One Event Professional’s Wellness Journey Coping With the Pandemic
Kayla Cook, Kayla Cook Events
That old saying “back in the saddle again” may be appropriate when it comes to experiencing in-person events, but the metaphorical horse has changed—as, we, event professionals have changed.
The experiences we’ve navigated since this global pandemic began have affected each one of us, in different ways and similar ways. Our resiliency and willingness to embrace wellness practices have taught us to clearly see the silver linings.
In this month’s column, I wanted to take a different approach. I opted to interview a colleague about her special journey and insights over the last 19 months: the extraordinary Kayla Cook, owner and lead planner of Kayla Cook Events, who I worked with on the Northwest Event Show.
Kayla’s story is vulnerable, transparent and hopeful. Our combined intention is to share authentically so that others who may not be able to share their feelings can have a voice in this journey as we navigate together.
Q&A With Kayla Cook
Lee Papa: How have things changed for you since the pandemic began?
Kayla Cook: Oh wow, where do I begin?
Personally, I found out I was expecting my first child in February of 2020. As I was wrapping my head around a new baby, the world shut down. It was honestly a blessing in disguise for me because even though there was so much fear and uncertainty in the world, I was able to slow down, enjoy my pregnancy, and the precious moments of my son being born.
Professionally, it’s been a very challenging 19 months! The events industry has been devastated. My work calendar went from booked every weekend and traveling a few times a month to nothing but Zoom calls and client postponements and cancellations. As of mid-2021, I’m still helping my clients navigate the ever-changing landscaping with COVID regulations, pivoting to producing virtual events, and trying to create a healthy work-life-balance.
[Related: MindfulLee Speaking: The Holistic Life]
What was/is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
The biggest obstacle for me was to navigate the ever-changing COVID landscape; event planning amidst a pandemic adds a whole new level of complexity! Guidelines, restrictions, contact tracing, along with consistently changing general information, and unfortunately no one has a crystal ball for solid answers.
Even now, 19 months in, we are still up against unclear guidelines between states and trying to navigate planning events safely. And now, Delta has made an appearance and the momentum we were beginning to see is faltering and moving backwards. Just this past week, events again began postponing or returning to virtual until at least 2022.
Did you go through a period of anxiety, grief or depression during these changing times? If so, how was that managed?
I have struggled with anxiety most of my adult life, and a part of me thinks I may thrive off of it. Working fuels me—I like the work-hard-play-hard mentality. But during the heat of COVID there were periods of time where I found my creative spirits deflated and my sense of purpose questioned—and the future was blurry at best.
To help, I journaled lot, exercised and spent time outside in the sunshine. I felt like if I wrote down my thoughts and struggles it helped me acknowledge and organize my feelings, and of course, the fresh air helped me cleanse some of the anxiety.
What self-care practices have you embraced?
I took up yoga. It felt good to move at a slower pace and I enjoyed that I could turn my brain off for a few minutes a day. I loved practicing outside on my patio; again the fresh air helped elevate my senses, ground me and jumpstart my day with positivity.
How are you feeling about the transition back to live events?
I’m feeling rusty. It’s has been a long break and things look so differently now. I have hope things will balance back to “normal-ish” soon, but I do think it will be a long road to rebuilding our once-thriving industry. I am very excited to start working in person again and designing experiences that excite people. I love people, and I have missed seeing faces in person and working with my very talented network of colleagues.
Before the pandemic, we had made such great strides in wellness and wellbeing in the industry, and I know that wellbeing-related offerings will be stronger elements in events moving forward. For you personally, what do you think is most important to keep front and center as we move back into in-person events, hybrid or deal with the return to strictly virtual?
For me, it’s to remember the pause we were given and try to channel how that impacted our lives positively. I was blessed with a new baby and a new perspective during this global pandemic. As we, as an industry, move back into live events and busy schedules, I feel it is important that we make time to unplug and connect with our mental and physical wellbeing.
Personally, I use time-blocking in my calendar to help create dedicated time for myself and family in between meetings. This way I don’t overcommit myself and I have time invest in my family and my wellbeing.
Thanks to Kayla for her time and openness. Join Kayla for more in-depth discussion on my MindfulLee Speaking Podcast.