Handling Anxiety at Large Events

You may have or have not seen that I was at a work conference Tuesday – Thursday of this week. And if you were to ask me to sum it all up in one word, my instant reply would be overwhelming. Or anxiety. Or “give-me-all-the-xanax-please” (yes, I know that’s not one word but I figured the hyphens made it acceptable).

The first day was a legitimate whirlwind of a nightmare – I got up at 7, was on the train at 8, arrived at 9:30 and by the time I left at 5:15 I had waited in lines for about 4 hours, attended all of one 40 minute session and got thrown into too many conversations with people trying to sell me stuff than I can count. If you haven’t caught my vibe by now, these types of situations are just not for me. But it was a relief to hear I’m not the only one (because I swear everyone here looked like they were having the time of their lives). So when I took on the second day, I had a plan of attack and wanted to share how I made it through the rest of the conference.

  1. Make a schedule. I like to work backwards. For example, on the second day I wanted to be at the 8:30am session. Knowing that on the first day I wouldn’t make it into a session if I didn’t get in line an hour beforehand, I planned to arrive between 7:30 and 7:40 (I was hoping it being that early I could come a little later). It takes about 15 minutes to Uber from Ogilvie to McCormick so I needed to be on a train that arrived around 7:15, etc. etc. working backwards to figure out what time I needed to wake up at. I also printed out the day’s sessions, highlighting which ones were the most important and others that I could fall back on should I not make it into my first choice. It’s easy to get pulled in 18 million directions when you’re at something that is so large, so knowing you have something on your agenda helps you to stay on track and set boundaries with those pesky sellers. Should you have some an open timeslot, feel free to engage.
  2. Skip the coffee. I understand that to most of the population this is blasphemy. But hear me out! If you are already an anxious person, being at this type of event is going to heighten all those feelings. Throw some coffee in the mix and you are going to be SPINNING. Trust me, I felt like I was drunk all Tuesday just because I thought treating myself to a pre-conference latte was a good idea. It wasn’t.
  3. Pack snacks! Even if it is just a granola bar, you’ll need something if you get caught up in a session and missed lunch (yes, this happened to me but I had a peanut butter sandwich in my bag that did the trick). If you’ve got a lot of stuff in your bag, I recommend bringing snacks over the “maybe I’ll shower after my workout class” bag because you won’t and then your backpack will be so full, it’ll bust open and your bra & underwear will fall out on LaSalle as you’re power walking to the train #truestory.
  4. Find a quiet space. In these types of situations, it’s hard to not be go, go, go. But that will take a toll on you so make sure to take some time to yourself each day and quietly eat your lunch, read a book, go on a walk – whatever will help take your mind off all the learning (or avoiding those sellers) you’ve done that day.
  5. Don’t make big plans for post-conference. I made this mistake every single day and even though I knew I would be burnt out by the time the conference was over each day, I continued to make plans. These things are draining, mentally & physically. Instead of going to the HIIT class, do some yoga in your bedroom once you’ve put your pjs on at night. Instead of getting drinks with the work crew, make your favorite dish and eat it while you binge something on Netflix. You need time for yourself to re-charge, take it.
  6. Make the most of it. The experience will only be what you make it. It’s hard to not get caught up in all the negative that can happen but at some point, you just have to laugh about it and push through. While it can feel like forever in the moment, in the grand scheme of things, it’s short term so take all the notes, ask all the questions, and steal as many cookies as you can find.
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