Four tips for self-care while attending a conference

In any industry, conferences are a great opportunity for continuing education and connecting with others — such as the 20-plus conferences hosted by Benefits Canada each year — but many people find these events overwhelming.

They take us out of our daily routine and can be emotionally and mentally draining. Early wakeup times and evening events can disrupt sleep and impact energy, cognitive function, the immune system and even eating habits.

Conference self-care is about being able to feel present and engaged. Here are four tips for taking better care of your health so you can get the most out of every conference experience.

1. Food for thought

Find out whether meals or refreshments will be served. If you have a dietary restriction or allergy, contact the organizers in advance to let them know. If you’ll be on your own for meals, scope out nearby restaurant and grocery store options before you leave home so you can get what you want to eat and avoid decision fatigue and making unhealthy food choices when you’re ‘hangry.’

Read: The role of nutrition in improving mental health

It can also be helpful to pack healthy snacks. Simple, portable options like granola or an energy bar, freeze-dried fruit or jerky are transportable snacks. Avoid packing peanuts or tree nuts, since other people are the event might be allergic.

Also, when choosing foods, aim for a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates to support stable blood sugar and ward off energy crashes. Avoid overly-refined grain products so you don’t burn through the energy too quickly. Drink plenty of water since staying hydrated keeps us alert — thought there’s usually water available at conference tables.

2. Plan to stay active

Exercise boosts energy levels, mental function and mood while also helping to reduce stress. It can be challenging to fit a workout in, especially if you’re traveling for a conference, but try to reframe it as an opportunity to be flexible. For example, if you’re visiting another city, make the time to check out a local gym or fitness studio. There are a lot of streaming workouts that can be done in your hotel room. And you can also change up the time of day you typically work out and see how it feels.

Read: How workplace fitness can improve employee productivity

If you’re travelling with friends or colleagues, get together for a walk or workout to debrief after a busy day at the conference. If you’re short on time, try smaller bursts of physical activity. Even if you can’t get in the duration or intensity you’re used to, remember that even a little is still better than nothing. And if it doesn’t happen, try to make it a priority for the next day.

3. Set the right conditions for sleep

If you’re staying overnight at a conference, you might not be able to stick to your usual sleep and wakeup times, but there are still steps you can take to promote a restful sleep. Ideally, your room should be cool and dark. A white noise or meditation app with sleep settings can also help you drift off. Studies have shown that lavender essential oil infused in a room can help reduce stress and promote better sleep. If you’re traveling across time zones, a melatonin supplement can help you get into a stable sleep cycle.

4. Build in time to recharge

It’s completely normal to feel tired and overwhelmed after a long day of meeting people and making conversation, particularly if you’re traveling. It’s OK to feel like you need alone time when you’ve been surrounded by others in an enclosed space for long periods of time. Look for a meditation or yoga class nearby (or try doing exercises in your room). You can also regroup and refresh by taking a walk around the block. And there’s nothing wrong with excusing yourself to the restroom to enjoy a few minutes alone.

Read: Sleep a serious issue with major productivity costs for employers

If you are attending the conference with co-workers, coordinate with a colleague to cover for each other for a few minutes through the day or give yourself permission to duck out of a session five minutes early.

Remember, as with all self-care strategies, if you don’t take care of yourself, it’s harder to be fully present for others. You’ll be able to give, and get, more out of your next conference if you give yourself time to rest and re-energize.