How To Deal With Anxiety At Conferences

How To Deal With Anxiety At Conferences


It's important for your career and for your professional development to attend academic conferences. Conferences are where you can meet other researchers working in your subject, get feedback on your work from experts, and see early previews of the latest research in your field. They can also be a fun opportunity to travel and see new places and try new foods.

However, the experience of attending a conference can be stressful and even anxiety-inducing. With large numbers of people, an unfamiliar place, and high expected standards of conversation and behaviour, it's natural that some people will find themselves feeling anxious at a conference. If this happens to you, know that you are not the only one. Many people, and those new to conferences especially, experience anxiety at these events. So today we're sharing some tips for dealing with anxiety at conferences.

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Find a quiet space

One of the hardest things about going to a conference is the sheer number of people who can be in attendance. The biggest conferences can have thousands of attendees over several buildings. It's easy for all of these people to make you feel overwhelmed, especially when you first arrive at a conference. To counteract this, when you first arrive at a venue spend some time looking around. Find out where the key facilities are and look at where you will need to go over the upcoming days of the conference. And then, most importantly, find a quiet space. It could be a chair in a lounge somewhere, or a bench nearby the main buildings. If need be, you can even find a spot in a nearby coffee shop or park. Over the days of the conference, if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed then you can retreat to your quiet space for a few minutes to recharge. It might help to bring headphones with you so you can listen to music or audiobooks for a few minutes to calm yourself before diving back into the fray.

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Take regular breaks

Don't forget that attending a conference is a type of work, and like all work, you need breaks in order to perform at your best. Allow yourself at least a few minutes every couple of hours to drink a tea or some water, to organise your notes, or to take a walk around the venue. We know that there are always so many things to do at a conference, and you might feel like you have to be packing content into every minute of the day. But this is too stressful, and giving yourself lots of regular small breaks will help to keep you calm and centred throughout the day. Also, for longer conferences – say those of more than 3 days – it is okay to take off a morning or an afternoon and to spend some time on yourself. You're not obliged to be at the conference for every second that it's running, so if you're feeling very tired or worn out then a leisurely breakfast in the city or an afternoon admiring tourist attractions can leave you refreshed and ready to get back to the conference.

Enlist a friend

Some of the most anxiety-inducing parts of a conference can be the social functions or the big conference events like parties or dinners. These events are tricky because they don't follow the rigid but clear social expectations of professional events, but neither are they as casual as a night out with friends. You need to aim to fall somewhere between professionally detached and overly casual, which is not an easy target. If you're worrying about an upcoming event, then draft a friend to help you out. Just having someone to arrive with and whom you know you can go and talk to throughout the night will help to set your mind at ease. And even if you don't have a close friend at the conference, you can probably find someone whom you know a little bit and ask if they want to attend the event together. Most other people will be as happy as you are to have company!

Overall, remember that it's okay if you feel awkward at a conference or like you aren't showing your best. These situations are high pressure and tough, and many people struggle with communication issues under these circumstances. So don't be too hard on yourself, and remember that plenty of other people at the conference feel the same way.

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