I’d been psyching myself up for the con for months, and I had an awesome time. Now, I’m home, and it’s my third day back to work. I should be ready to take on the world! After all, I just spent the weekend in my happy place, with some of my favorite people, loving and serving my nerdy neighbors at the con. I should be feeling recharged and ready to take on the world! But instead, I can’t shake this sad, lonely feeling. What gives? Oh, right. I’m deep in the thralls of the post-con blues.
It’s something I still struggle with after almost every convention I go to—and I’ve been to at least 17 over the past six years. I once saw it as a weakness and a failure in myself, but over the years I’ve learned that it’s a real phenomenon, that it’s normal (even healthy!), and that it’s worthy of my attention. Here is my routine for maintaining my health and sanity after a convention. Whether you’re new to conventions or a seasoned con attendee, I hope this helps you with your own post-con self-care regimen.
Before and During the Convention
My prep starts before I even get to the convention. Plenty of good rest, hydration, and healthy meals for a week are important before I subject my body to a regime of convention food and 19-hour days. Sometimes I’ll even limit my socializing a few days before the convention—I’m not an extreme introvert, but I know that taking some time to myself helps before spending 3 or 4 days elbow-to-elbow with sometimes upwards of 100,000 people.
During the convention, I do my best to follow the 5-2-1 rule: a minimum of five hours of sleep, two good meals, and one shower each day. I also make sure I have nutritious, portable snacks (Luna bars, Belvita biscuits, and fruit are my go-tos), a refillable water bottle, and supplies to protect me from all the germs I’ll be in contact with! Hand sanitizer, Emergen-C or Airborne (may not be that effective, but I’m happier safe than sorry), and lots of hand washing. I’m not a germaphobe, but I’ve both had and avoided enough cases of con crud to know that some preventative measures go a long way.
Finally, I’ve learned to recognize when I need to take breaks. Sometimes, I just need to be alone and away from the crowds. At PAX South this year, I experienced a convention first for me: a crying meltdown. It was the middle of day 3, and the lack of sleep, alone time, and overuse of caffeine finally caught up with me. I hit a wall, I started tearing up, and it wasn’t stopping. After a few minutes hiding in a bathroom stall wasn’t enough to pull myself together, I found my way to the AFK Room. This is an excellent resource for mental health hosted by Take This as a place for convention goers at PAX and other events to get away from the crowds and get access to trained staff and resources, or to just chill for a bit. I was grateful for the kind and understanding staff, and the safe space to just take some deep breaths, stare out a window, and regroup.
Days 0-2: Heading Home
The majority of the conventions I attend are out of town, so I generally have a 3-6 hour flight ahead of me before I can konk out in my own bed. I can set myself up for airplane sleep success with a good travel pillow (my Trtl travel pillow really does live up to the hype), a compact travel blanket, an eye-mask if I remember it, headphones, and a few relaxing playlists or podcasts preloaded on my phone. I might also spend some time journaling.
When I get home, it’s time to isolate! My housemates have learned to expect me to disappear into my room for the first few days after I return from a convention (I call it introverting). At that point, I’m tired, cranky, worn out from too much extrovert-ing and not enough alone time, and I’m sad. I just want to be alone to sulk.
Take This has a rule: all staff take it easy for a week following a major convention. They say that not only should the average con-goer take at least a few days to rest, they should allow themselves to need it. That last part was powerful for me because the part of my brain that thinks constant activity is always better will tell me I’m being selfish and lazy after a few days of rest and moping. I’m learning to shush that voice and let myself take the time I need to get back to normal, and that it’s okay to be sad and tired for even a few weeks after the intense high of a convention.
But “rest” doesn’t mean I’m sleeping the whole time. Some heavy-duty napping is definitely part of it, but the most important thing is comfort and security. Wearing comfy clothes, curling up with a soft blanket, music that makes me happy, and surrounding myself with the nerdy culture that I was enjoying at the convention are all part of that. I might watch some favorite anime, read through a new comic I picked up at the show, or read a rule book and punch out pieces for a game I bought. It definitely means cuddling with my Howl plushie, and probably putting on a favorite nerdy shirt or my dragon kigurumi.
If I was dumb enough to have scheduled an evening flight for myself and didn’t take the next day off work, I brace myself for a long, sleepy, caffeine-fueled workday and then initiate all of the above as soon as I get home that next night.
Day 3-4: Unpacking
Once I’ve had day or two to recover from the initial shock of returning home, I’m probably still feeling sad. I’ll have gone a few days without seeing a single Master Chief or Sailor Scout casually walking down the street, and no one at work has shown any appreciation for my nerdy socks or d10 earrings. I don’t feel like being productive. But my luggage is still sitting in a pile on my bedroom floor, and my dirty laundry from the weekend is smelling pretty funky. I have a pile of business cards and fliers, a phone full of photos, and a lot of great memories!
So, time to get practical. I start doing my laundry. I upload my photos to my computer and start sorting them into albums. I unpack my luggage, and I start following up on all my new friends and contacts. This is usually the point where I’ll make a Facebook post updating everyone on my weekend, and thanking my convention friends for a great time. I’ll probably also reach out to my nerdy friends on social media (especially the ones I saw at the convention) so that I can remember that a) I’m not having these feelings alone and b) I’m not the only nerd in the universe—even if it feels like it in comparison to being in close quarters with 100,000 of them. I open up my journal if I haven’t already and write about all the wonderful people I met, the games I played, the things that inspired me, the moments that I never want to forget.
Work will probably still be hard. But coffee helps. So does wearing whatever stealth nerd gear I can (My cool locket is actually a Sailor Moon transformation pendant. My person-shaped earrings are actually meeples). I’ll listen to chiptunes on my commute. I’ll do whatever I can to surround myself with things that remind me of my nerdy tribe. I’ll also probably eat some fruits and veggies for some extra vitamins, or at least keep up with my Emergen-C routine. And I still give myself plenty of time to sleep. I treat my body like it’s fending off illness because who knows what germs I was exposed to over the weekend? I’m more likely to get sick in periods of stress, even if that stress is caused by something wonderful.
Day 5-???: Reassimilation
By now I’m usually feeling close to normal. This stage is where I start returning to my normal routines. Emerge from my bedroom and start sharing con stories with my housemates. Go back to my weekly gaming group and teach them the new games I learned, or tell them about the game designers I met and the upcoming games I’m excited about.
And if I’m still feeling sad that the con is over, then I’ll make sure to plan on doing something fun and nerdy soon: a game night, a day-trip to Little Tokyo, see a new superhero movie with a friend. Getting some exercise and sunshine helps too, even just walks around the block or a stroll down the beach.
Your recovery doesn’t need to look anything like mine, and you may even be one of those lucky people who doesn’t suffer more than a few days of tiredness after a convention! You may even return home feeling energized and refreshed by the time in community with so many other like-minded people. But if you do find it difficult to return to daily life after a convention or other big event, know that you’re not alone, and your response is perfectly normal and worth paying attention to.
Editor’s Note: If you find yourself struggling to care about things in your life more often than in the days following a convention, you should reach out to a mental health professional in your area. We at Love Thy Nerd all face our own struggles from time to time and want you to know we love and support you. But we want you to have every tool possible at your disposal. Sometimes a checklist for decompressing after a con isn’t enough. A professional can help you navigate whatever you’re facing and connect you with resources in your community as well.