Conferences vs. taking care of yourself

Hi all. I just got back from a conference and I am just…so wiped out. Every time I go to a conference I feel such a weird mix of happiness/extroversion and simultaneous extreme discouragement/imposter syndrome/”oh my god all these grad students are better than me.” I also feel like conferences expose this big academic lie that we are all disembodied brains…by which I mean, conferences totally wreck my body. Today I want to take a break from fashion to talk about how much that sucks and how I try to deal with it, and if anyone else has ideas I would really love to hear them…

Here are some things that fall apart on me at conferences: my feet, my brain, my skin, my health…and here’s how I try to deal with them:

1) Feet. I always bring cute shoes, and usually find out around hour four of wearing them that these shoes are traitors and have started acting like a cheese grater on my ankle. Solutions: moleskin (in pre-cut sizes because otherwise you’ll find yourself trying to cut it with a nail clipper in your hotel room..doesn’t work), fast flats (life changing. not real shoes. people at conferences compliment me on them all the time). 

2). Health. I hand sanitize and try not to think about antibiotic resistance. I pack Advil. I pack Tums. I’ve made many friends at conferences administering these things. Also, for prevention, I recommend bringing a probiotic. Oh, and because the food at conferences can be scarce, I research the hotel location ahead of time to decide if I should pack snacks (fruit, protein bars, and pre-packaged oatmeal cups are all excellent choices, especially if the hotel only has one Starbucks and you and 2000 of your closest conference friends are gonna have to fight over it in the morning). 

3) Skin. I don’t have a great solution to this one yet, the unhealthy food/stress combos really make me break out, but my hatred of checking bags makes it hard to bring all the products I need. I did just switch to micellar water (rather than using tap water on my face), which seems to take some of the unpredictability out of traveling, even if it does make me feel really high maintenance. And I book a facial when I return. Other ideas?

All of these solutions frustrate me, though, because they’re all so reactive. How do I prevent myself from falling apart during 72 hours of conferencing? How can I return home feeling revitalized by academic ideas and without a cold/2000 blisters? My only idea on this so far is to take a break from conferencing and change my expectations of how much I can conference. Here are my new self care rules:

1) Take an afternoon to appreciate the host city. Outdoor adventures are really nice when you’ve been inside a hotel for two days. This conference, my friends and I went to an aviary and seeing all the pretty birds was really soothing. 

2) Reset my rules about networking. Networking makes me feel very anxious because it feels fake to me. My new idea (told to me by a prof) is that if I meet and make a connection with one new person, I have done my job. Rather than trying to meet everyone at the conference, I now try to arrange coffee with one person whose research I enjoy. If I do that, I’ve done my job. Pure relief from networking anxiety! And so much more relaxing than stalking people at panels and mixers.  

Anyway, my exhaustion has made me feel introspective about the things we do to ourselves at academic conferences. What other ideas do you all have for taking care of yourself at these stressful events?

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