8 Ways to Practice Self-Care at Academic Conferences

Academic conferences are exciting. We get to hear the latest research in our field, share our work with our peers, and reconnect with old friends and mentors. But, all of the excitement can leave me feeling drained. The good news is there are things we can do to support our minds and bodies during conferences.

Self-care is more than just bubble baths and fancy chocolate. Self-care is about prioritizing your mind and body and organizing your life to promote wellbeing. As you’ll see, most of these practices can support your non-conference life, too.

1.  Stay Hydrated

Feeling sleepy? You might just be thirsty. Drink water regularly and limit coffee and alcohol. I recommend drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up. Also, considering carrying a reusable water bottle so that you always have some water on hand. Remember, too much coffee can make you anxious and too much alcohol will make you sluggish. You know your limits, stick to them!

2. Rest(ore) Your Mind/Body

Lack of sleep will leave you feeling tired, stressed out, and confused. None of those are good at an academic conference. So, sleep in when you can, take naps, and don’t stay up too late.

3. Move Your Body

Sprinting between conference venues doesn’t count! Our bodies aren’t designed for sitting all day. Therefore it’s important to make time to move your body intentionally in ways that make you feel good. If you have a regular exercise routine, stick to it if you can. Otherwise, go for a walk, dance, or do some gentle stretching. Certainly, the endorphin rush of moving your body, with joy, will make you feel better and help reduce stress.

Important note: Exercise should be a celebration of your body, not punishment. Be kind to yourself!

4. Eat Well

For me, eating well is simple. You should eat foods that make you feel good emotionally and physically. However, traveling to conferences disrupts our routines and eating habits. Therefore, make time to find and eat food that supports your mind and body.  Don’t worry about whether a food is “good” or “bad” – the diet industry has confused us all on how to eat! (But that’s a topic for another blog). Whatever you do, don’t skip meals, low blood sugar isn’t a good look on anyone!

5. Don’t Try to Do Everything

Conferences promote burnout there may be hundreds of sessions and dozens of receptions. But, let’s be realistic – you’re not going to make it to everything. Therefore, I recommend making a list of sessions that are most important to your teaching and research. Then, pepper in sessions that are interesting. Be kind to yourself and each other. Allow yourself to take breaks when you need and don’t push others to do more than they planned.

6. Build  High-Quality Relationships

Networking is important, but small talk is draining. Maybe you will meet a new collaborator, or get a lead on a new job, but collecting business cards and Twitter followers may not be the best use of your time or energy. Therefore, I recommend balancing the impersonal networking by prioritizing time with people you already have relationships with. In other words, spend time with your friends – you’ll feel better. I promise!

7. Spend Time Outside

No one thrives under fluorescent lights. Go outside, take a walk, find a park bench, look at the sky – take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the city you are in.

8.  Turn Your Cellphone Off


Phones are great at connecting us with people who are far away. Consequently, they also steal our attention from the people we are with. Obviously, you need to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues. But, it can wait. Turn off your phone and give the panelists your full attention. More importantly, turn your phone off (or put it away) when you’re meeting with someone. For the last year, I’ve practiced putting my phone in airplane mode whenever I’m in a meeting or spending time with friends or family. I’m less distracted and more “present” in the interaction.

The Takeaway

You probably do a lot of these things and that’s great! My point is to encourage you to prioritize your wellbeing. Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. As I’ve shown, there are little things you can do every day to support your mind and body.

What do you think? I’d love to hear about your experiences practicing self-care at conferences. Send me a message using the form below!

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