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Mailbag: How Do I Manage Crowd Anxiety At A Con?

Monday, June 17, 2013

 Jessica D. writes,

"Jen (and other Epbot readers) - I am thinking about attending the Minneapolis MetaCon in August- mostly because I see that Steam Powered Giraffe will be performing and I really really want to see them.
I, however, have Asperger's syndrome. And extreme anxiety about large crowds. Are there any hints and tips on what to do while at a con to control anxiety?"



As someone who LOVES sci-fi and comic conventions, and who also struggles with anxiety, I get asked this question a lot. Now, admittedly, I don't suffer from crowd anxiety so much as no-way-out anxiety (technical term) - but the two have a lot of overlaps. So, here are my best tips, based on what works for me:


1) Bring a friend or SO who's willing to stick by you the whole time. Moral support is key! 

:D

2) I met a reader at the last MegaCon who told me when things got too much for her in the crowd, she'd just grab on to her husband's backpack and look at the floor, allowing him to lead her through. I do the same thing with John all the time, although for me it's more because I'm lazy and he's bigger. :) See if your convention buddy is willing to do the same - a designated crowd-parter, if you will.

3) Take lots of breaks, so you don't get too over-stimulated. Most convention facilities have smaller halls branching off with lots of empty rooms, so you should be able to find a quiet alcove to chill for a while. (If not, try heading outside.) Remember, it's better to enjoy just a few activities than be miserable with a tight schedule.

4) Bring emergency supplies: anxiety meds (if you have/need them), a full water bottle (so you don't have to hunt for a water fountain), earplugs, & sunglasses if those work for you. I really like earplugs - especially for concerts, but they also help with crowd noise and extra loud sound systems.

  General convention mayhem. Gotta love it!


5) Often times the convention staff will let you stand in the back of the room for panels and performances, which I always prefer, so don't be afraid to ask. If it's a really large convention, ask at the ticket desk about medical/guest assistance passes, which can streamline the process and save you some stress. (Sometimes I'm afraid to ask because I'm embarrassed, but believe me, it's worth it in the long run. Plus most convention staff are super accommodating if you explain you just need to be near an exit.)

6) And finally, and hardest of all: don't put too much pressure on yourself. Take the day at your own pace, and tell yourself that you'll leave if you have to, because there will always be more conventions. If you force yourself through a miserable experience, then odds are you won't try again - and that would be robbing yourself of some truly amazing adventures! So go at your own pace, and concentrate on sopping up what fun you can. When your Fun Tank is full, take a break and/or get out of there!

We feel ya, Beaker.

Other than that, don't forget the common sense stuff like getting enough sleep and eating right/enough. Oh, and keep in mind that Saturday is always the most crowded day of a multi-day convention, with Sunday being a close second. So if the convention is open on Friday, go Friday.

Along the same lines, try to go to a smaller local convention for your first one, if you can, before jumping in to the really huge events. Little cons are much more relaxed, and are a wonderful way to test the crowd-anxiety waters.

Ok, guys: what'd I miss? Share you own tips for managing anxiety at a convention in the comments!

Posted by Jen at 2:00 PM Labels: , ,

78 comments:

  1. This goes with #3: Have a backup/escape plan. If I'm going some where, I try to find out what's around, so if I need to leave for a while, I have somewhere to go. Look online for a map of the area and places like restaurants & diners, stores, and any place else you might be comfortable (like libraries, parks, and perhaps school campuses) that you can go to to either have some quieter time or distract you from the anxiety of the crowds elsewhere. I usually bring a book with me (no smart phone or other personal tech). I have pretty bad social anxiety & I once went to a family party in a regular neighborhood, with no place different to go to, so I sat in my parent's car in the driveway and read for almost an hour and it helped a lot.

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  2. Anxiety of crowds, or of open spaces, or "no way out", can all be forms of Agoraphobia. Think "Agora", or the ancient Greek marketplace of crowded open stalls. Essentially the dealers' room of any convention. The DSM-IV defines Agoraphobia as a subset of panic disorder. Using the proper name, e.g. "I'm agoraphobic, can I please just stand near the exit?" will probably help no end.

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    1. I suspect Agoraphobia is me on the nose, but I've always been hesitant to use the term since I haven't been diagnosed as such. Not to mention most folks (myself included!) tend to assume that means you can never leave the house, so then they might think I'm exaggerating or trying to get attention. :/ If the person is familiar with the term, though, it would absolutely help to mention it.

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    2. Storm the KlingonJune 22, 2013 at 4:36 AM

      Sweet Mother of Bowie, THIS is why I try not to go for a week without modeming/surfing/computating or whateverthehell you youngsters call it now; I miss the Big Discussions!

      Girl. GIRL. TRUST me on this; you have panic-related agoraphobia, and you have had such for some time now. I have it, too, I've been diagnosed, and you and I are total crazy-sisters.

      Yeah, sometimes uneducated folks say things like "You have agoraphobia? I thought that meant you can't leave the house?" Just educate them on the fact that "never leaving the house" is *extreme agoraphobia*, a diagnosis/illness in itself, whereas you/we have panic/anxiety with *attendant agoraphobia*, which means our attacks/fears are so bad that they keep us from dealing with people/places, especially those we are not extremely familiar with (and sometimes even then). When I first started seeing her, I asked my old doctor "I can't seem to get it together to go anywhere without freaking out, especially if I have to be alone. I CAN NOT be alone in public-- what is up with THAT?!" And she reminded me that my first major freak-out (I thought I was having a simultaneous heart attack and nervous breakdown) was in public, and all alone with no one to help me, so now my weird brain has piled that way on the tip-top of Things I Can NOT Deal With, So Don't Ask Me Or I Will Hurt You.

      Lawrence has it right, and I back him up as both a fellow zany person and as a longtime con volunteer for Disabled Services; they are there to provide you with maps of the center and environs, all the exits and stairs are marked, and they may even have a quiet, screened off space for you to chill. Technically, this space is for breastfeeding moms, but more than one person has come up to me in the past and asked "Can I just go back there and lie down on the floor for like 5 minutes? I'm freaking OUT from the crowds and noise!" Listen, Disabled Services doesn't want a guest freaking out any more than Security wants to deal with said freak-out, and like it or not, this zaniness we live with *is* a disability. Not in the same way as a person in a wheelchair, or with vision or hearing problems, or battling cancer or something, but it's still valid. Having your brain lie to you many times in many ways (including telling you that you don't need or deserve help like other people do) is a VALID DISABILITY, and no one has the right to put stigma on you/us if you need help; just because a person's disability is not readily apparent does not mean they don't need or deserve help. Mental illness and disability are becoming better understood, and as I have mentioned here many times, many MANY people involved in cons are a li'l bit weird themselves, and can relate. TELL YOUR CON REGISTRATION STAFF (if there's no Disabled Services) that you have some needs including that your Con Buddy/Helper is with you at all times; they will do what they can to allay your fears and hook you up. And if by some strange chance you get the snotty teenaged hipster that can't be arsed to help, go over his back-combed head to his boss, and narc his ass out; CON STAFF ARE THERE TO HELP YOU ENJOY THE CON. Make us earn our free badges! Give us something to do besides people watching and playing "Oh, No, You Did NOT Wear THAT To Con!"

      Shine on, you crazy diamond,

      Storm

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  3. A map!! Bring a map of the venue, so you always know where the nearest exit is, and can get a sense of distance (otherwise I'd miss out on a lot, because I panic and want out NOW and maybe don't realise I'm just a few hundred feet from my goal) Also, mark on the map where you NEED to go, where you'd LIKE to go and what would be a nice bonus if you feel up to it - and then plan a path before you go, preferably one that allows you to get outside/to the bathroom/something to eat at regular intervals

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    1. Storm the KlingonJune 22, 2013 at 4:40 AM

      As the kids say, "^THIS!^" Either Con Registration or Disabled Services should have maps ready and available. If not, go to the Information Booth/Area for the venue itself, and they should have them handy, as well as guides and recommendations for nearby places to eat.

      Cheers,

      Storm

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  4. Hi! I'm an Aspie too, and a convention veteran.

    If at all possible, consider renting a room at the hotel, or one very close by so you have a real safe zone if you get overwhelmed (I often need a midday nap.)

    I agree with all of Jen's suggestions, especially having a con-buddy. And make sure you and your buddy work out signals, especially if you tend to go non-verbal.

    I know it can be hard to interact with strangers, but try to make some friends with convention staff.

    Before the con, go through the event and hotel websites and try to familiarize yourself with the event and location as much as you can. If it's local to you, visit the hotel (or find pics and floorplans) so you're not having to deal with crowds in a totally unfamiliar place.

    That's all I can think of just now; hope this helps!

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  5. No-way-out anxiety! I've never heard it put this way, but that's my anxiety exactly. Tiny space with a door I can easily open, no problem. Giant room with a locked door? PANIC.

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    1. Ah, a fellow escape junkie! Glad to "meet" you! ;) We're a smaller subset than the general crowd anxiety sufferers, I think, which is why I'm often asked to explain how I can handle the really huge convention crowds. As long as I can move and leave whenever I like, you can pack me in like the proverbial sardines, and I'm just dandy. Put me in an empty monorail car and close the doors, though, and it's next stop: panics-ville. [shudder]

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    2. I like to think of my crowd anxiety as more of a people claustrophobia. I didn't think I was claustrophobic for a lot of years until I went slot canyon hiking and almost got stuck. Small rooms where I can freely move my arms and legs and turn around are fine, but spaces too small to do those things cause me to freak out. (I hope I don't ever have to do an MRI!) Being in large crowds of strangers feels kind of the same way. I also get startled really easily by being unexpectedly touched and it's really hard to escape that in a large crowd...

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    3. ....Oh my gosh. That's totally me. I've never heard someone else describe it like that, Megan, but it's so fitting. It's something that just popped up within the last few years. Movie theaters are a huge struggle for me -- I can only relax in them if I am in an end seat, incredibly close to an exit, and the seat is readily identifiable if I have to leave and want to return. I am okay as long as I know that I can leave AND that I know that "I" know how to leave.

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    4. Jeri Lynn, IF you ever find yourself needing an MRI: I've had two already (knee and hand), and afaik they try to avoid to put your whole body in the tube head to toe. so, if it's head or shoulders they'd probably leave your lower extremities out, and from the shoulder down they leave your head out. you get headphones with music to protect you from the noises the machine makes. and they give you some sort of panic button to hold where you can get an assistant to help you or even stop the procedure if you can't take it any longer. also, talk with the personnel about your anxiety before they start to put you in, you will not be the first, they might have even better options to comfort you during the procedure.

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  6. I don't have any anxieties, but big cons can overwhelm you! I remember my first World Con, Boston, 1980. The dealer's room was bigger than most cons I had been to before it!

    One way is to focus on a few things. Keep it small and in small doses. Most cons are in venues that will have a food court or eating area. Find it and make a break for it when it gets to be too much. Some cons will even have quiet areas to sit down and relax for a bit. NYCC does. Get a book/comic book/whatever, or bring something you might want to have signed and can read or pick up the program book and just take breaks to study it.

    SPG will probably attract a lot of fans. Find out when and where they are playing and get there *EARLY*! Again, with something to read or listen to, a drink and something to munch on. Just take it slow.

    You'll have a great time! And will probably met a lot of nice new people. Don't be afraid to let folks around you know about your anxiety. There are a lot of fans who do have the same problem. They'll help you out!

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  7. I teach dance to adults and part of that is public performances for myself and my students. I don't know if this will help but people tend to forget the simplest thing when they start to panic or their anxiety starts to kick in, which is to breathe.
    I teach my students that anytime they start to feel remotely anxious or that panicked adrenaline rush is to take deep breaths. Slowly count to 5 on the inhale and do the same on the exhale and keep doing it until your comfortable again. Everyone looks at me like I'm nuts at first because it seems really simple but it's not when you're starting to panic but I have seen it work, students so focused on breathing that they sidestep the panic so to speak.
    It may not "fix" an anxiety attack but it may give you time to get away from what's triggering your attack and something to focus on until you get to a place where you are more comfortable.

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    1. Storm the KlingonJune 22, 2013 at 4:45 AM

      No, you've got it just right, sweetie; one of the common reactions of a person starting to panic is to literally forget to breathe, which gets the pulse racing even faster and makes you feel even more out of control. Deep, cleansing breaths, in through the nose out through the mouth, are often all it takes to get the person to at least think rationally enough to get themselves through whatever is freaking them out. Well done! :)

      Cheers,

      Storm

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  8. Having companions is key, but make sure they're aware you have anxiety. Nothing sucks worse than fighting off an anxiety attack while explaining to your friend that you're just freaking out because brain, they didn't do anything, and yes, you're aware of all the logical arguments, thanks, please stop talking about it so I can focus on breathing.

    (I get anxiety in social situations, particularly when I feel like I've messed something up, so something like not realizing there was going to be a huge demand for a panel and thus not being sure we'll get in because we're so far back in the line can be difficult for me to deal with)

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  9. I have social anxiety. I don't like crowds, or any groups of people, really. I don't do cons, but I did overcome a lot of the crowd issues by going to Disneyland on holidays. I'm a Disney nerd, so other than the D23 Expo, I have no desire to go to any cons. If your issue is the people, and not just feeling crowded/trapped/etc., then going to places with large groups of people who share a common love certainly helps. It makes you feel a lot less weird when you're around so many other people who are weird in some of the same ways as you. Thanks to Disneyland, a lot of my social issues got under control and I was able to actually feel comfortable in large groups outside of Disney, and even started feeling better about making new friends. So my advice is, if you can, try to use the con as an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and try to get the most out of the experience.

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  10. Hi! I've got avoidant personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and ptsd, so I know how hard things like cons can be. For me the hardest part of a con was the fear of people seeing me and laughing at me, in the real world I'm practically a hermit. Things like running to Target for tampons and milk require a lot of effort and someone always has to be with me... if I hear people laughing a few aisles over I'll freak. It might sound counterintuitive but what makes it possible for me to attend cons is COSPLAY. When I get all dressed up in a costume and makeup and wig I'm not just a messed up 30yo that can't even go to the store alone, I'm a Jedi, a princess, a superhero, whatever I want! I can be as brave as I want because people don't see me, they see a character. I always bring my husband (who's the most amazing & understanding man ever) and he carries all my stuff (Everything Jen mentioned!) and keeps me sane. But honestly cons are the one place I feel like I can fit in... I really hope you can find what works for you!!

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    1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has a hard time just running basic errands. (Though of course it's terrible for you.) It's really difficult explaining that getting your car's oil changed or going to the post office is terrifying--I'll do almost anything to put those tasks off. And I totally agree with the cosplay. I rock Halloween like nobody's business. And I've started "cosplaying" as a more capable, confident person when I need to run errands as well. Sometimes a smart outfit and red lipstick, and a bit of pretending that I'm someone else, helps me feel braver, even when I have to do something alone.

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  11. Having strangers all around me can trigger my anxiety issues. If I'm sitting in a crowded row of chairs, sitting on a aisle or with 2 very well known people on either side makes it a lot easier. Sitting in the very front does the same thing as I can sort of pretend that the people behind me (that I can't see) aren't there. I also tend to hug walls in crowded lobbies or concerts where I can't sit in the front so I can have one direction where I won't be surprised by someone touching me. I also always keep a pair of earplugs in my purse for concerts or other too loud situations. If I have to be in the middle of a crowd, I like to go with my husband. I tend to stand in front of him as close as possible because then he is like my portable safe wall. If we're walking through the crowd, I do follow and make sure I'm holding on to him really well. :-) If I'm actually trying to get somewhere rather than just crowd watching, I try to find obscure, less traveled ways (sometimes outside & around the building) so I'm not fighting through a crowd. I also like to volunteer as there is usually a quieter place for volunteers to hang out where I can escape. And I find dealing with a crowd much easier if I have a job and a reason to be doing whatever.

    I haven't been to any really big cons, though, so I don't know how well any of these suggestions will actually help.

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  12. I'm not anxious in public settings UNLESS it's crowded. I always suspected it was my claustrophobia. Never thought of it as Agoraphobia at all.

    Well, mostly, I just thought I was a big ole freak, so there's that ;)

    Excited to hear I'm not alone!

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  13. Tight spaces and feeling trapped are what get me. Friends once put handcuffs on me, "as a joke", and within 2 minutes I was screaming hysterically and crying. Ended up in the ER. Being able to control who's around me so I don't feel closed in is what I strive for, if I'm trapped in a crowd I'm about a half minute from loosing it.

    So, in addition to the excellent suggestions above, try to find out when the "slow" time is, so you can avoid the worst of the crowds. I found early morning of the second day is good as most people went partying with new and old friends the first night so they are hung over and staying in bed the next morning. Sure you'll miss stuff but you'll enjoy what you do see more. Stay until you start feeling uncomfortable, then LEAVE. Don't force yourself to stay and tough it out. Your body is telling you things are just going to get worse, so leave right away before it ruins the whole day.

    Hugs to everybody!
    Karen

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  14. I've been to MetaCon (this is it's second year) and my guess attendance was around 1K last year, give or take. It's at a new hotel this year, so I can't give much advice about how crowded or roomy the facility is. I can tell you that the staff was awesome. There are more 'high profile' guests this year (Billy West among them),so I'm expecting a bigger crowd this year.
    I agree about getting a room at the hotel, even if you don't suffer from a panic, it's worth it just to have a place to put all of your gear.

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  15. I would like to add, if it is a full weekend con, pick 1 scheduled thing to do per half day at MOST. want a talk at 10am and concert at 8pm then that is it. It will give you time to wander at YOUR pace, and if you are feeling up to it, have a couple of back up ideas also.

    I try to get a schedule of events so I can mark the "I have to" ones and the "I would like to" ones separately. The like to ones are a maybe. I wont end a conversation, a clothing trying on stop or a meal or rest break to get to them. The have to ones I plan for. About a half hour ahead, I look for a bathroom, refresh my water bottle, maybe eat a snack and gather any materials I want to have for it. Then about 10 minutes before, I find the location and a seat I am comfortable in. Then after, I can decide if I want to try for a like or just go rest for awhile.

    the first time at a convention is a whirlwind no matter how little you plan. the second trip is a little easier, you know the map better, know the energy of the people better and have a feel for your own tolerances.

    If you want to dress up, go for it, if not, don't. I find it is easier to be a character I admire than myself a lot of times because people see the strengths of that character and not the scared little kid in your head worrying about the nearest exit.

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  16. I have only a very mild agoraphobia. Probably the worst attack was when I needed to go to a bathroom, wondered into a shopping center. It was christmas time, it was packed full of people, I was traveling and was alone. I lasted less than five minutes, then fled. Though funnily enough I love the subway.
    Having someone with you makes all the difference. I can deal with small and medium sized conventions pretty easily, even temporarily by myself and know when not to push myself with the crowds. Experience over time will help a lot.
    I was a volunteer helper at a con one summer. I witnessed an aerial view of an overpacked sellers room. They even had to send security in to fish a few of the younger people out as they couldn't get out by themselves. That is my worst nightmare come to life. Small space, door open, no problem, close the door, not much of a problem, add a few people and I start to get jittery. It's the crowds in closed spaces that get me. Probably why I speed into the shopping areas like a squirrel on crack. I make several short visits along the day when it's not so crowded. I keep track where my friend's go so I can touch base with them often. I also often tour outside for a bit before diving back inside.

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  17. Awesome post Jen! You got all the things I was thinking about! As an Aspie with mild/moderate general anxiety, I was a little nervous about the crowds at my first con (this past March), but I did my planning beforehand and it went fantastic.

    Having moral support, someone who 'gets' you and your limitations really helps. I brought my mom, we both cosplayed, and we had a riot!

    Scout out good break spots and take them as you need; often, after looking around the vendor hall, we'd go just outside to the main hallway, look for the quietest spot there, and just watch other cosplayers until we were good to go again.

    Get a schedule of the days you're going to be there as soon as you can. I found it really helped to make me more at ease knowing that I could plan out what time we had to leave the hotel, to make it to the hall so that we could get to where we needed to be, when we needed to be there.

    Also, as Konen said, plan out your priority list; what is a must do, what you'd like to do, and what would be a bonus if you got to do it.

    And the biggest thing that I found helped: Relax, take it easy and be flexible!(I know, not a very easy thing for Aspies to do) As it was our very first con, my mom and I decided from very early on that as long as we did the Q&A, photo-op & autograph that I really wanted, the rest of our days were completely flexible. We didn't rush to get there super early, and we didn't try to stay until the very end. And if we needed to take a break, we could, but if we wanted to do one more loop of the vendor hall, we could do that too. Don't force yourself to stay longer than is fun, if you're tired, head out and get some rest!

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  18. I haven't been to a con, but I've been to many, many concerts and other events, and I have a really hard time dealing with all the sounds and heat generated from so many people in a confined space. To help cope, I keep my iPhone stashed somewhere easily accessible (like my bra if I don't have pockets) so I can use it in the bathroom. I know it sounds weird, but when I get overwhelmed by too much noise or too many people, I can retreat there, hide in a stall, and play a round or two of Candy Crush or some other mind-numbing game. It takes my focus off the crowds, and sort of resets my brain. In about ten minutes I'm usually okay enough to go back out and face the hordes again. I can text my husband from in there to let him know I'm okay or if I need to actually leave. The connection with him helps greatly too.

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  19. My dude, who has some crowd anxiety, has learned that he needs his security items with him at all times. For him it's jewellery, handheld video games, and often his bag. It's the standard items he's used to fiddling with. So he has a bracelet of wooden beads on elastic that he can play with (similar to the rosary idea), rings, a DS, etc. They are standard equipment so having them on feels like armor. So it can be useful to have something to fidget with and if you always wear something or always have something with you, try to have that with you at the con. That includes people. I'm one of the things that helps my dude make it through because being with me = security.

    But honestly, sometimes you just have to have a break.

    Also, avoid flash photography if you can. Not so bad in a bright room, but in a dark space, it can be really triggering if you have anxiety and it can cause a panic attack. So try not to be in a position where you're facing a lot of flashes. This is where Jen's suggestion of standing at the back can be helpful.

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  20. I get claustrophobic and anxiety ridden if something is too crowded. For me, it definitely helps to move to somewhere less crowded/noisy. Usually when I feel like things are closing in on me, I move to the end of the aisle or head out in the hall where there are less people. Meds definitely help though.

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  21. These are great tips! I have issues with high-ceiling rooms and having to go up and down multiple floors in an elevator or escalader (like a lot of conventions require). I guess that might be connected with fear of heights, I don't know. I never had problems with high-ceiling rooms or elevators until I developed anxiety disorder, so I think it's connected.

    My tip is to bring something to mess with that can easily fit in your pocket, like a mini slinky or a small pad of paper and pen. I find if I have something to occupy my mind as I sit/stand, it helps reduce anxiety, for me anyway. :)

    -River Psalm

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  22. I can't really give much input as far as crowd anxiety, but I can speak as someone who frequents cons in Minnesota, so I could give you an idea of what to expect there. Meta Con is relatively large as far as Minnesota Cons go, but as far as Cons in general go, it's actually pretty small. It's only in it's second year, so it would normally be pretty small, but they have several big name guests this year (like Steam Powered Giraffe), so it'll be larger than usual. I've never been to this convention center, but if it's like Minnesota cons typically are, it's not going to be unbearably packed.
    If possible, get there early and get in line for tickets as soon as possible- lines suck.
    If you're willing to try, go to the convention center the night before the con and scope the place out. You can usually do this- there'll be a few staff members starting to set up, and maybe artists/vendors (like yours truly :D) getting their tables ready, but other than than that it's usually pretty dead and no one will get on your case for it.
    I can attest that the staff and attendees of cons in Minnesota are awesome and always willing to lend a hand. They do a good job of taking care of trouble makers (On a side note, I'm a bit proud to say the whole 'Cosplay is Not Consent' movement is pretty well enforced around here) so if any one person is causing problems the staff take care of 'em right away. They'll have some type of identification, be it a bright-colored vest, a t-shirt, or a special badge/badge case that'll make them stick out if you need them.
    I hope this helps some! If you do go, I hope you have an awesome time!

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  23. My seventeen-year-old son has also been diagnosed with Asperger's... From personal experience, I've discovered he copes better with integrating into smaller groups, then gradually building a tolerance for larger crowds. A focal point, as previously mentioned, is massively beneficial. Also, maybe keep something tangible in your pocket -- a stress ball or koosh ball -- to relieve any anxiety. Above all, just remember to breathe... and have fun! :) My heart is with you. I'm actually excited for you, and will be sending positive thoughts your way. *hugs*

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  24. I suffer from PTSD and anxiety disorder as a result of a car accident. I didn't think it would affect me in crowds - boy was I wrong. Though I had a great time at Comic-Con in San Diego (our honeymoon), I learned to squeeze my husband's hand, which let him know I was bordering on a panic attack. He would immediately pull me away from the crowd and remind me to breathe. It helped A LOT.

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  25. First of all, let me just say how awesome it is that you're willing to test your limits! I'm just finishing up my degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and if I've learned anything, it's that being willing to test your limits is one of the best signs for improvement that a person can show! So, without knowing too much about you, I can already tell that you're resilient!

    Second, do you know any progressive relaxation techniques? Counting, imaging your happy place (mine happens to be a lovely beach setting), and concentrating on the tension in your body are all good ways to get your body to relax to combat a possible panic attack. Coupled with some ear plugs and sunglasses to block out all of the extra stimuli, you can calm down in a matter of minutes. Like any technique, you'll need to do a dry run first. The key is to practice it until you're a master of relaxation when you're NOT anxious!

    Third, I wish you the best of luck. I have no doubt that you'll be able to manage your anxiety! As always, please let us know how it goes! I can only speak for myself, but I think Jen would agree that we're all in your corner!

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  26. Agoraphobes unite! (In a space where we can all move freely and escape when we need to. :) )

    I recommend bringing headphones and music that helps calm you down (whatever that may be), as well as the ear plugs. Also, personally I find one of the best ways to stave off the panic is to read, especially if it's something I know well - it's like comfort eating with books. So I bring a book or my Kindle with me everywhere so I can "escape" that way if I can't actually escape.

    It actually helps me a LOT to have some sort of schedule or goal in mind. If I just wander around the convention aimlessly, I'm a lot more likely to get freaked out by all the people; if I know I need to head to this room for this panel, and after that I'm going to the open gaming area to play that game, it helps.

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  27. Small cons are definitely a good idea if you are wondering how well you will handle the scene. For those who don't like being squashed in with people, I recommend looking for cons at college campuses. Often there are events in multiple buildings, which divides up the crowd and you can easily go outside and escape the busiest spots.

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  28. I think knowing what you need in order to be comfortable and making sure you have it is key to enjoying any event. You need 2 cups of coffee to function properly in the morning? Make sure you know the location of the nearest coffee shop and have your coffee before you hit the con floor! You get drenched in sweat when it's above 80 degrees? Bring a backpack with extra water and some extra clothes in case you sweat through your shirt. Fair-skinned and going to an outdoor event? Bring sunscreen and wear a hat. For me, it's all about anticipating what I will need and planning for it so I don't have to worry about it when I'm trying to enjoy the event.

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  29. I have a 14 yr old with Aspergers, a 10 yr old with Autism, and a 12 yr old with suspected anxiety. I myself am on meds for anxiety, so I totally get it. We've never been to a convention, but we do enough stuff where each of us need breaks often. I agree on all of the points above from Jen. And bring a comfort item. Incorporate it into your costume if you have one? My 12 yr old likes to bring her stuffed puppy when we go places, but keeps it in my backpack. That way it's not out for everyone to see, but she knows it's there if needed.

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  30. I've experienced a couple smaller cons as a vendor and one thing I will say is if there is an all day event such as a bazaar or the like, it tends to be the least busy right at meal times. So if you are able to flex your regular eating schedule, then the shopping areas may be a little less busy.

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  31. Also, there are probably a lot of people with similar issues that will be at the convention. A few years ago, my son (who has Asperger's) wanted to travel from Wisconsin to Texas to attend A-Kon. I had similar concerns for him. I traveled with him and I was pleasantly surprised to find that he fit right in with the crowd there. I felt like the odd one out. I had no clue what to expect or do, and spent the weekend trying to sneak photos of interesting costumes and people. I didn't know photos were encouraged and expected (LOL). My son had a great weekend with fewer incidents than at home. I say Go For It!

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  32. Not really a 'tip', but remember that there is a heavy overlap between people who enjoy going to cons and people who have anxiety disorders of some type. Don't worry that the people around you are going to be judging you, or think that you're a freak or anything like that. The staff and your fellow con-goers will understand, and sympathize, and try to help with just about any reasonable request for help or accommodation you might have.

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  33. Good luck, Jessica! I hope you can use these terrific suggestions, go, and have a really good time. Please let us know how your experience was, and thanks Jen for sharing.

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  34. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder over 15 years ago and have been on medication since. Actually the attack that really sent me over the edge was at Otakon in Baltimore, probably one of the largest anime conventions in the country. I freaked out in the dealer's room because I became completely overwhelmed that there were too many people and I was too far from an exit to get to "safety". That was one of the main reasons I decided to try medication. Hypotherapy worked for a while, but I still suffered from irrational panic attacks not triggered by my initial anxiety cause. I continue to go to conventions of all kinds, anime, video game, comic, and gaming. Having a convention buddy is the best way to help you. One that understands or empathizes with what you are going through. Luckily my husband was there 15 years ago and still is my convention buddy. All I have to do is let him know it's time to go and we'll leave the dealer's room or other crowded area. Panels I typically don't have a problem with because the seating and everything is more "organized" it's not just a mass of people. I also agree with Fridays if you aren't staying the whole weekend. When we go to PaxEast we stay at the hotel next to the convention center so if I want to stay in the room I can. But if it's comicon in Philly and it's an hour from our house, we go Friday. It's less crowded and since they set up Thursday, all the vendors are there. Also take something with you to do so you don't worry. For instance, when we have to wait in lines, I have my nook or DS to distract me from thinking about my anxiety.

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  35. This is to Jessica D: I don't have any suggestions for you, but I just wanted to say that I'll be going to Meta-con too with my daughter (who has already started on her steampunk costume). Kudos for braving a tough environment for you and I hope you have an enjoyable time!

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  36. Thank you for posting these! I agree with all of these, plus having snacks. I also can have issues with crowds, especially since I'm also small. My friends and I just came back from the Steampunk World Fair where we also saw SPG live and sat near the edge of the tent. Another helpful thing was we agreed beforehand on what we would go to and also follow an escape plan (i.e. the hotel room).

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  37. What do you call it when you want to punch people when they get in your way? I really hate crowds, but most of all I hate having to patiently plod through a crowd. Especially when I'm supposed to be over there at the artist's booth RIGHT NOW, and somebody's decided to take a slow walking video of the whole convention with their phone. It makes me very stabby.

    I used to be able to wear one of my masks. With a mask on, you're oddly insulated from the real world. It's like wearing earplugs. People don't expect you to reply or interact, especially if you look like you're playing a part. Now I have to wear glasses (until I figure out how to get bifocal contacts, or ones that correct my astigmatism.)

    I don't think I have Asperger's, although I end up in the middle of the autism spectrum when self-tested.

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  38. Unfortunately, I handle my anxiety at conventions in a pretty "bad" way--overspending. Too many people leads to too much stress, which leads to a bunch of impromptu purchases because the thing made me really happy at the time. Then I get home and going "What was I thinking?" My psych said something about the endorphin release calming me (I'm an impulsive over-shopper even when I get hit with anxiety at home).

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  39. I'm a suspected Aspie with crowd anxiety...and a Jehovah's Witness. We have yearly 3-day district conventions, 2-day assemblies, and 1-day special assemblies. I have yet to sit through an entire one in nearly ten years of attending without freaking out halfway through the day. Part of it is that we're expected to sit still, listen, and take notes--which I physically cannot do. I have to move; I can't take notes without losing track of the lecture and scribbling all over my notebook/arms, I have to have something else to focus on.

    I've found that noise-cancelling headphones help, as well as having Husband there to be a buffer. I try not to get boxed in, so if I have to run to the lobby/bathroom/parking lot/HOME, I don't disturb too many people.

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  40. I attended my first Con Memorial Day weekend here in Phoenix (second in size only to SDCC). My kids (16 & 23) and I worked as volunteers at the event (hey, go big!).

    None of us are completely comfortable in crowds (is anyone?) and this was one huge unknown for us. As a staffer, I can say that in most cases you won't be allowed to stand in the back of a room - that's usually against fire codes and can be considered blocking an exit. (We had to evacuate Phoenix Con on Sunday afternoon due to report of smoke in an adjacent hotel room... nothing there but fun times, lemme tell you).

    Phoenix Con had a "preview" day on Thursday evening that was definitely lighter in attendance. Friday had more people, Saturday was *crazy* and Sunday had slightly lower attendance. Go as early as you can to scope out the layout of the exhibitor area, plan your schedule (panels to attend, where the rooms are) and get some level of comfort in the space.

    You got this. Don't hesitate to reach out to any volunteer if you need to find a quiet space or a moment alone. They are there to make sure you and all the rest of the attendees have a great time!

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  41. I've found if the convention is at hotel, booking a room at the hotel as a place to go relax or get away from crowds is wonderful. Then you can also stay at the convention longer without the need to travel home later. :)

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  42. I've got a tad of AS too, making me awkward around people, especially in new situations when I'm not sure how to behave. I don't have an anxiety disorder, but I do tend to go quiet and stick to the sidelines, usually because I'm afraid of saying something strange or out of line and getting that strange look and awkward silence, and sometimes I go there to hide after I screw it up.
    But the first time I went to a convention something amazing happened. I stuck to the sidelines at first, just watching. But this crowd was like no ne I had ever seen. Everyone was talking to everybody else. They looked at each other and not into the ground as they passed by. People were giving out free hugs to anyone who wanted it, and they did.
    I realized that in this crowd, there was no room for any awkwardness. So I let go of the wall a bit at a time, started talking to people and got myself a hug. And I realized that these people were all my friends. There was no need to be nervous about saying the wrong thing, the only thing I needed to do to be loved and included was to be myself. And so I went nerdy with friends I had never met before for three days straight. Sometimes we didn't even exchange names, we just started talking as if we already knew each other.
    (When I got home my parents wondered if something was wrong, I hugged them a lot since I had gotten used to hugging everyone I met. They didn't mind, but they got a bit worried until I told them about the concept of free hugs.)

    So what I'm trying to say is, this crowd you'll meet, it won't be just any crowd made up of strangers. The people in this crowd are all here for the same reason, to meet and have fun with people just like them, just like you. By buying a ticket you qualify as their friend they haven't met yet, as one of their merry crowd of friendship, joy and shameless nerdiness.
    So my tip to you (which I believe will work but maybe won't, since I don't have any experience with your disorder) is to begin at a distance, catch someone else loitering and start a conversation. Because I believe that when you realize that this crowd is made up of your friends it will turn a lot less scary.

    Good luck out there! Your friends on the internet are cheering for you.

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  43. I am a staffer at a large convention (Nan Desu Kan in Denver) and a person who doesn't handle crowds well. In addition to all of the things mentioned, I would suggest talking with the con staff when you get there and maybe checking in with their medical team if possible. They may be able to advise you where you can go that's calm, or just have you on their radar (if they have the resources. Some cons do and some don't.)

    I have found a staffing position in a quiet room, and venture out into the con for a half-hour or so at a time. It works for me. I pretty much regret it every time I go into the dealer's room, though.

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  44. I have a teen with Asperger's and social anxiety. One of the things that help him is bringing headphones with music. We find a place out of the way where he can listen to music and pace. One thing we're looking into right now is getting an autism service dog. We've heard lots of good reports from Aspies who have found that service dogs have helped them to cope with the social anxiety. Definitely not something that can happen overnight, but might be something to look into for the long term. Best of luck!!!

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  45. I don't generally have anxiety, but I do sometimes get pretty freaked out when I feel like people are pressing in too much and I can't move in the direction I want. Crowds are often thickest at choke points like escalators, elevators, or the most convenient door into a building. If your physical abilities allow, consider taking the long way around: stairs instead of escalator, walking a little farther around the outside of a building, taking a roundabout way through side corridors instead of the more central areas, etc. The ability to stretch my limbs for just a few minutes can help me feel better in between panels/events.

    Having a convention buddy is really great, but if you don't already have someone in mind you might want to see if your con has a facebook group/livejournal community/bulletin board/etc. Such places give you the opportunity to get questions answered beforehand. I also sometimes see newbies posting asking for people who want to hang out, experienced con-goers offering to show newbies the ropes, mixer events, etc. Cosplay is also a great way to meet people. I love the boost in confidence becoming a favorite character gives me. If you're not up to putting together a costume yourself, asking to take someone's photo can be an opening to conversation. Even a t-shirt or button from one of your interests can help you find your tribe.

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  46. My mantra for cons is this: "I am a face in the crowd. The people here do not know me in Real Life. I can be whomever I want to be, without fear of it haunting me later. If I screw up, and act like a dork, my Real Life is unaffected. If I am awesome, then I shall make new friends."

    So in other words, the convention and Real Life are two different things, the overlapping of which is almost completely under your control (barring bumping into a Real Life friend or two). Feel free to relax and have fun. If you like, costuming can let you be someone completely different.

    Tips for human interactions at cons: Be cheerful and positive. Don't over-share, or monopolize the conversation. Be mindful of boundaries, both physical and emotional. If folks are discussing a topic that interests you, feel free to join in, but be respectful and polite about it. Chatting with the folks next to you makes lines go faster. Be aware that conventions are exhausting, so plan for what to do when you're tired.

    Oh, and if you're nervous, I may reccomend examining the convention's video schedule. I spent most of my first con watching cartoons.

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    1. Storm the KlingonJune 22, 2013 at 5:04 AM

      Awesome. Like RuPaul says, "What other people think about me is NONE of my business"!

      Kids, I've made friends and lovers (YES! You CAN get laid at a Con! Bring condoms! ;) for life at Cons. People who I consider family, people who are better to me than my "real" family, people who are/were also a li'l weird and nervous, but still managed to make it to a con and talk to a weird, loud, redhead with funny teeth. This was in my teens, I'm in my 40's now, and we're still friends, dozens of us.

      And yeah, line-chatting is a fanTAStic ice-breaker and friend-maker! You're all there for the same reason, you're all stuck there a while, and you all have at least ONE thing to talk about. But yeah, let people finish sentences and don't turn every story around to YOU; engage in the convo, don't monopolize.

      Really. I can practically promise you guys; you're gonna have fun and make at least ONE new friend. And if the one turns out to be a Friend For Life, than I say "Quality not quantity", and Bowie bless you.

      Cheers,

      Storm

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  47. Smaller cons aren't just good as warming up for really big cons, they're lots of fun in and of themselves! And, you'll probably start recognizing people, especially if you regularly to ones in your area. I find that lessens the feeling of being in a group of strangers, even though I don't know most of them by name.

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  48. Oh, goodness. I have some mild crowd anxiety. Mostly along the line of needing to have an escape route as well. When we go to panels, I need to sit on the end of a row. I do the same thing at theatres if I can. I attend Sakura Con every Easter but I go with my children who are used to my ways and have ways of their own, so that's a huge help. :) The dealer's hall is probably my biggest challenge, but I just find a corner to stand or sit if I can. We missed S-Con last year and this year it had grown a ton so the dealer's hall was a real surprise being packed even on Sunday when in past years it had been nice and quiet! I think the best thing is knowing we are not alone, taking breaks when we need to and focusing on the parts we love about conventions.

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  49. I had no idea that I had crowd anxiety until I started going to cons with my cosplaying husband, and I've discovered that I loathe being in the dealer's rooms. Rest of con = wide open spaces & mostly fine. Long, narrow aisles jammed with people = bad situation. Unlike some of the other posters, I have found that my best plan of attack is to split up from my husband and go to panels on my own. He loves the dealer's room and being in costume often means being surrounded by people taking pictures. If I'm not with him, I don't feel tied to staying right near him in areas that make me uncomfortable. He is also less anxious because he is not trying to have fun while I'm freaking out. I also bring my kindle and hang out reading in empty areas during breaks. Then we meet back up at a certain time. For us, the whole con experience got much better once we figured out that we had more fun on individual paths.

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    1. Storm the KlingonJune 22, 2013 at 5:14 AM

      With all due respect, could you please mention to your cosplaying husband that it's people like him stopping the crowd every few feet for picture-taking that makes the dealer's room of almost any convention unbearable for crowd-hating folks? Again, no disrespect intended, but it drives me MAD. As a longtime costumer, I get the kick of having my picture taken (Being a Klingon is the only time anyone I don't know well ever wants my photo), but I *always* politely say "Sure, I'll pose for a picture, *if we can find someplace out of the way to do it*". I don't want to make an entire aisle of people pause and wait for me to get just the right pose for the guy that can't seem to operate his camera under pressure.

      Two things that keep me from going into any dealer's room (and contributed to my retiring from Comic Con after 25 years); the aisles are always ALWAYS blocked up with people posing for pictures in the worst possible spots, and dorks with HUGE strollers. If your baby is small enough to need a stroller, IT IS TOO SMALL FOR CON!

      Cheers, thanks a lot,

      Storm

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    2. That is an annoying phenomenon, and we hate it when we encounter it. The worst I've ever seen in that category was at St Paddy's parade when parents lost their minds and started sending their kids INTO the parade to try to get pictures with moving cosplayers. Crazy!

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  50. This is all really good advice and I'm probably going to end up making use of a goodly chunk of it the next time I try a convention--but at #2 I have to admit I got derailed by Fezzik. "Everybody, MOVE."

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  51. These are some fantastic suggestions. I could totally use these in other areas of my life when I get dragged/willingly if stupidly attend something that could up my social anxiety. Wish I'd thought to bring earplugs to the bar to watch the hockey playoff the other night! Maybe I'd still have my hearing, haha.

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  52. My daughter has Asperger's, and we handle cons by making sure there's downtime/places away scheduled when the overstimulation hits (or to prevent the overstim in the first place). I know Meta is one of the larger cons in the Twin Cities, so if you want to try out something smaller go to Anime Fusion. I know Steam Powered Giraffe isn't on the guest list, but it's a great place to get your feet wet.

    We'll be attending Meta for the first time this year as well, so if you'd like to do a meet-up, give me a shout out.

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  53. Cons are not always good at accommodating the handicapped...our recent trip to Phoenix Comicon resulted in many incidents where my boyfriend, who uses a cane, was yelled at to "hurry up" by random con staff, forced to stand in long lines even though his "mobility badge" was supposed to allow me to stand in line for both of us, and we were also blocked from using the elevator on a number of occasions because we didn't have a stroller. Um, okay, let me just take "Cane Man" down your four flights of rickety elevators, then (I'm not joking about rickety, the things actually broke down several times during Con). I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I'm worried about people with special needs getting the impression that they will be surrounded by people willing to help them out and accommodate them...that is not always the case. I think your best bet is to have companions who know your struggles and have a plan to assist you as necessary.

    I second the "find a quiet place to hang" suggestion...at Phoenix Comicon, there were some tables right outside of the main ballroom that were NEVER occupied, for some mysterious reason, so when we needed to rest or duck out of the crowd for a time, we'd head there to snack and plan our next event.

    Also, don't pressure yourself into doing or seeing everything. You don't have to stay all day. You don't lose your "Comicon Champ" badge if you miss the first big presentation of the day, or if you don't stay until 11:00 p.m. for the Geek Prom or the showing of the newest indie zombie movie. You don't get a special prize for ending the weekend with blistered feet and a frazzled brain. Look over the schedule, plan your attack, pick a few things to attend every day. If you end up in a panel that's a stinker, duck out and wander the exhibitor halls for awhile. Sit somewhere out of the main traffic flow and check out the costumes. Con's not supposed to be a race from one packed event to the next. Take your time, be gentle with yourself, and have fun!



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    1. Debra - as a rookie staffer at PHXCC this year, let me apologize for any staff member being so incredibly insensitive... I will certainly share the anecdote when this year's volunteer meetings begin.

      The elevator fiasco is another frustration. Sadly, that was the convention center and security force rather than any PHXCC staff, but again, I will definitely share that facts of the incident.

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    2. Storm the KlingonJune 22, 2013 at 5:26 AM

      I am beyond shocked and dismayed to hear that anyone at any con has been treated or spoken to that way. In the future, should it happen again, make a note of the person's name and department, and then narc their rat ass OUT. If said jerk is the head of their department, report them to Con Management. This is utterly inexcusable. Where was the head of disabled services, and how were they not alerted that the policies were not being followed??

      (The preceding was from my late friend Robert Goodwin, who started the SDCC Disabled Services Dept. in '87, as channeled by me, his loyal assistant of over 10 years. Seriously, I hear this pissed off, slightly lisping Smaller Person in my head, mad as a wet Targ! "If any of MY thaff acted like THAT, I'd demand their Agonizer!")

      Cheers, and I hope whoever said "Hurry up!" falls on their ass real soon, and HARD,

      Storm

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  54. In big cons I'm always afraid I'm going to get separated from my hubby. So one of the biggest saviors for me is to have charged cell phones. We rarely get separated, but just in case I know I can reach him.

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  55. I have a few strategies that help me: 1. set up a "soothing playlist" on my ipod - whatever music calms me down. It doesn't have to be quiet music - just something that helps me feel better. I often need that to help me when my anxiety is kicking in. 2. deep breathing exercises & relaxation techniques. I practice these at home daily, even when I'm not having panic, so that they feel normal when I need to use them in public. Getting my breathing under control always helps me when I'm having a panic attack. 3. Sit on the end of a row at the back of the room (or stand, like Jen mentioned). I've gotten better and can now sit in the middle of the row in many situations, but in a big crowd and a new situation, I really need to be on the end. 4. As others have said, having a safe person and a safe place to retreat to makes a world of difference. I also like to bring a good book with me, so I can go find a corner somewhere, put on my calming playlist, read my book, have a little snack, and regroup.
    To be honest, my favorite "safe place" of all is to hide under a table that is covered with a long tablecloth! I know it sounds crazy, but I love to feel hidden away and in my own little fort. As a 40-something it's not so socially acceptable, however, and just comes off as weird and awkward. My 5 yr old is adorable when he hides under a table. Me, not so much. :) But if I could have my own personal "fort" to hide in whenever I'm feeling anxious, I'd be pretty happy!

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  56. This might sound silly but...get yourself a pair of plataform shoes. They don't have to be heels, you can get platform sneakers if you want. Something comfortable with a platform. But this way you can hang back away from the crowd and still see the show. You can always find a spot in the fringes, the only problem is visibility is usually no that good. That's where a little extra height comes in handy. I don't have a fear of crowds/tight spaces, but I have damage on my wrists and left elbow so I get really worried in crowds that I will get bumped and hurt. (even a slight bump can hurt A LOT. Like "feel like throwing up from the pain" lot.) I found that people tend to crowd right at the center stage at shows and often leave big open spaces on the side. I say an obstructed view in peace is better that being right in the middle of it having a bad time.

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    1. Heh, I'm only 4'10" tall, platforms wouldn't help me at all ;)

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  57. Knowing I can stop and/or leave at anytime is the single thing that keeps me going the most. Even driving on the freeway...if I tell myself I can get off at any exit, I'm able to make it all the way. If I tell myself I have to make it all the way, I'm a frantic mess. Always have an out! I just think, I don't HAVE to do this, and I'm better able to get it done.

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  58. The biggest thing for me was telling myself (and having a friend remind me throughout) that being awkward, making mistakes, being stupid, etc are ok.

    The first time I got a disabled badge for PAX I asked the wrong person, started to panic and headed the wrong way, thankfully the enforcer stopped me and pointed out 'right there', otherwise I would have gone without, and likely would not be going anymore. The enforcer probably did not remember the crazy girl on a cane that panicked because she asked the wrong person, and I mostly just remember because looking back that moment is hilarious (I was 3 feet off, that is not worthy of panic), and as a reminder that mistakes and my awkwardness is not a bad thing, it is just a thing that needs to be worked through.

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  59. Great advice! I have "crowd" anxiety, and these are all tricks that I use. Thank you!

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  60. If you can stay in the con hotel, do so. A private space to escape to without leaving the venue is invaluable. I like to take on a task or role for the event so that I can put that purpose between me and the crowd. I am a Dealer (this one is great, I get to meet people but there's a table between us as a shield), or a Gopher (running around, too busy to panic & forced to actually talk to people I don't know), or whatever.

    A partner to buffer you & to say "you're getting a little stressed, do you need down time?" & to remind you that it is OK to take time out.

    A map & timetable with the locations and times of all the events that are a MUST Attend for you. I like to also mark of "nap time" on mine - in addition to the agoraphobia I have fibromyalgia so downtime/naptime is essential to keep me going.

    If you're a newbie to cons, then start with smaller events. I am biased because I am on the concom now for the Discworld Convention in the UK, but they are really great (there are sister conventions in the US, Australia, Ireland and other places in Europe (I can't remember all of them off-hand). relaxed, friendly, less than 1000 people.

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  61. I'm programming director for a small con in Nashville, TN called Hypericon. So I'm seconding (or more) what a lot of people here have said. We get less than 300 people most years, so it feels like a party with friends. None of the rooms are packed full, there are plenty of semi-quiet spaces, and if you go more than once, you learn everyone by name. So instead of it feeling like a con, it feels like a really organized party for a bunch of your friends. I did panels this year where I could name every audience member by name.

    Look around online and you can find a list of cons in your area. Don't be afraid to email the con and ask how many people they get. Stay away from big cons. Dragon or GMX or any of the Comicons are just way too big for people who don't like crowds.

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  62. Thank you for the tips. We will be attending our 1st con in November and these will help a lot.

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