Conventions can be amazing! We sometimes wait all year for our favorite convention, and some people spend thousands of dollars to travel to attend. For some of us, conventions mean getting to see friends who enjoy the same things as us. For some of us, conventions mean getting to meet our favorite celebrities and getting autographs. Maybe you’ve been working on cosplay all year, and you’ve got a new outfit every day to debut? Whatever conventions mean to you, they’re a flurry of activity and fun, but that fun – ironically – can also be a ton of stress, especially over several days.
Why are conventions stressful? Because they’re effort! Fun effort, but effort all the same! Because fun can still be stressful, I asked Twitter for people’s number one tips to not only survive but thrive at conventions. People had so many insightful things to say, and a lot of their tips seemed to come down to a few common categories.
I had no idea what I was in for the first time I attended a big video game convention. The instant I passed through the archway of the expo hall entrance, it was like I walked through a portal into a land where the air was somehow more dense due the sheer cacophony of exhibitors and their products reverberating off the walls and bouncing into me. There were so many flashing lights that they became like swirling glitter in a snow globe with me in the center. After that initial sensory onslaught, I needed to somehow navigate the expo hall. I nearly had a panic attack trying to get my bearings.
In fairness, I’m also autistic and have a lot of sensory sensitivities, but even if you’re not sensitive to light and sounds, conventions can still be overwhelming. In another article in our convention series, Take This workshop consultant Brian Kunde, LCSW wrote all about overwhelm. Several of our community members had tips on how to avoid it too!
Take Breaks and Know Your Limits
This is closely related to sensory overload, but there’s more to it. Convention centers are often large spaces, requiring you to quickly move between distant locations, or standing in line for lengthy periods of time. All of this takes energy, and none of us have unlimited stores of energy. Plus, there’s often way too many things going on at conventions for any person to see all of it. We need to take breaks, get enough sleep, and know when to say, “No!”.
On the topic of saying no, there was the time I either moderated or appeared on eleven panels in one convention weekend. The convention staff still lovingly tease me about it. I absentmindedly said yes to a bunch of proposed panels and didn’t expect them all to get approved. Mistakes were made. Learn from my mistakes!
Three months into my career in games, I attended my first professional convention. I wanted to make a good impression, especially given I was a speaker. I had a fashionable pair of Beatle boots that I utterly loved. They had 2-inch, wooden heels and looked amazing! They also had no insoles. I tend to walk at least five miles a day at conventions. The convention was in San Francisco. Seven years later, I think my feet might still hurt from that choice.
Knowing what I know now, it’s not surprising that people mentioned the importance of comfy shoes at conventions. I still wear nice-looking shoes, but they always have the best insoles I can obtain. I’m not repeating San Francisco!
Food and water
It turns out that people need energy, nutrients, and hydration to walk around and do all the things! There’s a rule of thumb I often cite at conventions when talking to convention staff: I have to eat at least one meal a day that someone I love wouldn’t be angry at me for eating, and to make sure I get plenty of water! Usually that means eating something loaded with veggies. Usually that also means either bringing my own food or going outside the convention center, because convention centers don’t alway have the healthiest food.
Of course, your dietary needs will vary based on your individual needs, but healthy food and getting plenty of water were common tips from our community!
Hygiene and Con Crud
Even before the COVID pandemic, con crud was something to be avoided! After all, we’re talking about thousands of people in a centralized location spending hours together across several days. I recall friends saying things like, “It’s just a cold. I’ll tough it out. This convention only happens once a year, and I’m not going to miss it!” only to find out it was the flu.
Make sure to check out another article in Take This’ convention series by Dr. Neuro on ways of minimizing the risks of con crud, because that’s taken on an even more serious context in a post-COVID world. Many of the folks on Twitter agreed with the importance of preventing illness to you and others!
While everyone enjoys conventions differently, I don’t know anyone for whom conventions are easy, especially if they attend for an entire weekend. Over time, most folks learn what works for them to make conventions sustainably fun. Whatever you do to make conventions sustainable, it’s okay to change it up to make sure you continue to enjoy your time!
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If you live in the US and you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or call/text 988. If you’re outside the US, you can find local crisis lines at Suicide.org. If you’re even debating whether you should call them, you should call them. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline handles all psychological crises, not just suicide.
Raffael Boccamazzo, PsyD (affectionately known as “Doctor B”) is a psychologist and the clinical director of Take This. He has served in this role since 2015 overseeing many of Take This’ educational and public-facing programs, also applying his perspective as an autism and ADHD self-advocate. Outside his work with Take This, Doctor B is an expert on the applied use of tabletop role playing games in clinical and learning settings and is the co-creator of a pantheoretical model on their applied use. He is also an occasional author and is a frequent contributor – on and off camera – to the YouTube channel How to ADHD.
Doctor B can be found on Twitter here.