Take a moment to improve your mental health and your meetings will reap the rewards
Meeting professionals are some of the busiest people out there. For many, being busy means being stressed. A little stress is fine. We’re all bound to feel overwhelmed from time to time. But when we find that we’re feeling stressed more often than not, we could face serious effects on our physical and mental health, our work and our quality of life.
When a person feels stressed, their heart rate and blood pressure rise. So, when we’re often stressed, our blood pressure is often high. This can lead to chronic heart issues, clogged arteries, chronic muscle tension and pain. People who experience high levels of stress are also more likely to experience depression or anxiety disorders and even engage in addictive behavior.
If you’re a hardworking meeting professional, chances are that you experience stress more than you’d like to. But you can learn to manage your stress levels by learning a little bit about behavioral health. By doing so, not only will you simply feel happier and more at ease—you’ll put on the best meetings you ever have.
Where does mental health fit into meetings?
Smart Meetings spoke with one of our 2022 Meeting Professionals of the Year, event psychology advisor Victoria Matey, to learn more about the role that behavioral health plays in the lives of busy meeting professionals and their attendees. She operates her own consultancy, Matey Events, to help professionals, marketers and event planners with design, content and strategy. She specializes in event psychology; that is, applying research-backed insights and tools from behavioral science, neuroscience and psychology to make experiences the best they can be.
“Behavioral health is all about how our emotions, thoughts, habits and behavior affect our well-being,” she explains. “When behavioral health is good, we have good mental habits. We feel calm and happy, and we can handle ups and downs. When it’s not so good, we feel more stressed, sad and anxious. It makes us less productive, less satisfied with our personal relationships and less satisfied with our performance.” Good behavioral health is all about creating cognitive habits that help us be more resilient and happier in life as we pursue our goals.
Matey suggests thinking about good mental health habits in three categories: physical health, quality social connection and performance and productivity habits.
“Just like we take care of our bodies, we should take care of our minds and emotions,” says Matey. And by taking care of our bodies, in turn, we take care of our minds and emotions. She referenced a recent study by the Washington University School of Medicine, which found that the areas of our brain that help us think and plan are connected to the areas that help us move, and the areas that control subconscious functions like our blood pressure and heartbeat. “This explains why people who exercise regularly report a more positive outlook,” she says. “It explains why breathing or meditation exercises work, because when we calm our body, we calm our mind.”
Paying attention to one’s physical needs is especially important for meeting planners and regular meeting attendees, as travel can disrupt a person’s regular sleep, water and food intake.
Matey also addressed the intention gap, a phenomenon in which people experience a gap between wanting to do something and actually doing it. As much as we say we will drink more water or start exercising more, there’s a difference between wanting to do so and actually making the change. Because the importance of physical health is so widely recognized, we talk about it a lot—but it’s less common that people actually develop the habits they know they should.
Isolation has particularly detrimental effects on a person’s mental health. On the contrary, quality social connection drastically improves people’s sense of well-being. The type of connection matters, too. Matey says, “It’s not about the number of people we surround ourselves with, but the quality of the connections we have.” Another study, she remembers, found that the people who reported having the happiest demeanors spent 25% less time alone and engaged in 70% more conversations than the people who reported being the least happy.
In our professional lives, it’s sometimes difficult to have meaningful connections and intimate bonds; but once again, it’s about quality over quantity. Matey says that we can work on developing the habit of being genuinely interested in one another and asking people the types of questions that foster real connection. “At an event, it’s not about how many people you network with,” she says. “It’s about how many of those people you share your goals and beliefs with. We can achieve much more when we collaborate out of genuine interest in each other.”
Performance and Productivity Habits
When we have so many computer tabs open that we can’t even read them, chances are, we’re doing more than one task at a time. Matey suggests zoning in on one project before moving on to the next. “People think that if they multi-task, they can do more,” she says, “but, in fact, our brains are not wired that way. It’s hard to recognize that doing less leads to better performance.”
Read More: 10 Daily Habits to Increase Productivity
It’s not just multi-tasking; anything that causes us to feel overwhelmed has detrimental effects on our performance and productivity. “It’s a matter of how you establish your working routine and how you use tools, including technology, that can be less taxing for your brain.”
For one, how do you take breaks? Do you stay at your desk and look at social media? Or do you take a walk around the block? Matey says, “It’s my decision—but I need to understand that checking my social media feed is not restorative for me. I need to find what is.”
Making changes feels high-risk, especially to event organizers who are in the middle of a project. You’ll just wait until the next event, right? But, before you know it, you’re in the middle of that project too. “There’s no perfect time to start,” Matey says. “You just have to start.”
Key Takeaways to Improve Your Well-Being
“Event planners or event designers have a very stressful job, and they are aware of it,” says Matey. “But in most cases, they don’t leave room for those strategies that could help them do their job better, because they are so busy doing the current tasks that never end.
“If you do things a little differently, with the help of psychology, neuroscience and behavioral science, then eventually you will be a lot more successful in your job.”
Make sure you are meeting those three key needs: take care of your body, nurture your connection to others and assess your work habits—and if needed, revise them. There is no shortage of strategies to manage your mental health. Journaling, meditation, spirituality and affirmations all help people. Don’t try to do it all, though (remember the part about multitasking?).
It takes some time to find what works for you. Once you do, you’ll see the quality of your work improve, along with your relationships—professional and personal—and most importantly, you’ll feel happier, less stressed and more excited about your life.