Last week, I attended a couple of local back-to-back conferences. The events themselves were really great — wonderful opportunities to network, learn new things, and gather some resources for further exploration.

But, wow, after a few days, I felt really over-stimulated.

I would guess this was from several things:

  • The conferences, as conferences tend to do, attracted large crowds of people. 
  • They were also far enough away from my home that I had a longer commute than normal each day. 
  • The weather last week was hot, so it was tough to stay hydrated.
  • I was navigating a couple of unfamiliar environments since the conferences were on a campus that I had never visited before.

Plus, I haven’t really done a multi-day conference for about three years.

I share this here because I know I won’t be the only one re-entering into these kinds of situations in the coming months. 

Here are some of the things that helped me to deal with that feeling of being over-stimulated:

  • Building in breaks to be alone. Since I drove to this conference, I had a car available that I could go to and take a quick break from being around other people. This not only gave me a break from wearing my mask all day, but also allowed me to have a moment of quiet after being in loud environments. (This is similar to going back to my room when I previously stayed at a conference hotel — that just wasn’t an option here.)
  • Going on walks. When I had the chance, I went on a quick walk. Even though it was hot outside, this gave me a chance to move around a little, get some fresh air, and process what I was learning throughout the sessions that I attended.
  • Limiting work projects. While I had originally planned to work on some projects in the midst of the conference, I soon found I didn’t have the bandwidth for that. I adjusted my expectations to just focus on the conference itself.
  • Taking evenings off. When I got home from the conference each day, I completely relaxed and tried to do things that didn’t require any more intake of content since that was what I had been doing all day. Cooking, tidying up my house, and going to bed early all helped me to wind down after long days.
  • Scheduling a catch-up day. I had quite a bit to catch up on after this last week and it helped to have a remote work day without any meetings scheduled to plow through my to-do list. Working from home also gave me the opportunity to process some laundry, eat some more normal meals (conference food is always a little unpredictable), and have uninterrupted work time.

And now that I know to expect this feeling of being over-stimulated, here is what I plan to build in for the next conference:

  • Limit the sessions I attend. I’ll probably cap each day with about three sessions to make sure that I’m able to process what I’m learning and not feel overwhelmed. At a certain point, I find that my brain gets saturated and I’m not really taking in information as well as I could be.
  • Put an out-of-office message on my email. I didn’t do this last week and I regretted it since I had a hard time keeping up with email like I usually do when I’m in the office.
  • Bring snacks. I relied entirely on conference food last week and it definitely would have helped to have some nuts or other snacks for between conference meals.

Are you noticing a feeling of over-stimulation when you ease back into larger events or settings that are unfamiliar? What are your go-to strategies?