Attending work conferences as an anxious introvert
August 17, 2015 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Looking for psychological strategies to minimize the dread I feel


This week I have to fly across the country to assist at a conference for my new job. My dread - level is probably 7 / 10.

Things that make me anxious about this:

-- Traveling in general - will I make it there on time? Will I forget anything? Will I be dressed appropriately? Will they accept my ticket? Will i get tasered? etc. (fortunately I'm actually not scared of flying itself -- it's the airports that drive me crazy)

-- Having to project a professional appearance in a completely new situation where I don't know the city or the people and will also possibly be a bit jetlagged and disoriented

-- Always having to appear positive even though the situation makes me stressed.
-- Or, appearing too positive and attracting unwanted attention from sleazy men.

I feel confident about my ability to perform my job duties ( or fake it til I make it ), but this logistical stuff is making me dread what it actually a great opportunity.

Does anyone have strategies for dealing with these types of situations and not feeling completely exhausted and overwhelmed inside?

* No, I am not looking for a different type of job where I can avoid this situation. I am looking to learn how to cope with it because I like the field I am in.
posted by winterportage to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I read about a study recently showing that people about to give a speech who were asked ro reframe their feeling of "I'm so nervous/anxious" to "I'm really excited" reported lower levels of anxiety.

I doubt it'll eliminate all the anxiety, but it might help clam some of it to think about it as excitement for the fun parts, not just anxiety about the logistics.
posted by jaguar at 10:00 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

A couple strategies when I'm stressed about travel: (1) leave *gobs* of extra time; it's OK to kill time in an airport. (2) make a *short* list of just the must-have things (keys, wallet, cell and charger, laptop, directions to the hotel, etc) that would be worst to leave behind. That way when I worry about forgetting things, I can quickly check just that list and relax, trusting myself to deal with anything else I might forget (e.g. maybe I could buy or borrow a belt or a tie while at the conference -- not ideal, but possible. I'm sure your list would be different from mine).
posted by xris at 10:24 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Checklists and planning. I travel 75% of the time with my job. I have my "work uniforms" that I know coordinate and don't wrinkle. Go through your closet and pick out outfits now that will tolerate a suitcase and can be dressed up or dressed down with a scarf/jewelry/blazer. so that if you realize you're a little under/over dressed, you can make quick adjustments to fit in. Add these adjustments to your work bag as a precaution. It's always better to be overdressed than under dressed.

When packing - leave all if your items out on the bed and walk through your day while you pack things. ie when I wake up in the morning, I will need my iPhone and charger to set my alarm. I will need deodorant, make up, tooth brush, tooth paste, brush, curling iron, etc etc. On Monday i will wear X outfit with Y shoes. etc etc. Going through the motions of my day helps me make sure I don't forget something important like, deodorant or my hair straightener.

If you realize you forgot something (especially technological) ask the hotel front desk. I have never been at a hotel who doesn't have tons of laptop chargers, cell phone chargers, headsets, etc etc that got left behind. Most hotels offer free hygiene things as well if you forgot. Check with the front desk just in case you forgot something (which you won't, because you'll have planned ahead and walked through your presentation a bunch)

On the Plane - do not drink. I have found I get SUPER dehydrated while flying and alcohol makes it worse. If you need liquid courage, do so at the airport ahead of time, or after you land. Water and eye drops will stop you from looking stressed and jet lagged after landing. Wear your hair down during flying, but bring a clip to put it up when you get off the plane. It will stop your hair from looking matted and sad.

For airports in new cities, i have found it is easier to just follow the crowd of people when you get off the plane. About half of them will be native to the city and know where baggage claim is. Much easier to be a sheep than try to figure out an unfamiliar airport.

Avoid group lunches if that's an option ("oh, i'll grab something myself, i wanted to touch base with X client/call my kids/practice for next session, thanks for the invite though! ") Avoid evening outings if they aren't crucial. It's MUCH better to re-energize at home in the hotel with netflix and take out than suffering through 16 hours of interaction and being expected to do it again tomorrow.

Sleazy people are sleazy people everywhere. If you're going with colleagues, it may be helpful to have a buddy to help deflect sleazy people or create more witnesses to the sleaziness. I haven't found many sleazy people in my line of work, but I tend to minimize the interaction to the 9-5 business hours, and not do dinner/drinks with clients if it can be avoided.

You're going to be fine. Good luck!
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 11:45 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: thank you so much suffocating kitty!!it's really helpful. don't suffocate!
posted by winterportage at 12:54 PM on August 17, 2015

Avoid group lunches if that's an option ("oh, i'll grab something myself, i wanted to touch base with X client/call my kids/practice for next session, thanks for the invite though! ") Avoid evening outings if they aren't crucial. It's MUCH better to re-energize at home in the hotel with netflix and take out than suffering through 16 hours of interaction and being expected to do it again tomorrow.

100% agree with this--even though I know I should do this, I often don't, and I always regret it. Always! Even if I enjoy myself at the optional event, it just takes that much more out of me the next day. Making sure I have enough time to myself during/at the end of the day to recharge is CRUCIAL to me being pleasant and not stressed/worn out for the mandatory stuff.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:45 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you attending the event at a hotel or conference center/convention center? Ask for help from the staff, especially if there is a meeting concierge. Do inquire if there are charges above and beyond what you've already signed up for, but let the staff do things for you, that's why they are there.

Make a copy of any paperwork you may need to reference during the meeting - floor plans, banquet event orders, contracts or agreements, rooming lists, etc. Either load them to a cloud service or print a hard copy and take it with you.

Arrive at the meeting location at least 30 minutes before start time - an hour is better. This will allow you to handle anything that may have happened during the break or overnight that needs to be fixed before the meeting can begin. Ask the staff how to change the lights and temperature in the meeting room, as needed.

If your company is ok with it, ship items you will be using at the meeting to the hotel ahead of time, so you don't have to haul it with you. I have a standard kit I ship ahead that's waiting for me when I get to the meeting location - packing tape, bubble wrap, extra pens, memory sticks/drives, sticky notes, cat 5 and hdmi converter cables, phone charger, laptop charger, mints, band-aids, small sewing kits, super glue, stain removing pens, hand wash, etc.

Dress comfortably for your flights, especially easy to remove shoes for security. There is nothing worse than being strapped into a tight, binding business outfit and being completely miserable on the plane. Unless you are traveling with a big boss, you can change your clothes/shoes at your arrival airport.

I absolutely agree with skipping any partying going on after the meeting day is finished. If you will get the side-eye for not being "social" (ugh), or you must attend a reception or dinner, just quietly depart after the official events are finished - there is always a group that goes out and get's completely hammered and they can be surprisingly pushy about getting others to join. Don't even engage, just walk away.

If you are on hotel property and are feeling nervous about walking alone to your room, ask the front desk or concierge for a female escort to your hotel room - you might have to wait a few minutes, but any decent property will do this. Also, request a non-connecting hotel room close to an elevator or non emergency stairwell exit. If you are attending events outside of the meeting/hotel location, get a buddy and agree to stick together. If that person wants to hang or go in a different direction, make certain you have a back-up buddy, or take a taxi back to the hotel - do not walk by yourself.

If it's feasible and allowed, have your out of office message state you are attending a meeting offsite and will return all emails/voice mails when you return (unless it's an emergency). It makes a huge difference and allows you to concentrate on what you have to do at the meeting itself.

I find that over-preparing lessens my anxiety about these events a lot, and helps me respond to last minute changes more easily. Good Luck!
posted by lootie777 at 6:38 PM on August 17, 2015

BTW, I'm assuming that you are the logistics person for this meeting, based on the word "assist" in your question. If that's not the case and you are attending/presenting, just take the parts of my answer that apply!
posted by lootie777 at 6:42 PM on August 17, 2015

See if you can carve out time once or twice to run off and sneak up to your hotel room and lie down and close your eyes. Even fifteen minutes of that in the middle of one of these things is absolute bliss. Also make time to get outside in sunlight. Getting trapped inside all day in dark rooms is very drowsy-making.

It's always freezing in these hotels. Bring a bunch of long sweaters.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:46 PM on August 17, 2015

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