The winter holidays are a gauntlet of awkward social situations and none are quite so panic inducing as holiday parties. Whether it’s an office function, a family party, a neighborhood event or a charity gala, the thought of navigating a holiday party when you experience social anxiety is akin to spending a night in hell. But it doesn’t have to be so bad. With these 10 tips, you’ll be navigating your holiday parties like a pro.
1. Commit to Going or Bow Out Early
Before you ever even commit to going to the party, make sure you aren’t overbooked. Anxiety means you might need a day or two to prepare mentally for a party and might need a few days to recover. If your schedule is clear, commit to going. The worst that happens is that you end up not going.
If you can’t talk yourself out of your anxiety over going to the party, call the host or the person who invited you sooner rather than later. Explain politely that something has come up, but that you truly appreciate the invitation and would love to catch up with them in the future, perhaps in a more intimate get-together.
2. Mentally Prepare Yourself
Chances are good that you’ve already learned a number of coping mechanisms for easing your anxiety. The day of the party, prepare yourself. Treat yourself well. Exercise, take a bubble bath and eat your favorite treat. Indulge in all the little things that make you feel good so that you’ll be less likely to stress about the upcoming event. Even if your brain has you convinced the party will be a disaster, at least you treated yourself to a stellar day.
3. Bring a Friend
If you’ve got a friend who knows about your social anxiety, bring him or her with you. They can help ease you into conversations, help navigate the tough parts of socializing at parties, include you in activities and if need be, lend a supportive ear if you need to vent. A friend who understands social anxiety can be a lifeline in a terrifying situation like a holiday party.
4. Arrive Early or On Time
When a party is in full swing, it can be overwhelming. People already have their groups and are chattering away without a care in the world. Where do you start? How do you interject yourself into the situation? Aim to arrive at the party on time or even a little bit early so you can ease yourself into the action as other guests arrive.
5. Ask Questions
If small talk terrifies you, ask people about themselves. People are almost always willing to talk about themselves and you’ll have to do little more than listen to them. If it goes well, the conversation will flourish. If not, you’ll learn a little something about someone else.
Stick to innocuous topics like how they like the food, compliment them on their outfit and ask where they got it or even discuss the weather. Keep a mental tab of conversation starters and try to get your fellow party-goers to open up about themselves so that none of the pressure is on you.
6. Avoid Stimulants and Depressants
It’s already hard enough to cope with social anxiety, you don’t need extra chemicals clouding your judgment and making you doubt yourself (because you CAN do this and WILL get through it!).
Avoid coffee and caffeine which can add to your jitters. Nicotine, too, can exacerbate anxiety. And as tempting as it is, stay away from the alcohol. It won’t loosen up your inhibitions and you’ll spend the rest of the night worrying about whether you’re too tipsy or making a fool of yourself.
It should go without saying, but any illicit substances need to stay out of your body as well. The best way to control your social anxiety is to keep your wits about you and you can’t do that if you’re inebriated or otherwise under the influence.
7. This, Too, Shall Pass
Very little in this world is permanent. Even the largest rocks eventually erode into sand. This experience will pass at the end of the night and whether you’re glad you went or miserable because of it, it’ll be over. Keep in mind that everything is impermanent and that each moment is a chance to improve your social skills and have some fun.
If you see someone playing a game or having a conversation, join in. Even if you feel awkward, trying to get in on the action is better than just standing there wondering what to do. If you’re busy playing a party game or chatting about the latest blockbuster release, you’re less likely to worry about everything under the sun. Ease yourself into interactions with others at your own pace.
9. Take Breaks
There’s no shame in stepping out for a breath of fresh air. Slip out of the party as needed to find a quiet place to calm your nerves, but resolve that you’ll go back in when you start feeling better. There are no rules that say you have to be in the middle of the action 100% of the time.
Take a few deep breaths, calm yourself, don’t replay any perceived social boo-boos in your head and walk back into that party with your head held high.
10. Have an Exit Plan
You know your limits on social interaction, so set yourself a time limit and leave by that time. Have an exit plan in mind if you need to leave sooner. You could arrange to check in with a friend who could provide an excuse if you need to leave urgently because you’re too overwhelmed. However, most of the time finding the host and simply saying “Thank you for inviting me, I’ve had a lovely time but I have to get up early tomorrow,” is enough to allow you to make a smooth exit.