Nothing seems to aggravate my mental health quite like meetings. I hate meetings with a passion. Around the organizations I’m part of, I’m rarely seen at any meeting and even with ones I’m scheduled to appear at there’s a 50/50 shot that I’ll flake out and bail on it.
Why I Hate Meetings
Meetings are a waste of time, especially for the fast-paced growth-focussed environments I’m accustomed. Meetings are where we talk about doing stuff but never actually do anything. That’s frustrating for someone like me who wakes up and tries to accomplish as much as I can before getting too tired to function. For me, meetings just become this period where all activity stalls out.
Even with my anti-meeting reputation, there are still some people that insist on meeting with me. Sure text messages and emails are perfect substitutes 95% of the time but for some people, they just need to see me and talk to me, and that’s a real challenge in my life.
In addition to being a waste of time, meetings bring me a lot of pain and anxiety. I spend the entire day leading up to a meeting in a state of panic. My anxiety is so high I usually can’t accomplish much else for the day. Just because of a meeting!
If that weren’t bad enough, after each appointment, my depression sets in and tries to consume me. So I spend the day before a meeting with panic attacks and the day after a meeting with severe sadness and self-loathing. And that’s pretty much what I commit to every time someone wants time on my calendar.
Whether it’s my weekly small group meeting, a doctor appointment or one of my colleagues that just can’t type out what they want and have to see me face-to-face instead, whenever I commit any time to meeting with other people it’s an opening for immense pain and suffering in my life. That’s why unnecessary meetings particularly frustrate me because I have to endure all the pain for no reason.
If you absolutely must meet with me, or someone else with severe depression and, especially, social anxiety, please incorporate these suggestions to ensure the least amount of pain for someone struggling.
Have an Agenda
If you want to meet with me or someone else with serious social anxiety then present us with an agenda, so we know what to expect. Those of us with anxiety don’t like surprises, and we need to find out what’s coming down the road so we can attempt to keep ourselves calm and limit the symptoms of our illness.
When I have an agenda, I can do a lot of prep work mentally like justifying to myself why I should attend the meeting, calm my mood about certain subjects we’re discussing, and even pray about it, so my anxiety is lower.
I have to do a lot of mental health work just to show up to your meeting so the more information you can present to me ahead of time about what’s going to happen the better for all of us. I won’t freak out as much, and you’ll have a better discussion at the meeting.
Justify Your Need to Meet
I mentioned that I hate unnecessary meetings. I can handle most meetings with a couple of text messages or an email. So please explain to me why it’s imperative that I go through the hell of anxiety and depression to meet with you. Why can’t we text this? Why can’t we just resolve the challenge with an email? If you can just let me know why we must meet, then I can use that later to calm my mood and adjust my attitude. Because if I think we can do it another way, when I have my usual pre-meeting panic attack, I won’t be able to justify it and understand that we must meet to accomplish our goal. You’re not defending the meeting to me. You’re helping me explain the meeting to my anxiety.
Look, if we’re meeting, I don’t want to be there. I’m sorry, that’s reality. When you see me at a meeting, I’ve just come out of a panic attack, and I’m waiting for the pending depressive episode that follows your meeting.
So far I’ve looked over the agenda you provided, worked hard to prepare my part, justified the meeting to my anxiety, had my panic attack, and then I still showed up. Now it’s your turn to work. Don’t be unorganized and haphazard, let’s get down to it and make the most of our time together. I’ve worked hard to get to this point with us, please do your part too.
Don’t Be Late
This rule is a big one. I live in Southern California where everyone is late because of traffic. But I have some people who require meeting with me almost weekly, and they are chronically late. One guy forgets what time it is every other week and shows up 30 minutes or more late and the other guy just doesn’t know how to be on time. My last meeting, he kept me waiting 45 minutes before I canceled on him and left. We never had the meeting.
You need to know that my pre-meeting panic attack doesn’t stop until about 5 minutes into the meeting. So the longer you take to start the longer my panic attack lasts. That one meeting where I was stood up after 45 minutes? Yeah, I had been having a panic attack for about 2 hours prior so he gave me an extra 45 minutes of pain only to have it all be for nothing.
Don’t Be Early
I used to value being 15 minutes early for every appointment. I thought it showed respect for the other person; it showed I was organized and on top of my schedule. Even more, I would note when other people were early and considered it a positive. Nope, not anymore.
If we’re meeting at 10 AM, then I need every single minute to prepare myself emotionally to talk with you. I’m fighting anxiety, anger, depression and I’m forcing myself to show up and not flake on you. If you arrive early, you catch me off guard, and I can’t take a breath before our time together.
From the time we scheduled the meeting (so maybe weeks out) I’ve been preparing myself mentally to be ‘on’ when that clock hits the time we agreed to. When you show up early you fire off the starter’s pistol before I’m ready and I then spend our entire meeting playing catch up emotionally.
Be Mindful of Our End Time
We’re all busy, and a meeting that drags on can kill productivity for everyone involved. But for someone like me, it also extends how long I have to be ‘on’ for you. The entire meeting I’m mentally holding my breath and gritting my teeth trying to smile through the pain and get to the end of the meeting. If the meeting is an hour, I can last an hour. If the meeting is two, I’ll fight for two. But, when you extend our meeting time beyond when I previously expected it to end, I probably don’t have the energy inside me.
Look, I’ve only got nine innings of baseball in me. However long that lasts. But you take me into extra innings; I can’t maintain and, even more, I don’t know how long it will take me to bounce back afterward.
When we’re meeting, it’s not just you and me. It’s you, me, my depression, my anxiety, my anger, my fear, my self-doubt, my pain. As much as I smile and fake it, I’m carrying all this stuff on my shoulders while I’m talking with you. That means I may not always say things the right way or maybe I’ll be too blunt. It’s me just trying to communicate what’s required but often I have to fight through a lot to communicate it to you. So it doesn’t always come out the way it should.
Please be patient. Be patient if I flake, be patient if I say something wrong, be patient with all the baggage I’m dragging into the meeting. This virtue can be a game changer for our time together.
Always Remain Calm
Even if I look calm in our meeting, I’m not. I’m a wreck on the inside. So just like patience, please stay calm. If the conversation gets heated, please work to stay level-headed and keep things positive. I’m trying to do the same thing on my end, but the attempt is futile because of the negativity inside me.
If you can be the calm one, it helps me extinguish the flames from my condition when they flare up because I can focus on fighting those and not you.
I have one scattered business partner that, whenever I meet with him, I end up having to sit there while he answers his emails, his texts, and his phone calls. Why am I required to be at this meeting with you if you’re going to talk to everyone else and work with everyone else but me?
So then I get to battle all the things I’ve discussed above, then sit with you and have you not be present or respectful of our time together? Are you kidding me?
If I’m going to battle anxiety (and post-meeting depression), it better be for a good reason, and that reason is not so that I can sit there while you text your co-workers.
If you want to meet with me, then meet with me. If you want to check your email or answer the phone, then please spare me all the pain I have to go through and don’t demand a meeting with me.
No Surprise Guests
The agenda helps me prepare emotionally for who I’m going to see and what I’m going to talk about with you. If you bring a surprise guest to the meeting, it totally undoes all the prep-work I did and forces me into an anxiety tailspin.
I’ve often canceled meetings just because someone added a surprise guest the day before. I wasn’t able to adjust my anxiety accordingly because I was thrown off on short notice. My default response was just to shut it down.
End with Clear Next Action Steps
Whether you’re dealing with someone with anxiety or not, this is just good practice. Meetings are where actions go to die. We talk about stuff but accomplish nothing.
Don’t end the meeting without a list of actions to take and who is responsible for making them happen. This step will ensure your time together was productive.
Be sure to follow up on those action items and make sure everyone is working to accomplish them. We don’t want the meeting to be a place for ideas but no progress. Action makes progress, so follow up and make sure everyone is working.
I mentioned earlier that I have severe post-meeting depression. After I meet with anyone, my depression spends a day or more telling me why I suck, why I did a bad job in the meeting, why I should just go away and die.
If you send me a text or email or something that validates me and our time together, then I can use that to fight my depression. If I think I sucked in the meeting and was of no value, which is often what my depression tells me, then you giving me evidence of the contrary helps me build the case against my depression and prove it a liar.
Meetings Suck (but you can make them better)
None of these tips will make things pain free for people like me. Meetings just suck for us. But following these tips will dramatically reduce the pain and enhance our quality of life. It will also ensure we’re at our best for your meeting and can make the most of our time together.
On behalf of the millions of people who work daily despite their severe anxiety, thank you for following these tips to make our lives better.
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