Watch any Hallmark Christmas movie and you’ll see a winter wonderland filled with family and friends, baking cookies, holiday shopping, and a lot of celebration. While I’m fully on board with festive movie marathons and indulging in the traditions that come with the holiday season, there is one part of it that peaks my anxiety: holiday parties.
Between the office holiday party, annual family get-together, Friendsmas potluck, and white elephant exchange, it can feel like every weekend is committed to a social gathering. As an introvert with social anxiety, it’s hard to keep up with the constant holiday celebrations, but I’ve learned to prepare for such events in a way that I can enjoy the night and check my anxiety at the door. Ahead, the tips I keep in my back pocket to help me get through holiday parties with ease.
Social anxiety doesn’t just occur at social events. It usually arrives well before the party has even begun, which is why it’s important to set yourself up for success ahead of time. My getting-ready routine not only involves a good playlist and make-up tutorial, but also setting aside some time to meditate before heading out. Meditation is already a part of my daily routine, but on a night when I’m attending a big event that I know will trigger my anxiety, I’ll add a 10-20 minute guided meditation sesh (through either the Unplug or Superhuman app) beforehand to help calm my nerves and get me in the right headspace. Just by prioritizing meditation, I can walk out the door feeling ready to socialize with confidence.
2. Practice an affirmation
Affirmations often go hand-in-hand with meditation practices, but I find they’re also particularly helpful on their own to repeat to yourself during situations that may cause anxiety. The benefits come from repeating the word or phrase over and over again, which creates a focal point to align yourself in the present moment. You can create your own affirmations specific to the situations that cause you social anxiety or you can try some more general sayings, like “I am a friendly person,” “I am confident,” “I enjoy meeting new people,” and “I am relaxed in social situations.” Practicing an affirmation before or during a social event can be a great aid in working through any social anxiety that may arise.
3. Bring a friend
Experiencing any mental health struggles can be especially difficult during this season, but the good news is you don’t have to go it alone. Despite the common perception that we have to face our struggles around anxiety on our own, having friends by my side who understand my anxiety has made it much easier for me to navigate social events. If there’s a party I don’t feel comfortable going to alone, I bring a friend. If simply the idea of attending a social event solo causes anxiety, bring someone you trust and who can be your support system throughout the night as your plus one. You just might find yourself so wrapped up in the holiday spirit that you forget why you were even anxious about attending the event in the first place.
4. Have a plan
For me, the lead-up to any event is when my anxiety creeps up. My mind often races between thoughts like, “What if I have no one to talk to?” and “What if I get stuck seated next to someone I don’t know?” I obsess over what time to arrive, what to wear, who is attending, and what will happen at the event. It can become so overwhelming that oftentimes it feels easier to just not attend at all. But over the years, I’ve learned not to let my anxiety get in the way of having fun, because yes, holiday parties can be a lot of fun! You just have to be mentally prepared with a game plan.
Anxiety takes over when you feel a lack of control, so for starters, I think of every social anxiety-inducing situation that could happen at the party and come up with a plan. One might be standing alone and not feeling comfortable joining a conversation. In that case, make your way to a space you feel comfortable in and that will make it easier for you to socialize, like the bar/food area or even the bathroom (a lot of people love to socialize in restrooms of restaurants, bars, etc.). You can even have some questions in the back of your mind to ask people if you feel stuck, such as “What are your plans for the holidays?”
5. Congratulate yourself
Living with social anxiety can feel like an ongoing battle. Sometimes you don’t know when or how it will arise. So when you do have to face it, whether at a holiday party or a work dinner, it’s important to remember that just leaving the house is a win. Congratulate yourself for putting on that LBD and spending a couple of hours in a social situation that may make you want to run home and crawl into bed. Try making a list of all the little wins you had that evening, and remember them the next time you are attending a social event. We often forget to stop and take note of what we’ve accomplished, which includes surviving social anxiety during the holiday season.