A simple solution for meltdown

Often when I travel, it’s to give speeches and workshops. Last week, I was in the audience for a change, attending a conference by speakers for speakers.

I like going to conferences—the stimulation, the connection. But it’s also exhausting and draining. All those ideas crammed into my head for days in a row. All that intensive notetaking. All the small talk. After a couple of days I melt down—hyper and spacy at the same time, overcaffeinated, overstuffed, worried about whether I’m getting everything I came for, and incapable of articulating a coherent sentence.

I tried something different this time, something I took away from the Wisdom 2.0 Conference last February. At that conference last winter,  I was surprised that I didn’t go into Conference Burnout, and that I was able to relax and enjoy the experience more than I typically do. One reason is that, every day, everyone in the general sessions spent a few minutes sitting in silence. OK, this was unusual! — maybe not for the mindfulness community, but certainly for a conference setting. I found myself letting go a bit of my standard fretting over what semi-famous people I must try to connect with, what action points I must act on. I was able to let things unfold. I even offered, and led, a spontaneous breakout session on one of my workshop topics.

Hitting “pause”

So a few times at last week’s conference, when I felt meltdown approaching, I just paused. Wherever I was—standing by the coffee bar, sitting in a meeting room waiting for the next speaker—I closed my eyes and took a few slow breaths.

It worked. I got my brain and body back.

I had some minor concerns about whether this looked weird. It seemed like the majority of people didn’t notice—they were too busy running around being hyperstimulated themselves. Invariably, though, after a minute or two, somebody would come over and say, “Oh, meditating, eh?” or “Having a quiet moment?”  At that point, part of my mind would wonder, “Huh, what would make a person interpret closed eyes as an invitation to come over and chat?” A bigger part of me was receptive and found it kind of cute. Maybe they were looking for a little vicarious calmness. Maybe they were just curious about this unexpected behavior. I rolled with it and had some pleasant, quiet conversations—more testament to the benefits of breathing.



  1. This is very cool, Janet! Although I have to wonder about those people who interrupted your silence, too–maybe they were just so subsumed by conference hyperness themselves that they spontaneously gravitated toward someone who was actually DOING some of what they needed themselves! Glad you at least had a few pleasant conversations out of it.

    One of the things I’m continually amazed by as I practice this kind of pausing myself (and believe me, I’m only JUST starting to remember to do it every now and then) is how little time it actually takes. 1-2 minutes of simple, mindful breathing, without any agenda other than to pay attention and try to let other thoughts go, usually results in much more centeredness than I’d expect from such a short amount of time.

    Not always–but often enough to make the continued practice worth it. 🙂

  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Michelle – Right, maybe they knew what they needed. 🙂 And those brief moments really count!

  3. Interesting that it took directed/forced silence to remember the value there is in quieting the mind. I’ve done TM (transcendental meditation) for 36 years. It has proved to be an extraordinary tool to raise my level of effectiveness.

  4. I really like this tip. It reminds me of one of my friends who always pauses and thinks before she speaks. She does it every time she’s about to speak. It’s such a stark contrast to just about every other person I’ve met, including myself, who rarely thinks properly before speaking.

  5. Janet Bailey says:

    @Vince – I’m grateful for every reminder to quiet the mind. 😉

    @Trisha – I have a friend like that too. It took me a while to get used to her pauses, but I’ve come to appreciate them and to know that what she says is worth waiting for.

  6. Waverly says:

    Janet, thanks for this. I’m such an introvert, conferences exhaust me. Just went to a little four-hour writing conference in Mount Vernon and came home and sat in front of the TV like a zombie for four hours. And I’m going to be on panel at AWP, a really huge 3-day conference in Chicago. I was worried about how I was going to get through it. Now I have a great tip. I don’t think we’ll be doing any sitting around in silent meditation as a group, however.

  7. Sixteen 8 says:

    your blog is great in general. i also blog about time management. i am sure i can get lots of ideas from you that i can post…thank you so much….

  8. Janet Bailey says:

    @Sixteen 8 – Thanks for the compliment and for stopping by.

    @Waverly – I’m right down the middle on the introvert-extrovert scale. I crave human contact, but it tires me out—I really relate to your post-conference zombie session in front of the TV. Glad this tip is helpful, and congratulations on being on the AWP panel—sounds like a star-studded and exciting (if exhausting) event!

  9. Pressing pause is awesome advice! I often have to remind myself that!

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