It’s no secret that event planning is a high-stress occupation. Every planner knows that their job ranks in the top spots for most stressful jobs out there. So let’s talk about stress.
Stress is a word that we all use to explain away the rings under our eyes. And our sleepless nights, and that squirmy feeling that we get when we think about tasks we’re unenthusiastic about. We know this word and use it often. But do we know what this word actually means? And what the body goes through when we encounter something that is cause for stress?
Because no matter how well planned your wedding timeline is, stress is not always avoidable.
What Is Stress?
The general definition of stress is defined as a mental, physical or emotional factor that causes mental or physical tension. This means it is anything that causes you to tense up. The technical term for these varied factors is a stressor. The body’s reaction to a stressor is what we colloquially call stress.
The stressor could be a massive wedding or just getting to a coffee date on time – stressors come in many shapes and forms. The manifestation of tension is also expressed in many ways, but how the hormones in your body work when a stressor is present is a constant.
So Why Does This Matter To Event Planners?
Okay, we’ve gone over a lot of biology, and we’ll go over a little more, but I think it’s worth pausing to discuss why knowing how stress works matters.
Understanding Your Client
First of all, your clients, especially during weddings, are susceptible to stress. They’re in the spotlight, perhaps for the first time in their lives. They’re also dealing with familial pressures, societal expectations, and their self-inflicted high expectations. This adds up to a high level of stress. And as the event planner, you’re likely to bear the brunt of it. Freaking out at you, the planner is a little like a release valve.
But it’s much easier to brush it off when you know it’s not personal. In many ways, your client who just locked themselves in the bridal suite isn’t in control. So if they’re being a bit rude, it’s because they’re not quite themselves.
But the same understanding you’ll offer your client should also apply to you. Knowing the physiology of stress is a step to understanding why you’re reacting to a situation in a certain way. So if you’re feeling cornered by a client and just want to get out of there, it’s not because you can’t cope. You can handle things just fine. It’s might just be your body mistaking the mom-in-law for a tiger.
It’s worthwhile to understand why you’re tired, tense, or feel stressed. Because if you recognize the signs, you might be able to head it off. So let’s get back to what stress actually does to your body.
Understanding What Stress Does To Your Body
The human body works with a system of glands and the hormones that they produce. The collective name for this entire system is called the endocrine system. The endocrine system glands release their hormones into the body’s general circulation, affecting different organs, other glands, and the body’s internal balance. These hormones are all released to maintain a balance or constant state of stability in the body. This stable state is called homeostasis.
When a stressor is present, your body will have a receptor that picks it up and sends it to your control center, your central nervous system. The central nervous system will then alert the glands or organs responsible for balancing your off-center internal environment. They will then secrete the hormones that are necessary to maintain homeostasis.
Stress Is Both Emotional And Physical
A stressor can be experienced either physically or emotionally. When this happens, your internal environment is disturbed. A “message” is sent to your receptor to restore homeostasis in the body. Regarding stress, the receptor is your hypothalamus, a small part of the brain found in its central region and is crucial for living. The hypothalamus is responsible for all communications with the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain, nestled in a bone hollow to keep it safe and sound. This little gland is responsible for the secretion of several hormones carried through the circulatory system to stimulate other glands to excrete more or less of other hormones.
When stressed, the hypothalamus secretes CRH (Corticotropin-releasing hormone), which stimulates the anterior pituitary to secrete ACTH (adrenocorticotropin). This, in turn, travels through your system all the way to the adrenal cortex, which then secretes cortisol. Cortisol is the crucial hormone that is the main factor in your fight-or-flight response.
Why You Want To Fight (Or Flee)
The secretion of cortisol has many effects on other parts of the body and the secretion of hormones. When cortisol is released, the body prepares for fight or flight. The effects are an increase in glucose breakdown by the liver and the muscles to provide a quick source of energy should the person need it. There is a decrease in fatigue experienced by the skeletal muscles.
This is why you experience tired muscles and muscle soreness when you are stressed and tired. You don’t feel how much your muscles are working due to the cortisol suppressing the fatigue they are experiencing in the moment of extreme stress.
And About That Heart Rate
You have an increased heart rate. That pounding in your chest is because of this. It is to ensure a quicker circulation of all things necessary throughout the entire body. Your body moves all your blood to your skeletal muscles. They need more blood to flee than your stomach needs to eat in these moments of high tension. Cortisol also increases the body’s need for ventilation, which is why your breathing quickens.
This is because the rest of your body is working overtime, and you need more oxygen to facilitate all the processes taking place.
Not only does cortisol affect all these functions and all these organs, but cortisol also affects the secretion of other hormones such as aldosterone, vasopressin, growth hormone, and glucagon. The increase in aldosterone and vasopressin ensure that the body retains more water for later use. Other physical manifestations of stress are dilated pupils, shaking, dry mouth, flushed face, tunnel vision, etc. All contributing to the preparation of the body to react at the first sign of “danger.”
Once the brain and nervous system have deemed the stress to have passed, the body will return to normal. The stress response is ceased through the activation of a negative feedback mechanism. This is a loop that acts as the effector to the organ that is responding and inhibits the production of the hormone sensing the excess availability of the hormone already in circulation.
So now you know why your heart starts racing and why it might be difficult to catch your breath when faced with a moment that might leave a headache in its wake.
And you know what really helps keep stress at bay? Efficient event planning software (wink, wink).
1979. The Marshall Cavendish illustrated encyclopedia of how the body works. London: Marshall Cavendish.
Vander, A., Sherman, J. and Luciano, D., 1986. Human physiology. 4th ed. Boston, Mass.: WCB McGraw-Hill.