Well, conferences are back and introverts like myself are getting anxious. I will actually going to my first conference in a couple of days after a two year hiatus. My state conference, MACUL, was actually cancelled midway through because of the COVID lockdown. As I gear up for a couple of days of learning, I started to think of all of the different things I'm going to need to do to focus on my mental health as I reintroduce myself to the hustle and bustle of conference season. Here are some things for my fellow anxiety ridden friends and introverted buddies can do to help make conferences tolerable.
1. Pace yourself
The worst thing you can do is try drinking from the firehose. Diving into a bunch of sessions and surrounding yourself with tons of strangers is exactly how you trigger an anxiety attack. Start slow and go to a session and then take some time away to think about what you did and go to the next session after the break. You need time to process and that is impossible if you are jumping from one session to the next.
2. Hydrate yourself
Hydration is huge. For me, dehydration is a trigger for panic attacks. I have to stay hydrated so my mind can stay focused. Bring a water bottle and hit the water stations on a regular basis. Keep drinking and be ok with having to go to the bathroom often. Hydration will save from drowning in anxiety.
3. Support yourself
Take the "me time" you need at the conference. Do not feel compelled to attend every event and engage with everyone all of the time. Bring some earbuds, listen to something that is calming, and just find your center when you feel overwhelmed. You will not be able to retain the knowledge from sessions if you are in a constant state of fight or flight. Take the time for you so you can get the most out of the session you attend during the conference.
4. Push yourself
If you feel up for it, try and push yourself a little bit. Maybe participate a little in a session here and there or go to an event after the conference day has ended if you have the energy. As an introvert, I know how tough it can be to be surrounded by so many different people and just be overwhelmed. Dip a toe in here and there and see how it feels. Never feel bad if you need to check out because it is all too much. Your mental health is number one. Push yourself when you are ready.
5. Reward yourself
If you spent a few days at a conference and learned a bunch, reward yourself with some "me time" away from the world. Grab a book or curl up on the couch and just veg. You have put your brain and body through a stressful ordeal and will be exhausted. Treat yourself to something awesome because you have earned it.
For those of you who are not anxious about conferences or are extroverts, please know that everyone who is an introvert or is anxious presents very differently. Many people who assume that "The Nerdy Teacher" can't be anxious or an introvert and they would be right. "The Nerdy Teacher" is not an anxious person. "The Nerdy Teacher" is very extroverted. However, Nicholas Provenzano is a ball of anxiousness and super introverted. Putting on the "Nerdy Teacher" mask is something I do so I can cope with the conference world and allows me to compartmentalize those anxious and introverted feelings. It is exhausting though. Any person that puts on the mask knows exactly what I am talking about.
I share all of this because if know your friends are introverted or easily overwhelmed at events, please be understanding, kind, and supportive. When things get to be too much, we just need a friend to understand.
Share this with your anxious and introverted friends and your extroverted friends to give them a sense of what it going on in our heads.