I am sure that I am not alone in noticing that 2018 has been marked by an unusual number of high-profile substance-abuse related illnesses and deaths. Those that we have lost include Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries, Verne Troyer of Austin Powers fame, American rapper, singer, and record producer Mac Miller and our own Jabulani Tsambo, aka HHP.

It is deeply concerning that the entertainment industry continues to be plagued by substance abuse – a phenomenon that has not left our small corner of the industry unaffected. In response, I have decided to take off my editor’s hat and dig out my degree and extensive experience in Health Psychology to develop this article.

Nicole Barnes

Pursuing a career as a technician in the entertainment and events industry requires a very special set of personal and professional attributes. A high degree of technical acumen, a willingness to get your hands dirty, great problem-solving skills, and a passion for the industry are often the highest on the list. However, the ability to work under pressure and effectively manage stress is a critical and sometimes neglected capability that has the potential to make or break a techie’s career.

I am sure that everybody in the industry has either experienced the negative effects of work stress personally, or has a friend or colleague who has succumbed to the demands of the job and derailed to some degree. In my experience, the large majority of technical professionals in the entertainment industry are deeply passionate about what they do and, therefore, simply walking away from the job is not a solution. The answer lies in developing the skills and resources needed to manage work stress more effectively.


According to a study conducted by Forbes, it is widely agreed that piloting is the most stressful occupation in the world. Pilots have earned this dubious honour because they work long hours, spend extended periods of time away from home and family, take personal risks and cannot afford to mess up. While I do not dispute that pilots have a really tough job, one cannot ignore that these working conditions sound an awful lot like those found in the entertainment technology industry.

Add to the list stringent deadlines, high demands, tight budgets and all the factors that are completely beyond your control on site, and it becomes clear that being a techie in the events industry is a pretty stressful job.

The answer lies in developing the skills and resources needed to manage work stress more effectively.


Whether we like it or not, we live in a highly competitive society that equates success with unfaltering performance at all times. Admitting that you are struggling is sometimes perceived as a sign of weakness and so the tendency is for people not to seek help until the situation has reached crisis proportions.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the effects of unhealthy stress can be debilitating and, if not managed effectively, can impact every aspect of your life, including your emotional wellbeing, your ability to think clearly and make decisions, your personal and professional relationships and your physical health.

The WHO indicates that the physical disorders associated with unhealthy stress include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, digestive disorders, fluctuations in weight, sleep disorders and chronic pain (sound familiar?).

Chronic stress can also have a very negative effect on your relationships. Withdrawing into a depression or lashing out in anger at colleagues, friends and family has the potential to alienate you, cutting you off from an important source of support when you need it the most.

On the emotional front, anxiety and depression are very common symptoms of long-term stress. Mounting anxiety and deepening depression can affect your ability to think clearly, recall important information and make decisions. These symptoms are likely to compromise your ability to function at work, which in turn increases your stress levels.

People who are faced with constant pressure and lack the physical, emotional and social resources to respond to mounting demands are also prone to turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms to alleviate the symptoms associated with stress. Substance abuse, risk-taking behaviour, and self-harm are just some of the destructive ways that people try to deal with stress – none of which is likely to end well, for anybody concerned.

All this paints a rather bleak picture. However, there are effective ways to break the stress cycle that will allow you to continue doing what you love without allowing it to destroy your physical, emotional and social wellbeing.


There are millions of self-help books, websites and cure-all remedies that offer quick-fix solutions to the effects of stress and promise to leave you feeling fabulous, all of the time.  I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to dismiss these products with thoughts like “That’s all good for you, but have you seen my schedule?”

I have, however, encountered one fairly effective analogy that I would like to share.

Imagine your life is a water cooler – one of those bottle-filler types that makes a satisfying gloob sound when you open the tap. Basically, there are times when you need to draw water out and times that you have to fill the bottle up, to ensure that supply is sufficient to meet demand. All of the demands that you face on a daily basis require you to draw on your resources: be it loading in a show, meeting a deadline or honouring a family commitment. On the other side of the scale, there are things that fill up your allegorical water bottle, which can be as basic as eating when you are hungry and sleeping when you are tired, or more complex, like taking up a new hobby or adopting a pet.

Being proficient at managing stress means consciously and consistently auditing your input and output so that what you put in and what you take out is aligned – most of the time. Once you place as much importance on giving yourself what you need to perform as on your performance, you will be able to respond more effectively to the demands of your work and your life as a whole.





Treat yourself as a whole person

Be aware of and respect all of your needs – including your physical health, emotional well-being and social life.

Take charge

Most situations can be altered by how you respond to them. Identify the things that are causing you the most stress, and do something about it.

Be selfish

You are responsible for your own happiness. Go and ride your bike, go fishing, climb a mountain, take a holiday. Do whatever it is that feeds your body, mind and soul – and don’t feel guilty about it.

Manage your time

Trying to take on everything at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Break down your day into manageable tasks, and do the most important things first.

Say “NO” and mean it

Saying “NO” does not make you lazy, bad at your job, or a bad person. It means saying “YES” to getting a manageable amount of work done well.


If you or any of your colleagues, friends or family are exhibiting signs of mental illness, including anxiety, depression or substance abuse, please consult a registered health care professional for advice or visit the South African Depression and Anxiety Group at www.sadag.org.