When I was 12, I got my first ever copy of an Entertainment Weekly magazine. It was the San Diego Comic-Con edition and from then on going to a con became a life goal of mine. I even had a ranking of which ones I wanted to go to after a few years: San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, Toronto Fan Expo, etc. It was during my senior year of high school that I developed social anxiety that got pretty bad in very large crowds.
I got the extraordinary opportunity to attend New York Comic Con this year, marking the first time I had ever been to a convention in my life. It was a dream come true. Four straight says of every facet of nerd culture with all of my faves in attendance? It was amazing. It was also positively terrifying. With the exception of my family tradition of attending Mardi Gras parades, I had never been around so many people at one time in all my life.
The sense of being overwhelmed came very quickly. At first, it was the kind of overwhelmed that was good: there were so many booths and cosplays and merchandise that I didn’t really know where to look first. I felt like I was seeing so much and nothing at all. Then, I felt incredibly nervous and fidgety. There were too many people and I couldn’t see paths through the crowds. I was too far from the exits. I could feel myself getting irritable and I knew I needed to take a step back.
That being said, I thought it best to make some tips for dealing with comic cons when you have social (or just general) anxiety. If you have other mental illnesses that also make large crowds difficult, these tips can be just as useful.
1) Have a schedule for the days you will be there.
Part of the anxiety I felt being at NYCC was not knowing what to do first. Most comic cons and other types of conventions have apps that have detailed daily schedules of everything going on from panels, photo ops, autographing, and events in the surrounding area. This is super helpful because you can create your own schedule for the con and stick to it which can ease some of the stress of being overwhelmed.
2) Go to the smaller panels.
You might attend a comic convention with the intent of going to that big Doctor Who panel or maybe you want to see a panel on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But when things get a bit crazy on the busy days, you are definitely going to want to recharge and be somewhere where you don’t feel like you’re stuck in a sardine can. Going to smaller panels that tend to be more issue specific can help a lot. Those panels tend to have fewer people in them and can be a good way to take a break and see some quality programming.
3) Don’t be afraid to take a day off.
When attending comic conventions, you tend to not want to miss anything. But if you have your schedule for each day planned out exactly, you may realize some days are heavier than others are. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of one of the light days to explore the city you’re in and actually try to get away from the convention center for a bit. Sometimes, you just need to recharge and remember why you wanted to come to the convention in the first place.
4) Go with some friends.
From my own experience, cons tend to be more fun if you’re going with friends or family. There is also a bit more reassurance that comes with knowing someone in a huge crowd of strangers. There’s the fun of being in a new city with your friends and being able to have a good time while you’re there. Staying in a hotel or AirBnB with your friends/family can be really cool because you can gather and watch movies, hang out, or do whatever else you and your friends do for fun.
5) It’s okay to let go and have fun.
Remember why you wanted to come to a comic convention. Whether you just wanted to check one out simply for the sake of doing it or whether you’re a super nerd who has made it your life’s ambition to attend a con, remember that you’re there to have a good time and be yourself. Yes, it can be overwhelming at times, but it’s important to do what you can to work through that. Take a few deep breaths and remember that you are going to okay.
What are some other ways that people with anxiety can navigate comic cons? Leave your responses in the comments below!