Multi-day workshops, retreats and conferences can be life-changing. They can also be life-draining. While multiple-day experiences allow attendees to put on their “workshop wetsuits” and dive deep into the waters of transformation, they can also stress our nervous and immune systems, and strain relationships in counterproductive ways.
Properly preparing for your “dive” and good self-care during your experience can help you stave off a cold, absorb more knowledge, and avoid capsizing your relationships. Knowing how to “resurface” after deep, intense, social and learning experiences is a skill set worth its weight in gold! Ye who ascends to the surface of day to day living too quickly after a conference or retreat has primed thyself for a wicked case of the “Conference Bends!” (Commonly known as “Con-Drop.”)
Ye who ascends to the “surface” of day to day living too quickly… has primed thyself for a wicked case of the “Conference Bends!”
As a Jacques Cousteau of the sex ed world, I’ve attended, spoken at, or organized over one hundred conferences and immersive workshop learning experiences. I’ve learned the hard way what I need to recuperate quickly after such adventures. And as someone who also teaches other educators, workshop leaders, and “Muggles” (people who aren’t teachers/educators/professionals in the sex ed realm) how to navigate powerful experiences, here are some super useful tips, tricks and approaches that can help you midwife yourself from life-changing experiences back into the “default world.”
What follows below are some quick tips, explanations and exercises I’ve found invaluable PLUS a video (video transcript here) on Con-Drop that I did with the amazing Cathy Vartuli of TheIntimacyDojo.
May these all serve you well!
Reid’s Quick Tip List - This will all make more sense after you read the whole article below…
- If you can afford it, stay the extra night after the conference or workshop.
- Take a “Lay Low Day” soon after.
- Declare a “No Fighting Till We’re Rested Rule” if you’re in a business or romantic relationship…
- Reconnect sexually/sensually/affectionately with your romantic partners as soon as is feasible (meaning as soon as you have the energy to).
- If you’ve attended the conference/workshop with your partners, remind yourself that they need to follow all the above tips as well!
Treat Conferences Like Jetlag
Powerful experiences, especially weekend or week-long learning experiences or high-energy/high-stimulation social events (thank you, Burning Man, Catalyst Con, Comic-Con and Brendon Burchard’s live events like Experts Academy): Treat ‘em like Jetlag. That means, before you get there and -as best as you can- during the experience: be well-rested, fed and hydrated.
You’re not a wimp when you fly half-way around the world and it takes a day or two to get your bearings, so stop beating yourself up for not being able to hit the ground running while journeying through life-altering experiences. You’re not the “Self-Help Terminator” who will not stop until you’ve reached enlightenment. You’re human. And humans tend to run better when properly hydrated, rested and fed.
Avoid Conference/Retreat/Workshop Jetlag by…
- Pre-Game: Being well rested/hydrated/fed before hand. This Holy Jetlag Trinity will keep you from heading into a transformative experience already operating at a deficit.
- During: Bring a cooler of your essential food and juice stuffs. If you like protein shakes, bring a ziplock of your favorite shake mix and something to shake it up in so you’re not just ingesting caffeine, muffins, and booze all weekend! Throw a few protein bars in your backpack for snacks during lectures rather than snarfing up sugary carbs to stay energized. Bring a water bottle with you where ever you go! To ensure better rest: pack ear plugs and a sleeping mask in case you end up sharing rooms with someone who snores like I do and opens those hotel curtains too early!
- Post-Conference (Post-Game): Keep that water bottle by your side and drink deep on the flight or drive back home! Eat some nutritious, water and fiber dense food. Do some yoga and take a few naps (more on post-game needs below).
Front-Load Your Pre-, During, and Post-Game Needs
Front Loading is figuring out what you can prepare for in advance and implementing those things so they’re ready to go. Many seasoned “seekers” and teachers are great at planning what they need to do before an event and during an event, but often forget that there is a whole “post-game” that is just as important, if not more so!
Learning what your body needs is step one of the self-care foursome of body, mind, soul and relationship needs. I add relationships to my trinity of body/mind/soul and make it a foursome. Why? Considering what the people in your relationship sphere might require of you pre/during/post is pragmatic and can help avoid relationship train wrecks when you get home.
Get up to date. Before I disappear for 3-5 days for a seminar or conference, I try to get as many emails and “digital work” done as I can so my brain feels like things are handled and I can focus on the event. That’s an example of a pre-game need of mine, which means I have to schedule time in to get that all done before the event starts. If I don’t, I’ll feel anxious, distracted and will be playing catch-up the whole event. Sneaking off to the lobby to check emails might mean I miss an awesome lecture or networking opportunity.
Go on a date! In a romantic relationship? About to disappear off-grid for a retreat or lock yourself away in a hotel conference hall for 4-days? Take your relationship vitamins before your trip by grabbing some intimate date-time a night or two before you leave. Bonus points if you schedule a date night on the calendar for when you return! Why all the fuss? The extra connection-time might just save you all from a heated phone argument on day three… Trust me on this one!
Bonus Reid Relationship Tip: When I head out on the road for several weeks, not only do I schedule plenty of date-time on both sides of my trip, I secretly order a gift (usually a tee-shirt) on the internet to be delivered about a week after I’ve hit the road. #Winning!
Do your homework! Assessing your needs and front-loading them can make for a much smoother takeoff and flight into workshop mode. And charting out your post-game needs can aid in a smooooooooth landing as you return into the “real world.”
Ask yourself: What would be an example of a mind need of mine? What are some body needs I have, things I could do to ensure that I’m properly rested, fed and hydrated? What are some “soul needs” and “relationship needs” I might have?
Attending to your needs the whole way through rather than denying them will help you soar to greater heights of awareness, experience, and self-mastery.
“Well, that was an excellent example of what I forgot to include and how to never do it again.”
Sometimes you won’t know what you need until you’ve experienced the lack of it. So, please, to the extent that you can be kind and gentle with yourself, embrace your learning curve by telling yourself, “Well, that was an excellent example of what I forgot to include and how to never do it again.” Take note of what was missing and plan to implement that next time around.
From extra water and food, to planning a wrap-up/decompression phone call with a peer or friend the day after, to scheduling a quiet day hiking in nature without other people around… It’s all front-loading, which is to say that it’s self-awareness of your needs applied in advance.
Reid’s Self-Care Foursome Needs Exercise
A) Write down answers to the following…
- What can I do to anticipate my body/mind/soul/relationship needs and take care of them before the event happens?
- What will my self-care needs be during the event, and how can I make sure they get met?
- What are my post-event needs, that I can prepare for now and have ready and waiting for me after the event?
B) Needs Brainstorm…
Now take your list and brainstorm a quick sub-list of ways you could meet those needs. NOTE: It’s okay to have needs! Contrary to popular belief, having needs doesn’t make you needy; not getting your needs met makes you needy.
Pre-paln for Re-entry and Decompression
Here’s a freebie for all of you: Everyone has re-entry and decompression needs. The question is: Do you know what your needs are and have you built/scheduled them into your experience?
Re-entry is a term used in communities like Burning Man to denote the phenomenon of leaving a transformative experience and reacclimatizing to the “Default World”. Like a space-capsule re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, expect to experience a bit of friction upon re-entry from workshop space to office cubicle, from sex-positive conference to Sunday dinner at your parents’. There’s a science to not exploding upon re-entry, which is where Decompression comes into play…
If Re-entry is getting back to Earth without disintegrating, think of Decompression as the check-list before, during, and after Re-entry that gets you home safely.
(Interesting Reid factoid: In 2007, I founded the largest, lesbian/queer women’s theme camp at the Burning Man Arts Festival, Camp Beaverton for Wayward Girls – crazy, huh?)
Here are some great tips/rules for your Decompression Check-List….
Get Closure On The Event
We all have need for closure. Like watching an artsy movie with one of those endings that leaves you “thinking,” there’s a difference between thinking about an event for days (Integration/Processing) versus walking around in some wonky daze, feeling like something is unresolved (Incomplete). Unresolved event endings, like a badly written movie plot, can leave you feeling worse than better. We tend to like it when the Olympic athletes stick their landings, right? Powerful endings to events create powerful experiences.
A good workshop leader knows to design into their experiences some sort of powerful closing ritual or shared-group experience to help attendees “stick their landings.” When you don’t, it’s like having a beautiful hot air balloon with a hole in it that no one knows about: All that yummy, powerful energy you built up from the experience starts leaking out and you often don’t know why. This can create feelings of confusion and un-ease rather than those of completeness and groundedness. You end up crash-landing rather than experiencing a soft touch-down.
Some of you may be reading this right now thinking, “Wow. I’ve had sex like this,” or, “I had a relationship like this,” or, “I had a marriage like this,” and you would be right.
Why is knowing that powerful endings make for powerful experiences important? Knowing this helps you, because 1) You might be able to identify post-event feelings of un-ease as, “Oh, I didn’t get sufficient closure!” which allows you to take action and 2) Create that closure for yourself!
Having tools for generating a powerful closure when one wasn’t made available (or when you could use a second dose of closure to augment your own self-care) makes you a self-care ninja!
How Kamala Devi Decompresses: A decompressing process I totally “stole” from Showtime’s Polyamorous: Married and Dating‘s Kamala Devi:
- Find someone to share 3-5 highlights from said experience with as well as 3-5 lowlights. Try to keep your share to 3-10 minutes.
- If your partner also attended the same experience, have them share their highs and lows back to you.
- At the end, ask each other if there is anything else rattling around in your minds you’d like to share.
- Keep your shares to 3-5 mins, if possible!
By 1) creating a quick overview of your experience, 2) getting it out of your brain by putting it into words and speaking it, and 3) creating the dynamic of being witnessed by another human being, you’ve just created your own closing ritual. Congratulations on modeling excellent self-care!
Discover What Your Post-Game Needs Are
Post-Game Needs consist of creating Peace-Of-Mind, Blowing-Off Steam, and Recharging.
In various alternative and Sex-Positive Communities, “After-Care” is what a person needs after they’ve had a agreed upon experience, needs that will aid them in integrating the experience and feeling grounded. A classic example from mainstream culture is that some people need cuddling after sex and that some people need a sandwich or a nap. None of those are better than the other. People need what they need and the idea is that life works better when you get those After-Care needs met.
Whether your kinky or not, Post-Game Needs still apply to you!
Post-Game Needs is a term from when I trained and certified facilitators to run Cuddle Parties, the communication workshop I created in 2004 and launched in New York City with relationship educator Marcia Baczynski. I like the term Post-Game Needs because it includes both immediate After-Care and extends to whatever may be needed after playing whatever game you just played. Like an athlete who needs more than just a shower after a competition, sometimes your needs extend well beyond the “locker room” of life.
Ask yourself, “What do I need after an intense experience to be better than I was before it?” A key to good self-care is always aiming to leave your own campsite better than you found it and not just as you found it!
To blow-off steam or to recharge? That is the question.
Take a look at your life for clues on how you like to unwind/blow-off steam AND how you like to recharge. Blowing-off steam and recharging are often different things. Think of blowing-off steam like a “hard reset” for your body and mind, and recharging as replenishing your reserves.
Sometimes I need to empty my tanks before I can start filling them. After a deep or stressful learning experience or coaching a distraught couple through a tough coaching session, I sometimes need to “dump” the stress and over-stimulation before I try to recharge. This might seem counterintuitive, but, if done right, it actually helps me recharge faster. If I try to recharge while still filled with residual stresses, a need for processing/integration, etc., my recuperation goes slower, feels more clunky, and is less satisfying. Rather than my experience bolstering my life, I feel like I’m struggling just to get back to “normal.” Worst case scenario: I feel like I’m playing catch-up and running at a deficit, which means the experience feels like it had an overall negative impact on my life. Not exactly useful, if you ask me, especially over a life-time of attending __(insert your life changing experience here)__.
Blow-Off Steam vs Recharging Exercise: Write down your top five answers to the following questions….
- What are the ways you like to unwind, to party, to celebrate?
- How do you like to recharge, reward, nourish yourself?
Don’t be surprised if activities find their way onto both lists.
Reid examples: As much as I hate to admit it, booze works really great for me to blow-off steam. Just not too much booze! I’m looking for a buzz, not a hangover. Something that’s on both lists for me: Sex. Sex is great for me to unwind as well as recharge. No wonder I’m a sex educator! Examples from my recharge list: Watching movies, getting massages, and alone time in the bathtub.
The Importance of Peace-Of-Mind
Blowing-off steam and recharging my batteries works better for me when my mind is at peace. If you’re like me, your mind is hard to turn off. When I’m exhausted, my mind is often even more hyper aware. I can’t relax or down-shift my brain, and that inhibits my ability to recharge.
Since I’m not personally a huge user of drugs and am too old now to recover quickly from a wicked hangover, I had to find alternate ways to quiet my mind gently. This ended up being an a-ha moment for me where I realized that Peace-Of-Mind is different than shutting down your brain. I used to use alcohol to blow-off steam while trying to quiet my mind, but I’d end up drinking too much, which, while it quieted my mind, ended up shutting it down for the night and causing me to feel less than reinvigorated the next day. I was using a sledge hammer when what I needed was the tiny rock hammer Andy Dufrain used in Shawshank Redemption. Please understand that I’m not against really “blowing out the pipes” every once in a while. I think it can be cathartic for folks, but not after every time you go to a workshop or have a deep, stressful conversation with your loved ones. As Mark Twain said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation,” but having more choices is useful.
But where do you find these gentle shushers of the brain? The good news is, they’re often hiding right in front of you!
Peace-Of-Mind Needs are often daily needs in one’s life as well, so don’t be afraid to look for clues in your day-to-day life. I usually recommend looking at things which annoy you or drive you. If you’re someone who can’t seem to concentrate unless the dishes in the sink are done, then perhaps that’s a clue that doing the dishes will create some peace… in… your… mind. Viola! You may have discovered a way to satisfy a need that quiets your brain. With your brain sufficiently shushed, you can get more milage out of your blowing-off of steam and recharging. Making sense yet?
An example from my life: I have a need for not falling behind in answering my emails. When I’m not on top of my emails, I feel more distracted and “behind.” When I’m busy for three days attending a conference or running an intensive workshop, come the day after the event, email is weighing on my mind and I’m also exhausted. I used to try to answer all my emails right after leading a weekend workshop to catch-up, but would quickly hit a wall of diminishing returns: The harder I worked at completing my task, the less I got done, which only created more un-ease and feelings of incompleteness. I ended up getting LESS rest, rest which I sorely needed. Yet, if I tried to take the entire day off the day after an event, I was restless and couldn’t relax. Sound familiar?
The added bonus of knowing your Peace-Of-Mind Needs is that you can apply these skills at any time when you need a little peace and quite. Example: When I’m going to take a day off from working, I have learned that if I spend 2-hours answering emails in the morning, I’ll feel more complete and at peace and be able to more fully enjoy the rest of my day off. This was HUGE for me because every time I tried to take a day off, I’d end up thinking about email all day and then beating myself up for thinking email on my day off… Your milage may vary, but I hazard a guess you’ve experienced something similar in your life.
Once you know what your Blowing-Off Steam Needs, Recharge Needs and Peace-Of-Mind Needs are, you can use them separately or stack functions to navigate Re-Entry and Decompression smoothly and powerfully.
Peace of Mind List: Scour your daily and weekend tasks in search for clues to activities that aid in creating a more peaceful environment for you inside and outside your grey matter! Can you list five? How about ten? Who’s got fifteen or twenty?!?
Some examples: Washing the dishes, reading the newspaper, a walk outside, walking your dog, vacuuming (this one’s totally me!), masturbating (me, again!), going to Starbucks for a coffee (guilty as charged!), exercise, cooking.
I invite you to list yours in the FB comment box below!
Implement Your Post-Game Needs And Don’t Apologize For Them
Armed with the self-knowlege of what my Peace-Of-Mind, Blowing-Off Steam and Recharge Needs were, I began stacking functions and testing out what worked best for my Decompression and Re-Entry. Stacking Functions is a term from Permaculture Community as well as various Tech Communities. In permaculture, it’s the concept of interconnecting processes or elements in a system to get many yields. More than one use or benefit per one thing. I like maximizing my return, don’t you?
If I could blow-off steam while creating peace of mind and recharging… I could recover faster from an event, with more ease, and with more pleasure. That was the hope. One solution I found and use a lot now: Reid takes a bath (need for alone time) while reading emails (creating peace of mind) while drinking wine (beginning the blowing-off steam process). In remembering to create such experiences for myself, I avoided diminishing returns while recouping faster. Viola! Successful re-entry!
NOTE: Everyone is different and what works for me will not necessarily work for you, or work in all situations. Alone time for me, especially after a conference or socially dense event where I’m surrounded by people and have to be “on,” helps me shift out of being “on,” which helps with my peace of mind… You might need to go out and have dinner with a large group of friends to talk about things other than what you just experienced to get out of “workshop head” or “conference mode.” For me, taking a bath and drinking a few glasses of wine and skimming emails worked better than trying to take the night off and not touch my computer.
Another tricky example for me: Having sex as a means of blowing-off steam and/or recharging. This was a tricky one for me because sex works for well for recharging me; however, I had to learn that when I’m too tired to have sex, I shouldn’t have sex! D’oh! I know. It seems obvious, but it wasn’t until I figured it out recently. The other tricky part for me is that my partner and I get along better when I return from a teaching trip and have sex as soon as possible. (Remember the Foursome: Body, Mind, Soul, Relationship needs!)
We had to learn the hard way (pun intended), that it was better and more satisfying to wait till the next day or next evening to try to make love because I would be too cranky or distracted or moody because of exhaustion. If we tried to have sex too soon, it would feel like pressure. We’d get into an argument rather than make love, and having an argument while exhausted only made things worse for both of us. Get it?
Better to wait a day to get laid when I was capable of properly giving and receiving the laying!
Trust me, we’re not perfect. I sometimes forget and we screw it up, but knowing what works and what doesn’t, when we make a mistake, also allows us to realize where the glitch it, forgive ourselves for it, and get back on track. It is also super useful for my partner to know my needs because she can support me and remind me, too. And I can do the same for her when she gets home from a book tour or workshop tour… See how that works?!
Exercise: Brainstorm some function stacking of your very own! Write down your answers to the following…
- Three ways you could combine/stack Peace-Of-Mind Needs of yours with a ways you Blow-Off Steam
- Three ways you could combine/stack Blow-Off Steam activities with your Recharge Needs/Activities
- Three ways you could combine/stack Recharge Needs with your Peace-Of-Mind Needs
BONUS MENAGE A TRIOS: Looking over your three lists above, can you figure out a way to stack all three sets of needs/activities - Peace-Of-Mind, Blow-off Steam, and Recharging - into one layered, post-game combo? Talk about efficient recoup time!
Tips For The Thrifty
Party in my room! For the money-wise who enjoy their booze, stock up on your favorite adult beverages and invite your new workshop friends to hang out in your room. It’ll lower your budget and up your social cache. Be sure to pace yourself! Booze can help you relax, but is dehydrating and can knock you off your game for the rest of the event. No shots! Trust me.
Double-Up. If you don’t need a lot of alone time (or if a pair of earplugs and a sleeping mask counts as alone time!), then I highly recommend being the person who emails your favorite speakers at the conference or retreat to ask them if they’d like to share a room with you to keep costs down. So long as you aren’t all creepy and stalker-like, you might be able to save some money while clocking some serious social time with your workshop heroes. Be respectful and don’t keep them up all night blabbing away about how much you love their stuff. They need sleep too. And, truthfully, who doesn’t like to save money on their hotel room!?! Can’t score a speaker? Ask the conference organizer where you can post a room-share request.
Same goes for gas and roadtrips, people! Carpooling isn’t just environmentally responsible, it’s a great way to build community and arrive to an event with a Seminar Buddy already by your side. WORD OF CAUTION: Be careful if one of your post-game needs is alone time. Carpooling to an event might be dandy, but at the end of an intense learning experience, what you really need is just you, your iPod, and the open road. Plan accordingly. Your milage may vary.
Cleanse, anyone? Want to take a break from booze and food costs? I will sometimes elect to do the Master Cleanse or a variation of it during some retreats and conferences, which allows me to save on food/drink costs. I recommend beginning your cleanse at least two days before your conference because, if you’re like me, those first 48-hours of a fast turn me into a grumpy, moody conference goer. This way, you arrive to kickoff your retreat or conference experience juuuuust after Mr. Cranky-Pants Johnson has left the building.
Fasting is also the perfect excuse to skip out on lunch and dinner invites, which can help you avoid getting stuck in those dreadful meal conversations you don’t want to be having but couldn’t help because you didn’t know the person well enough when they invited you to dine with them! And not only am I not hitting the restaurants, I’m not hitting the hotel bar, drinking my speaking fee away, which means I tend to get a little more sleep at night. Do be prepared, if you end up doing something like the Master Cleanse, to be running to the bathroom to pee often during the day! Really. It’s crazy how much you pee! But speaking of sleep, fasting also opens up the opportunity to take well-earned naps during the lunch breaks, too! Double and triple self-care score!
Tips For Saving Time
Meal breaks, especially at hotel conferences, can be a real stress maker since it’s you and a bunch of other hungry attendees descending upon the local restaurants en mass. This invasion slows down service and overwhelms many a kitchen. Before you’ve had your first bite of food, it’s time to head back!
Might I recommend a brilliant solution I gleened from TheIntimacyDojo.com’s Cathy Vartuli? If you’ve got the budget and are pressed for time, ordering room service to be delivered right before your meal breaks allows you to arrive back to your room and eat without the wait.
The frugal option? The tried and true cooler packed O’ food from home, which saves you money AND time, never goes out of style!
Stay An Extra Night Before Going Home
Trust me on this one. If you can afford it -and I know not everyone can timewise or moneywise- don’t rush to the airport and jump on a plane back to your Default World immediately after a conference or intensive workshop. If you can, stay that extra night and just veg out.
- If you can afford it, stay the extra night after the conference or workshop
- Rushing home to “get back to work” is almost always going to create diminishing returns
- Pamper yourself in some mindless way that extra night – watch a movie, take a bath, etc. Do Not Start a New Project!
- Take a “Lay Low Day”
- Declare a No Fighting Till We’re Rested Rule (see below)
- Reconnect sexually/sensually/affectionately with your partner(s) as soon as is feasible, meaning as soon as you have the energy to (see below)
- If you’ve attended the conference/workshop with your partner(s), remind yourself that they need to follow all the above tips as well!
Take A “Lay Low Day”
A “Lay Low Day” is when you set aside, for yourself, at least 1-Off Day after any intense social or learning experience before going back to work. And it doesn’t have to be immediately after the event either.
I like to schedule my Lay Low Day to be the 2nd day after I return from a conference. Why? It allows me to catch up on emails and other Creating Peace-Of-Mind activities so that I can actually relax and begin recharging on my day off. On your Lay Low Day, be sure to do at least 1 thing that is really, really fun and recharging for you – Yes! The name of the game on your Lay Low Day is to pamper yourself!
Figure out what you can front-load and do it! (Includes, catching up on work, cleaning the house, getting plenty of sleep before travel)
DURING THE EXPERIENCE
Take proper care of your body:
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
- Eat high-protein and high-fiber foods
- DON’T rely solely on sugar, booze, and caffiene to get you through.
- Take naps and find alone-time when you can.
- Get closure by reviewing high-lights and low-lights
- Consider re-entry strategies, by examining your Self-Care Foursome (spiritual/mental/physical/relationship needs)
- Write out your Recharge/Blow-Off Steam/Peace-of-Mind needs and figure out how you can get them met at once (dinner with friends, wine in the tub, a nature walk with your sweetie, etc)
- Consider staying an extra day simply to recharge
I hope these ideas and strategies were helpful. Tell me what you think and what strategies YOU use for your Pre-Game, During and Post-Game needs on the Facebook comments section below!