We continue our journey to our Year of Mental Health with a look at how you can survive conventions. Make sure that you check out Take This Org for more tips, mental health information, and the answers to your questions.
Conventions can be amazing experiences, but they have their pitfalls. Cons are fun, no doubt. We get to see all sorts of wonderful things we enjoy. We might get to meet people we admire or try out new games or products before they even come to market. For some of us, cons are also an opportunity to socialize in an environment where we feel fully accepted for liking what we like. In all those ways, conventions can feel like sanctuaries. Cons are also long, loud, crowded, and energy consuming, and many people feel overwhelmed by this.
One of Take This’ founders refers to something she calls “Everything is Awesome Syndrome”. We want to experience everything we can at a convention. We paid money to be there, after all. Some people actually feel a little guilty when they don’t get all they can out of the experience. That said, if we have to work too hard to see everything, it’s not fun. Plus, we can end up exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotional, which takes more time out of our con. In physical activities, it’s better to stop for a little bit before you injure yourself instead of tearing something and being placed on forced rest for a long time. If you’re still following my logic, taking a little effort and time for self-care is obviously worth it, since it can help us maximize our enjoyment by preventing burn-out later. Cons are a marathon, not a sprint, so we have to find ways to pace ourselves and be healthy along the way.
My Body is…Ready?
Maintaining physical health is crucial at conventions. If you aren’t healthy, you aren’t going enjoy con. Plus, if your immune system is down, you become susceptible to the dreaded… [ ominous music plays] Con Crud!
At the last convention I attended, I walked about 15,000 steps a day, which averages to approximately 7 ½ miles. Many of my friends and colleagues walked even more. When you ramp up your physical activity, it’s even more important to make sure you’re eating enough. Of course, you should always consult a medical professional or nutritionist if you have questions about your dietary needs, but for me, potato chips and soda don’t usually cut it. I need food with actual – you know – nutrients.
This can be challenging at cons where calorie-heavy, nutritionally-lean junk food abounds. My personal rule is that I have to eat two meals a day that my spouse or my parents would be happy with me eating. If I can imagine them saying, “You need to eat something better,” I have to find better food. This sometimes means I have to plan ahead and bring prepared food with me. It’s worth it, though. Having food at the ready keeps me from getting hangry; I’m an unfocussed pile of snark when I’ve not eaten.
You might be chuckling at this. After all, there are parties at night! Friends! Revelry! Shenanigans! That stuff is wonderful – and rest is still important. When people don’t get sleep, their thinking and attention become impaired, as does their ability to tolerate stressors and regulate emotions. Have fun, and also set yourself a curfew so you can get enough sleep. Six hours is the bare minimum most people need to keep going in good form.
The need for rest doesn’t stop at sleep. Brains need breaks, too. Take at least one undisturbed 15-minute break in a quiet spot around mid-morning and another mid-afternoon. If your con is fortunate enough to have a Take This AFK Room, use it! If not, then ask if people know of a quiet spot to sit and do nothing. Most cons have at least one corner that doesn’t get much attention. If not, you can go off-site, or even back to your hotel. Morning showers are also a great way to take a mental break.
It’s Okay to Miss Things
Are you at the con to work, or are you there to have fun? If you paid to be there, you probably don’t want it to feel like work. Remind yourself of this, because you’re not likely to see everything at a major con. If you go in without expecting to experience every single thing the con has to offer, you’re likely to be less stressed about it. Then you can focus on having fun instead of getting anxious about seeing it all. It’s better to leave wanting more than not wanting to come back at all. Think, Firefly.
Know Your Limits and Make a Plan
We all have our limits, and it’s helpful to know what they are. Do you get overwhelmed by being in crowds for too long? Do you struggle with loud noises? Limit your exposure as best you can, and plan for extra breaks. Do you need sleep to function? See above, and set a curfew. It can be hard to say no to things, especially if you feel pressure from friends. Nevertheless, if you know you’re going to hit your limit, stop. Also, bring a backpack filled with your daily essentials like extra water, healthy food, spare deodorant, medications, books or other distractions if you think you’ll need them.
There’s an App for That
Take This recently partnered with Habitica to create mental wellness challenges. If you don’t know Habitica, it’s an app that turns your daily tasks and to-do lists into an RPG. Your character gets experience points for finishing tasks and takes damage at unfinished ones. One of the challenges we created together is called Playing the Long Con. It’s in their Library of Shared Lists and it’s filled with specific, daily tasks for self-care at cons. Give it a shot. It might help you while at con.
What are your tips for having a healthy and fun con? I’m sure you have some of your own, unique ways to maintain your mental and physical well-being. Please share them in the comment section below.
Raffael Boccamazzo (AKA “Dr. B”) is a doctor of clinical psychology and clinical director of TakeThis.org. He also runs a private psychotherapy and psychological assessment practice in the Seattle area and works with several local groups as a social skills coach, often for older teens and young adults with high functioning autism spectrum diagnoses. In his spare time, he cooks, acts, and plays oodles of different tabletop and video games.
Take This is an informational organization. The resources we provide are for informational purposes only, and should not be used to replace the specialized training and professional judgment of a health care or mental health care professional. For more information about these resources, please visit our website.
Feature Image Credit: Geek & Sundry