of maybe older generations viewing mental health in a slightly less helpful way, I guess, and stop themselves from being more open about this. Is that something that you also observed on the field that, perhaps, people of a certain age feel more pressure of the taboo of not speaking out about it?

Helen  28:18  
Absolutely. But in consequence, let's not boom or bash, as I call it. It's not necessarily their fault. We have to understand what the world was like previous to even the 1960s, 1970s, even to the 1990s. I, myself, as a 49-year-old woman, have already lived-- and I'm still living obviously because it's a chronic condition. I'll have it for the rest of my life. I've lived with bipolar disorder since the age of 16, but it took 20 years for me to be diagnosed correctly. So I struggled for a very, very long time. I was a very young person struggling. Also, at the age of 49, I've only just recently been diagnosed as neurodivergent as well - high functioning in terms of bipolar. What we mean by high functioning, even though it's a term that we're starting to use less of, but it's still been there as an educational aspect, as an educational tool more than anything else-- what we mean by highly functioning is I'm able to carry out a very normal life. I don't need aid and assistance and support and intervention or medical intervention in order for me to be able to live my life or lead a very, very normal life. I have a career. I run my own business and I'm a mother- -you would have no idea unless you were particularly close to me - then you would know. Even when I was a child of two boomers, 70s-- they both work for the NHS, so I have a little bit more awareness of it. They both worked in mental health services as well, so I have a bit more awareness of it as a child as well. That still didn't have an impact because of the attitudes in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and understanding even the NHS was very different in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Now, previous to that, even in the 70s, when I was a child, we still had institutions, as you call them. So we still had mental health hospital. So it's understandable why fear is still at the epicentre of stigma and discrimination. It's a fear of it because previous to what we call "care in the community" kind of come into play - kind of, the 1890s really is when that properly kind of came into play-- if you were mentally ill, you'd be in a hospital. And previous to the 60s, you'd be locked away in that "hospital institution" they were called then, and probably prisons, and you probably wouldn't be seen again or heard of. That fear of judgement and what people would think would mean that your family would never talk about you. I mean, you only have to look at stories of mental institutions in the 1800s and early 1900s. I mean, if you had depression, you'd be locked away in an institution. I used to send images of women and men with no clothes, chained on the floor, lying on straw, and not even on a bed. I mean, that was it. It's abhorrent because of fear - how people who lived with just poor mental health. Women would be locked away in mental institutions just for having PMT. It's where the word "hysteria" comes from, by the way. So there's a "locked in that mental health" stigma. So there's a lot of back history, and trauma, and generational trauma that feeds into that. So, we need to understand areas of discrimination a little bit in terms of why people would be fearful - why even generations as near as the boomers? Because that's only when we started to see the first elements of change. It's only now we're starting to see a massive change in terms of that. So we always say, "Approach everything with empathy, with kindness." It's understandable. If you do your research into the history of the treatment of people living with mental health conditions and your diversity as well, you'd understand why. If you were a family member or you became unwell, you'd understand why some people would be like, "What's gonna happen to me? How am I going to be treated? Am I going to lose my job? Am I going to lose my promotion? What if my partner--" It's understandable where that fear comes from.

Panos  33:12  
Yeah. And that fear, of course, which is the big sort of, like, catch 22 of this whole mental health thing is that it feeds itself, right? I mean, it's a spiral, right? 

Helen  33:23  
Fear feeds fear. 

Panos  33:24  
And they all get out of control. 

Helen  33:25  
Yeah. And then fear feeds the mental decline as well - actually, they call it "The spiral" - as long as you get caught in this spiral. This is why, again, mental health conversations and driving this forward is really important. It's only by doing that, by sharing information, by being very open and honest, about the past treatment of people and that generational trauma as a result of that, we can actually really drive impact and change.

Panos  34:03  
It’s still a challenging market out there, and whatever hopes we all had of a full recovery to 2019 numbers seem to have been a little bit premature - unfortunately. 

And it’s been a very hard time for all you guys out there putting on races, whether it’s through a non-profit, a for-profit or a local running club. 

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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode… You took us through a brief description of how the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems work in balance in helping you manage stressful situations, and then, sort of, climbing down from that and how events make that a little bit harder for people. And you mentioned mental health decline, which I guess can have degrees and sounds a bit vague or, basically, all-encompassing to me. Just going back to events, how quickly does that mental decline come on? Are we talking "You've been under stress putting on events for years on end and then, like, on year 20 to 30, gradually, this happens"? Or are we talking "One day, you just step out, get into the car, and you can't turn on the engine" kind of thing? Like, how quickly does this deterioration come on?

Helen  36:20  
Oh, there are lots of influences to this. First of all, it's kind of understanding stress and pressure and what that is. We use an analogy in the mental health well called the "Stress bucket." I'll come into that in a second. First is understanding stress and what that is. In our world, in anybody's world, really, there are two types of stress. There's positive stress - "eustress" is the official name for it. And then there's negative stress, "distress". The two feel very different. Event management is one of those things. Work or careers is positive stress. Okay? We need to go to work every day. We need purpose. We need direction, we need something to get out of bed for. Nobody doesn't want to work. The majority of people don't not want to work. We need to go to work to earn money to be able to do the things that we want to do. So it's very, very important to us. Also, remember as well that one of the first questions we ask somebody else when we meet them is "What do you do?" So it just kind of signifies how important our jobs and roles are to us. So work is supposed to be a positive stress. Examples of eustress and positive stress are getting married, moving house, doing exams, and exercising. Endurance events-- nobody really wants to run a marathon.

Panos  37:43  
Well, your body doesn't - I can tell you that.

Helen  37:46  
Well yeah, the mind wants it - might want to - because of the adrenaline aspect of doing it. People get addicted to running marathons and endurance events because they'd get addicted to the adrenal effect in the body because your body, when you're running a marathon, is continuously releasing that stress response to keep your heart beating fast to keep the oxygen flowing to you. That's why they say, in terms of training for a marathon, "Don't run a marathon before running a marathon" because you're going to burn your body out basically. It hasn't got the strength for you to be able to do that unless your body's used to running marathon after marathon after marathon. If you're a novice, then don't try to run two marathons in one go. You don't want to end up with a trip to A&E or anything worse, unfortunately. But that kind of explains that. So exercise, endurance events - good positive stress. We need positive stress. It's really good for our mental wellbeing. Our brain wants that positive stress. It keeps us motivated. It inspires us. It keeps us productive. It keeps us creative. It keeps us coming up with new ideas, and that's what the brain wants to be doing. It feels good. It feels exciting. We still get nervous. You can still get nervous - that's the adrenal response. That's the adrenaline being triggered in the body. It's basically because your gut has a massive kind of link to mental wellbeing as well. Your adrenaline gland is situated just above your kidneys, so it's around that gut area. 60% of the serotonin that's produced in the body is produced in your gut, not your brain. So that's where you get the nerves from the biological kind of aspect. So nerves are good. It's a good sign. It's a good sign of being stress. Negative stress, on the other hand, feels very different. It feels uncomfortable. It doesn't feel nice. You don't feel motivated. You feel quite scared. You feel scared rather than nervous. We all know the difference between nervous-- nervous, you're a bit twitchy. If you're scared, you're ready for flight - you're already wanting to run away. It's learning from a self-awareness perspective what those two feel like for you, apart from the obvious, which we all know the Sunday evening dread. So if you are starting to get the Sunday evening dread, do something about it. "Why? Why are you getting a Sunday evening dread? Is there anything I can change to make that feel more comfortable to move that uncomfortable kind of feeling away from it?" That is a sign of mental decline - that Sunday evening dread. Not wanting to get up in the morning is a sign of mental decline. Your behavioural change, being snappy with people, getting headaches, being short-tempered, feeling tired, and waking up in the morning not feeling rested are all signs of mental decline. So it's learning. We're all individuals as well, so it can feel very different for different people. So it's learning self-awareness in terms of self-management, self-care, and stress management. Fundamentally, the key to this is understanding the difference between the two. Mental decline - if you can catch it early-- this is all about being proactive rather than reactive. So if you can catch it early - things that are worrying you and troubling you - you'll tend to find that you'll start to worry about things more. You'll be more cautious about things - I think that's what I'm trying to say. That awareness and caution will be there much more. Talk to people about it and try as much as you can. When I start to feel like that, for me, that is a sure sign that I need to take a step back, rest, give my body a chance for that balance to start to come in, have a little bit more parasympathetic nervous system, and try and keep control of the sympathetic nervous system a little bit, just for everything to come back to an equilibrium.

Panos  41:56  
Just to try and tie this back to actual clinical psychiatry-- when you are at that early stage of mental decline, is that a clinical condition? You go to the doctor and you say, "I'm having trouble getting out of bed. I have so many things to do. It's so stressful. I can't give them up, but I need to do them." When you're at that stage, is that something that, sort of, medical science would recognise already as, like, a mental health condition? Or do you need to go further than that, deeper than that, to actually go into something that would be clinically recognised as mental health issues?

Helen  42:34  
Yeah. In terms of clinical psychiatry, they can only diagnose what is termed as the clinical condition. Depression is a clinical condition and probably one of the only ones that don't need a clinical psychiatrist to diagnose that. So pretty much by having a conversation with your GP. There has to be a period of time as well because what we have to understand is it's normal for people to have highs and lows, it's normal for you to have a period of not having energy and not wanting to do things. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're clinically depressed. It's when you're having those feelings over a long period of time. So a GP would normally ask you, "Have you felt like this for a period of longer than two weeks?" and then look at the ways that you can proceed. So just because you're experiencing what we term as mental decline, that doesn't mean that you have a clinical mental illness. Then, there are other aspects of, obviously, clinical psychiatry, which is where mental disorders kind of come into play, which is people like myself. I have bipolar, which is also a depressive disorder, but it's also a psychotic disorder. And then there are anxiety disorders. So there are depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, OCD, generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks - that will fall under anxiety disorders - and then there are the psychotic disorders, which are schizophrenia, bipolar, and those kinds of areas. So it's complicated. There's no simple answer to that. It does take a period of assessment and review and appointments with that. I'm not a psychiatrist, so I can't go into vast detail and information in terms of how that works. I can only talk about my experience of being clinically diagnosed and being in psychiatry care. For my bipolar, it took about six months for me to receive that official psychiatric diagnosis, but it's very complicated because there's no blood test. There's no brain scan kind of stuff. It's all behavioural-led. So, there are periods of assessment and talking about behaviours. "Over the past two weeks, have you felt this? Have you felt that? Have you done this?" That kind of stuff. And then, they'll look at that. Then, there's very obvious signs of disorders such as hallucinations.

Panos  45:07  
Well, yeah. I mean, you see those behavioural stuff there and, obviously, a lot of the treatments are around that behavioural cycle. I guess, at some point, you also start having, like-- it's not a kind of like, "It's all in your mind" kind of thing. You're also starting to have physical symptoms. I mean, a panic attack is a physical symptom, right? I mean, I speak as someone who's had them in the past - I have my own issues with anxiety in the past and still ongoing. As you say, these things are something you have to live with. Having a panic attack - yeah, I mean, it's all happening in your mind and stuff - is very real to you and it's very real to your body - what's happening at that time, right? It's not like you're imagining it.

Helen  45:44  
No, absolutely. 100% - it's real. This is why it's important not to ignore anything that you might be experiencing or feeling. One of the things I say to, kind of, help with that and is also important to realise - I think this is the point I'm trying to get across as well - is just because you might be experiencing those feelings of negative stress or distress, or you might feel like you're in mental decline does not necessarily mean that you're mentally ill. Even if it were to the point that you were diagnosed with a condition or a disorder, then you can recover. You can recover from that. So it's very, very important to put that out there because we don't want to be feeding further fear which, again, feeds the stigma, and stops people from reaching out and getting the help that they need. So that's very important. I think that the most important thing is to recognise anything that you might be experiencing. Don't ignore it, in the same way that you would with physical aspects of your health. If, for two week period, you're getting a headache every day, you wouldn't ignore that. You would want to have a conversation with your doctor to say, "I've been getting these headaches. I don't normally get this many headaches, but I'm getting a lot of headaches." Things like that can be a sign of poor mental health. Mental health does not sit in silo to physical health - the two are interlinked. So a lot of aspects of mental decline and poor mental health actually have physiological aspects in the body as well. When we're stressed or in mental decline, it can affect our hearts. There's a massive link between poor mental health and heart health. There's a possibility. A lot more research has been done now in terms of links between mental health and other aspects of health. They already know that a lot of heart disease and heart problems can be linked to poor mental health and prolonged periods of stress. Then, there's gut health as well - big links between mental health and gut health. I already mentioned the serotonin link between Crohn's, IBS, and poor mental health. I was actually a premature baby as well. I was born with gut problems as well. Lots of research is being done between people. Could that affect my poor mental health? I actually nearly died as a prime baby because my gut wasn't formed properly. The two are interlinked. The important thing to remember is there is no health without mental health or physical health. I would like us, at some point in the future, where we stop isolating the two. We stop talking about mental health and physical health. We just talk about our health, and this is all part of that normalisation journey that we need to be on.

Panos  48:30  
Yeah, absolutely. Actually, I was just listening to a podcast just yesterday on some of the research coming out about the importance of gut health to pretty much everything. I mean, it's just fascinating how what's happening in your gut links to everything around your body. Of course, people know - for stress management, one of the important things people say, and we'll get into it actually in a sec about some of the ways of managing that - the importance of diet and all of that stuff. So that's, that's not news to people. It's something, again, that's harder to stick to when you have all those challenges happening around your project management work. But everyone knows that diet is quite important. 

Helen  49:06  
Just to add to that Panos, research and look into probiotics. This is no word of a lie. Well, for the last four or five months, I've actually been taking a daily probiotic supplement and I have noticed a sizable improvement in terms of my stress levels and being able to manage them. Most importantly, I managed my bipolar off medication just to prove that even if you live with a condition, you can manage that effectively without being "souped up on drugs", as they call it. You can manage it effectively by looking at the foods you eat, self-care, sleep, and all of those kinds of stuff - really, really important self-care elements. But yeah. Have a look into it - have a look into probiotics. It's probably one of the most important food supplements that you can take daily.

Panos  49:55  
Yeah, absolutely. So let's get into some of those coping strategies. I think we've been realistic, and these things had to be said. But we painted a little bit of a dim picture. Let's look at, basically, what people can actually do about stress because, as event organisers, it's very hard to do for us, particularly-- I should say, whether it's not particularly obvious to you do that, in endurance events, specifically, race directors have - I'm sure wedding planners do as well, but I know that side of things a little bit more-- they have tonnes on their plate. They're, like, the one person on top of a very, very, very short pyramid - mostly a pyramid of one in some cases - and they take on a lot. So stepping away is definitely not an option. Aside from that, let's talk about a few things that might be - and one of the things that struck me when we were discussing, sort of, about this offline is the importance of perfectionism - the importance of basically stepping out of the trap of perfectionism, which I can definitely see in many event planners and organisers. You said something quite interesting to me, which is you want to be striving for excellence, not perfection.

Helen  51:11  
Yeah, I have a 6-year-old little girl. It's quite funny to talk about this. My daughter's six. She's my absolute world. She turned around to me last night, and she said, "Mommy, do you know what perfect is?" I was like, "No. You tell me what perfect is." I saw my husband's face because he knows my view on perfection. He always had this, like, half-smile and kind of go, "Oh, what's mommy gonna say to this question?" "You tell me, darling. You tell me what perfection is." She said, "It means when something is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good" and nodded. I nodded at her. Again, I could see my husband at the corner. I could see him laughing, but not laughing - that quiet laugh you kind of do when you notice someone's not looking at you. I turned around and said, "There is no such thing as perfection, my darling. Okay? It doesn't exist. It's a word that we shouldn't use. The only thing that exists is something that is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good or excellent. That's the only thing that exists, and that was the best thing." She just nodded and went, "Alright, mommy." Yeah, and she didn't ask it again. I think that's very real. We've been taught and conditioned to aim for perfection - the perfect life, the perfect relationship, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect diet, the perfect wardrobe, the perfect this, and the perfect that. That's what we've been conditioned from since we were children. My daughter's coming home from school and saying, "That's kind of separate." I was like, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. There is no such thing as perfection. There might be in your eyes - the eye of the beholder is the only way that it can possibly exist." So there is a chance that you can sit down, and you can have a meal, and that's a perfect meal that you could have eaten at that moment in time. So that's the thing with perfection. If it ever does exist, it is only a moment-in-time thing and it's so subjective that it's not something that we should aspire to be trying to achieve. If we're aspiring to try and achieve perfection, we are setting ourselves up for a fall, we're setting ourselves up for-- not that there's anything wrong with making mistakes, but we're just setting ourselves up for disappointment because we're not going to achieve it, especially not in the event world because we're in the people industry. We are dealing with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who all had their own idea of what perfection is. So, if you aspire for your events-- it doesn't matter whether you're a wedding coordinator or wedding manager, or whether you're a race director, whether you're an event director, whether you're an exhibitions director or an operations director, you roll that person at the top of a tree with people underneath you. If the person at the top of the tree is aspiring for perfection, think about all those people underneath that you're putting a whole different level of pressure onto their shoulders because those people are not aspiring to their idea of perfection. They're aspiring to your idea of perfection and they might not even know what that is. 

Panos  54:40  
I'm sure they won't, yeah. 

Helen  54:41  
I always have a very real mindset whenever I go into an event or whatever. I've got my event that I'm organising, and it's always the aspect that something will always go wrong. Something's gonna go wrong - doesn't matter how much I plan, doesn't matter how many kids agency plans that I try and put in place - and what will set you apart as that event director, operations director, wedding manager, race director, whatever that might be, is that mindset in terms of strive for excellence. Something's gonna go wrong, but we're ready for it. So if you say that this event got to be perfect, you're not in that mindset. You're in a very fixed mindset - a blinkered kind of state. When something does go wrong, you're probably going to fall apart and be like, "Oh, how do I deal with this?" If you go for the excellence mindset, you're ready. You can go, "Right. Okay." Something's gonna go wrong. Something's gonna go off-pace. Someone's gonna do something they weren't supposed to be doing - even though I told them five or six times not to do that, they're probably still going to do it.

Helen  55:53  
How are we going to respond to that? Okay, are you ready for it? Perfection - closed, fixed mindset. You're not ready for anything to go wrong. Excellence - open mindset. You're ready and primed for something to go wrong. That's what sets you apart as an event organiser working in our industry - your response to something that happens, not how good your function sheet was, and your event order. Your planning still needs to be there, but that's not what sets you apart. 

Panos  56:25  
I guess another spin on this is to also, basically, sort of, make yourself comfortable with imperfection so that you can sleep at night with things not being perfect - whatever that means - right? I mean, you need to be able to do that. Otherwise, it's just gonna drive you completely bonkers.

Helen  56:44  
Yeah, exactly. I just see the whole perfect thing as all bonkers in every area of our life. So take the pressure off your shoulders and just take it out of your backpack. What you're carrying that pressure around with you for? It's completely unnecessary. My mom always said to me, growing up, all anybody can ever ask of you is to do your best. So I was very lucky to have a realist as a mother who kind of inspired that in me. All anybody can ever ask is that you've done your best and as long as you know that you've done your best. That ultimately will, kind of, feed that confidence for you to be able to go into any situation and deal with it effectively. Those are things that have stayed. I don't know if it is the reason I'm still here after 25 years - probably, if honest. I think if I'd strive for perfection - which I was a little bit in the beginning - I find it very hard to find my balance my equilibrium in the beginning as most people who are new to our industry do. Learn to get comfortable with excellence. Scrap perfection. It's holding you back. It is dragging you down and it's holding you back in terms of your capabilities and what you can achieve.

Panos  58:14  
Yeah, and you mentioned there also, which I think is a big factor in all this-- not so much to have planned out every single possible eventuality, but having good processes, I guess, and the right mindset to be able to respond to things.

Helen  58:30  
Yeah. I mean, I'm neurodivergent. Yes, I've only just recently been diagnosed with that. You'll actually find that there are a lot more neurodivergent people in our industry than we probably realise, to be honest with you. My presentation is actually on ADHD and autism presentation - I'm a bit of both. So there can be times when the two are in conflict. Actually, the autistic side of me - that high-functioning autism side of me - likes to plan. I like to have a job sheet. I like to have an event order. I like to plan. But the ADHD kind of side to me likes a bit of spontaneity - that cheeky kind of side to me. I've always said this, "Just throw me a challenge and watch me get to work." That's when I'm in my element. I kind of I carry that in all kinds of areas of life. I remember quite famously doing a celebrity wedding. In the morning of the wedding-- and it hadn't been planned - the morning of the wedding, the bride called me up and said, "My auntie has done my cake for me. We talked about three tiers, but she has actually done five. They weren't pillared because it's a homemade cake. You can't really pillar a homemade cake because it's not on purpose - there's a certain way of doing it. If you try and pillar and tear up a homemade cake, it'll start to collapse after about an hour because it's not a professionally made cake. So you have to put it on stands." And it's very difficult for you to find a five-tier stand. They generally don't exist. This was about - she called me at - seven in the morning because, obviously, she's a bride. She wouldn't have slept all night. It's a celebrity wedding. Okay Magazine, the press, and the media are all there as well. I was driving around Liverpool, half past seven in the morning finding a five-tier cake, and then I found one. I wasn't gonna give up until I'd found the five-tier cake. So use that cake analogy kind of stuff. Be the event organiser that loves the challenge of finding the five-tier cake when you get that call at seven in the morning, and not be the event manager who's like, "Well, I can't do that for you. No, because it's not my order, which should be my autistic side." So sometimes, that conflict between the two of those kind of works really well for me and my, kind of, mindset as an event organiser, and that's the flexible mindset. Let's do this. We can do this.

Panos  1:01:15  
Yeah, I know plenty of race directors who've had their five-tier cake moments - the equivalent, I guess, of last-minute curveballs. They're all over. You have to be able to manage that.

Helen  1:01:26  
But remember as well that if you turn it-- it's the buzz. We all know that dopamine hit that we get. That's the reason why so many love our industry - the five-tier cake moments, not "Everything went to plan on the order." That wasn't exciting. A lot of us in our industry love the five-tier cake moments because then, the fist pump, kind of, dopamine hits. So you might get a bit of serotonin and it might make you feel happy and nice because everything's gone to plan, or the one time out of the 15 events you've done this year has gone to plan, but it's that dopamine of, "Ah, this is not what we did. High five! Also, we rocked it!"

Panos  1:02:14  
Yeah. But I guess the important thing there, which we've been discussing, is that when your five-tier cake moment comes, how well you're going to cope with that must depend on how much stress you have accumulated up to that point, right? That comes back to the importance of, throughout this very long process of putting on an event, you need to have the moments where you truly let some steam off in some way because when that emergency comes, it could be that drop that just completely breaks you apart or it could be something you've just taken your stride if you've managed your stress levels up to that point.

Helen  1:02:54  
Yeah. And this is where the analogy of the stress bucket that I mentioned earlier comes in. So the mental health world-- anybody who talks professionally on this subject or works professionally in the subject, so Mental Health First Aid England use this, Mind user this, we use it. So it's your stress bucket. The idea of the stress bucket is that there's only so much you can fit in your buckets. You only have so much space in there and your stress bucket-- remember what we're saying about the five main elements of wellbeing? Your stress bucket at work, wellbeing at work isn't always about work. It's what's in your stress bucket at any one time. It's what's going on at home. How well are those relationships at home? Have you got anybody that has elderly parents that you're caring for? We've got an ageing population. A lot of young people actually dealing with that at the minute. Okay. So throw that in there. Kids throw that in there. Anything that you are thinking about, worrying about, stressed about - those little thoughts that you get in your head - chuck that in your stress bucket. It's being able to look at that bucket and kind of go, "How full is it? How much space have I got left at the top?" That's your resilience. That's your resilience to be able to respond to the five-tier cake moments. If your stress bucket is full, you're not going to be able to respond to the five-tier cake moment very well. So this is where the self-awareness comes in. So self-awareness is not just listening to your body and what's going on, but also being able to go, "Right, okay. What have I got on this week? What is a priority this week? What do I need to do? What can wait? What can I delegate? What can I give to somebody else?" That's why scrapping perfectionism is really important, because perfectionism stops us from delegating as well. We always think, "Oh, I can do it better myself because this has got to be perfect." Excellence-- you're more likely to delegate stuff to other people because your stress bucket is full. Then, what you've got to imagine on the side of the stress bucket is a little tap, and your self-care releases the pressure from the bucket. It doesn't matter how much is in the bucket. If your bucket is full, you need to up the ante on the self-care, which means that if you've got a lot of things going on, you need to rest more, you need to do more things. This will be different for everybody else. We all relieve stress in different ways, whether that's taking a bath, whether that's reading a book, whether that's going and doing a 10K or a half K at the weekend, whether it's seeing friends, whether it's spending time with your kids, whether it's just resting and doing nothing, whether it's been watching Home of Dragon, whatever that might be for you. You need to work out on "What are my things?" Playing music, listening to music, dancing? What are my self-care elements? What's going to release some of that pressure? What's going to make me feel good to release some of that pressure out of the bucket? It's important that we do it. The more full your bucket is, the more self-care you need to have. But unfortunately, what we tend to do is the fuller the bucket gets, the less self-care we do because we equate it to time. "Don't have time. Don't have time. Don't have time for that." You do. You're just choosing not to make time for it. You're prioritising other things. So we've got to stop seeing self-care as a measure of time. We've got to see self-care as a prioritisation, as a measure of prioritising better, and starting to make more net positive decisions for our wellbeing, as opposed to net negative decisions. So having a lot on and deciding to work until one, two in the morning to get that stuff done rather than actually thinking, "Well, maybe, actually, I should have an early night, so I'm rested, so I'll be more productive to finish that off in the morning." 

Helen  1:06:57  
That's the difference between a negative decision, which is working to one or two in the morning, as opposed to a net positive decision, which is going to bed at 10 o'clock, getting a good night's sleep, recharging your brain and your batteries to be more productive to work because you'll get yourself into a decline itself of burning. Remember that resistance kind of stage of stress? You need to up in resistance. You need to up the self-care. Resistance stage-- if you're not dealing with it, your stress bucket is going to get higher and higher and more full and more full. That's when you end up in the exhaustion, burnout stage of stress because you haven't dealt with the stress effectively in the resistance stage. That resistance stage is the complete planning stage of an event. Okay? That can be the difference between you being on it and having the energy and the fuel to be able to perform and deliver that event to the best of your ability. Actually, once that event has ended, you're that exhausted because you're already in the exhaustion stage that you're emotionally unstable. You go into complete mental decline. You actually become unwell and not just with mental decline, but also physical illness. So if you're somebody that tends to get ill, you need to look at that resistance stage management a bit better.

Panos  1:08:25  
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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode… Throughout this process, we've talked about diet and other kinds of good habits you can pick up. You mentioned sleep there. It's another area much less mystified by now - we know quite a lot about sleep. It's something that also people struggle with because it's another catch 22. The more, as you say, you cut down on your sleep, or maybe you don't sleep very well, get up in the middle of the night worrying about things, particularly with endurance events when there's people's wellbeing on the line-- how important is that basically in destressing during that phase?

Helen  1:10:05  
Yeah. There are three elements of wellbeing, which are exercise and movement, diet and nutrition, and sleep, I would say that sleep is the bedrock for those three. So you've got sleep at the bottom, and then your diet and nutrition. Your exercise sits on top of those. So your sleep is the ultimate foundation. It's been heavily underrated for such a long time. Also, as well, in terms of our culture, since the 80s, really, I would say, we've pushed a "Work hard, play hard" mentality and sleep has been that one that suffered as a result of that. That's because we haven't really understood the impact that lack of sleep can have on our body and understood what's actually happening within the brain and the body when we sleep. It's a complete restoration and recovery stage. It's also where we kind of process data in our working memory into long-term memory while we sleep. If you don't get a good night's sleep that happens during REM sleep, if you don't have good REM sleep, you'll forget things more easily. This is especially important for event coordinators because you need to be on it in terms of conversations, agreements, what's been put in place, what's been coordinated, and what's everyone doing. So fundamentally, REM sleep is really, really important for us. So watching what we drink-- in terms of REM sleep, we all have had those nights, haven't we? I haven't drank in 10 years because I stopped drinking not for my mental health, but because I was planning for my little girl. The reason I've abstained is for my mental health and wellbeing - it's a lifestyle choice now. We drink too much. We've all had those nights where you woke up the morning after and can't remember what happens. "What happened? Can you remember what we do?" "I didn't-- did I? Oh, no." We've all had those moments at some point. That's because of REM sleep. What alcohol does is it hampers REM sleep. REM processes your working memory databank into your long-term memory databank. It's a very simple transition. That's why we dream. So your brain is - the internal process of your brain - kind of processing things that stimuli and information data that we've picked up. So it's a really, really important process for sleep. You have to remember that. You've got exams coming up. If you've got a big meeting coming up that you're preparing for, think about your REM sleep. It really helps you. Then, there's also the recovery, restoration, and repair kind of elements of sleep as well. There are big links now between lack of sleep and dementia later in life, particularly in terms of Alzheimer's because, actually, what happens when we're sleeping as well is plaques are cleared away in the brain. It's like you're giving your brain a really lovely bubble bath and you need to be having good 7-9 hours sleeps for that plaque clearance to happen and be restored. If you're depriving yourself of sleep, that plaque clearance isn't going to work and then those plaques build up and Alzheimer's is linked to plaque buildup in the brain. Neurons are repaired. You've got the growth hormone in the body that only repairs itself during sleep, and that isn't necessarily making us all look younger and taking away wrinkles. Well, we're talking about cell renewal in the body as well. So that happens when we sleep. It is the most important element of self-care. You can survive longer without food than you can without sleep. You keep somebody awake for longer and watch what starts to happen to that person. Just Google some videos on YouTube. They did actually do some scientific studies on some young people to see what happens. You started to see elements of psychosis and hallucinations start to come in because you do start to go. We've all felt it when we've pulled an all-nighter, for example - it just feels weird. So you can actually survive longer without food than you can without sleep. In terms of sleep, it's seven to nine hours. Don't try and make up at the weekend - having nine plus hours at the weekend. It's not good for you. Try to have a consistent, nice, healthy circadian rythm in terms of your sleep. There are going to be times in our industry when this happens. If you can only get five hours of sleep because it's the night before an event or you're in event mode-- remember that stress response? Cortisol and the stress response actually hamper with melatonin release that we need to help us sleep. You're going to find the roundabout event time is going to be really hard for you to be able to drop off to sleep as easier as before. So one tip is don't get into your bed until you feel tired. You need your brain to associate your bed with sleep, and the other functionality that you do in bed sometimes. So there are two things. So don't get into bed if you're not feeling. This actually comes from Matthew Walker. Look at Matthew Walker's stuff - it's the biggest tip I can give you. Just Google Matthew Walker and listen to some of his TED talks. Watch his stuff on YouTube. He is amazing. You'll learn everything that you need to know from this man, Professor Matthew Walker. Don't get into bed unless you're tired. If it's taking you longer than 20 minutes to drop off, get back up, go and do something, wait until you start to feel tired, and get back into bed. If you can only have five hours of sleep, make sure it's the best five-hour sleep that you can have. So make sure that give yourself the best chance to get that REM repair and restoration. So, that's blackout blinds, 17 to 19 degrees in terms of room temperature, comfy sheets to really go as all out as you possibly can in terms of making your bed a haven to sleep. No devices, no blue lights. If you need an alarm clock, buy an alarm clock.

Helen  1:16:14  
You can still buy alarm clocks, I think. We have an Alexa alarm clock. So if you want a modern device, you can buy an Alexa. So sleep and, we've mentioned, diet and nutrition and exercise. We all know we're all grown-ups. We all know that we should be eating healthily and exercising. We've had it drummed into us for a very long time, so we all know. But for us and for me and fed team event, it's very much about those net positive and net negative decisions. So can you have the side salad rather than the bowl of chips? Think about making more net positive decisions and reducing your net negative decisions. Exercise is just-- you don't need to be doing endurance events. You might be an event director that actually loves organising endurance events, but can't think of anything worse and actually taking part in one, and thinks everybody that's actually taking part in that event is a complete nutcase. So exercise-- 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, which can be just walking an extra stop, walking to and from the office, rather than getting the bus if it's like a 15-minute walk. So, do we all know what we should be doing? But also, be realistic about that. It's not all about 100% net positive decisions, because that can actually be detrimental to mental health as well. I'm gonna bring the cake analogy in here back in here. Eat the cake. Having a share of a cupcake with a friend over a glass of wine. The cake and the glass of wine are both net negative decisions, but you're spending quality time with a friend, which is a net positive decision for mental health. So make sure you put some realism in there. It's about balance. Everything is about balance.

Panos  1:18:10  
You don't want to start stressing about your destressing, right? I mean, you don't want to, sort of, like, start being really anxious. They say this quite a lot in mindfulness as well. You don't want to just force yourself to be too aware of that stuff or be too strict with, "Am I going to have the cupcake?" or whatever. If you're going to feel better with a friend, have the cupcake. Okay? One cupcake is not going to kill you. I want to wrap up on something that I think is also quite important. We've been discussing sleep, diet, exercise, planning, perfection, all of that stuff, which is, sort of, like, great stuff. But for some people who may be further down the road of mental decline or who just happened to be through even more enormous stress than that, these things may be insufficient. When it comes to, sort of, like, you feel like you need to be doing more, you feel like you can't manage, what mechanisms are there to basically help you cope beyond that? Whom do you turn to when you actually start feeling quite helpless and stressed beyond the point that you can self-manage?

Helen  1:19:20  
There are two facets to this - very much what I was saying about that self-awareness. Get to know yourself better than you know everybody else. We tend to say that we know our friends better than they know themselves. Therefore, the same is true for ourselves. There are probably people out there that are aware of our personality, our behaviours, and the little quirks and stuff that we do more than we are. We all have those friends that when our friend says that you do this when you eat things like that is when it kind of goes, "No idea. Thanks for sharing that with me." Get to know yourself. That's really, really the top of your self-awareness. Your body will send you little signals if you're aware of it in terms of what it needs. So you'll get little tweaks and pains and stuff. You'll start to feel tension and stress. You start to kind of feel it in your shoulders, the neck, and stuff. As you can feel a bit of tension and headache, don't ignore that as your body turn and start to feel tense, and not feeling comfortable. It's really about upping your self-awareness, but kind of bringing it back to what I've just said about our friends, our partners, and our loved ones, kind of, knowing us really well. Take it from experience. So it may who's kind of managed. I live with bipolar disorder for 30-plus years - 33 years now this year. As much as you can manage it, you can live a very, very normal life with the condition. Just because I have a mental health condition doesn't mean that I have poor mental health, by the way. Sometimes, my mental health can be much better than somebody who doesn't live with the condition. That works the same way for people living with physical health conditions as well, by the way, but I can't do it on my own. We're not supposed to be in isolation. Our relationships are really important to us. So I talked to my friends and my family. I tell them the signs to look out for. I tell them that when I'm starting to feel stressed and agitated, this is what happens. Even my 6-year-old little girl knows that, sometimes, if mummy snaps a little bit quicker than or reacts a little bit quicker than she normally would, my little girl will know that mommy's overtired and mommy might be feeling a bit stressed because I've explained to her, I've talked to her, and I'm very open about it. So be open about who you are. If you're managing any kind of health condition, talk to your friends and family about it because they can be that early indicator. They can spot something in you before you do and can turn around and say, "My husband knows if I'm stressed or turn around and say, 'Do you want an early night? I'll do this. You go and get some rest and an early night'". That's his way of saying, "You look a bit-- and we'll--" Don't take it as an insult. These people care about you. They're not doing it to cause you harm. We would hope that the vast majority of people who are doing that are not doing that to cause you harm. They're doing it because they care about you and they want to help. So speak. Talk. Talk to your friends and family. Tell them anything you might be experiencing. Also, if you're not managing their condition as well, it's important to talk. So have conversations go and do your research on all the stuff that I've talked about today. Go away and make one of your things to do. Post listening to this podcast, go away and do your own research. There are plenty of resources out there. You can find resources on the "About" in my website. We've got lots of fact sheets on there. There's the NHS website. There's Every Mind Matters website. There's Young Minds if you are under the age of 25. 75% of people that will develop a mental health condition will do so before the age of 25, and that's because our brains actually hadn't stopped developing until we were in our late 20s. So we're most susceptible to developing mental health conditions. So ignore those comments that we used to get when we were 16. We are growing up now, so we should know better. Actually, you're not officially a grown-up probably - from the brain development psychology perspective - until you're in your late 20s. So give yourself a bit of slack. Go and read. Make this one of your things to do over the next six months. Become an expert in yourself and your own mental health and the stuff that you need. Then, get your toolkit ready. Remember your stress bucket and relieving those pressures? What are your things? What are the things that will bring you from stress to calm, will bring you from fight, flight, freeze to rest and digest as quickly as possible? Insensitive resistance stage-- look up breathwork. I am a fan of mindfulness. It doesn't work for everybody though. It doesn't necessarily work for me - it does sometimes. I'm also neurodivergent and ADHD. So I actually find it very difficult at times. If I'm feeling manic as a result of my bipolar, it helps, but other times I find it quite difficult. So actually, what I use as breathwork. Everybody should use breathwork. So breathwork isn't a mindfulness thing. Mindfulness just use the breath as a centre concept. You'll know, Panos - if you've experienced a panic attack, what's the first thing a paramedic or a first aid would tell you to do? Breathe. Because it's actually the only tool we have at our disposal for us to automatically trigger the parasympathetic nervous system by deep breathing. So if we do diaphragmatic properly deep belly breathing - longer out breath and in breath - you'll really trigger that parasympathetic nervous system. It's the only way of self-triggering that system. So, learn about breathwork and get some really good breathing techniques and breathing tools in your toolkit as well. That's the biggest thing I can say. Keep an eye on your stress bucket. Really, really become an expert in yourself. Learn about your behaviours and triggers, and then breathwork, breathing and self-care.

Panos  1:25:34  
Yeah, we should have mentioned breathing actually. It is remarkably effective for what it is. I think one deep breath or a couple of deep breaths at the right moment can have more of an effect than any calming medicine or whatever you can take. You see people that, when they're stressed, they don't even breathe properly. They just, like, hold their breath. There's a thing I was reading a couple of months ago called "Email Apnea", which is when you actually read your emails, you're so tense that you actually read your emails without breathing. I noticed it in my wife once when she was sitting in the office. So yeah, breath is super, super important. You also mentioned the resources you guys have on Do you want to tell people a little bit more about what they can find on the site, how they can reach out to you personally if they feel like they may need some support or someone to speak to? Tell us a couple of things about that as we wrap up.

Helen  1:26:30  
Absolutely. So you'll find us at city - very easy. There's the resources section. You'll find the resources section on the websites within the menu bar. Within the resources section, you'll find five key areas which are career wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, personal wellbeing, and community or environmental wellbeing. You'll also find Every Mind Matters tool. We partner with public health, England. So the Better Health, Every Mind Matters tools are on there, which are NHS tools. Basically, what you do is you just answer four or five questions in terms of what's going on for you right now, how are you feeling right now, and then it will give you personalised recommendations in terms of "Try this, do that." You can factor them. You can play around with them, and it will send you email reminders and stuff as well. It's a fantastic tool. I use it quite regularly. So you can check that out. There's a mental wellbeing scale on there. So you can actually go in there. You can answer six questions. It will give you a score, and then you can use that score to determine about whether or not you should go and have a chat with GP - we always say first and foremost. So take a look at that. And then there are other links in there such as sustainable development goals in there in that button linked to mental health and wellbeing, which is one of the sustainable development goals on health, which is the third sustainable development goal. So under those five key areas from career to community, these factsheets, and these videos. There are links to blogs and stuff as well. So go and check out some of those resources. Also as well, make sure that you're following us.

Panos  1:28:06  
Well, Helen, thank you very much for taking the time to share some of this stuff with us. I think we went into a territory that's not strictly about putting on a great event, but it's so pivotal to everything we do in this industry and keeping everyone sane in a pretty tough environment, particularly after COVID and all this stuff we found. So thank you very much for coming on to speak to us.

Helen  1:28:30  
Thanks for having me.

Panos  1:28:31  
Thank you very much to everyone listening in and we will see you all on our next podcast.

I hope you enjoyed today’s episode on managing stress with EventWell Founder & Chief Executive, Hellen Moon.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website You can also share your thoughts about today’s topic or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsors RunSignup and Racecheck for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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