Surviving the Holiday Work Party When You Have Social Anxiety

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

The holidays are approaching and we all know what that means! Holiday work parties!

For many, it’s a time to eat, drink and be merry with reckless abandon. For those with social anxiety, it’s a blight on the calendar, a “do I really have to?” and “maybe I just won’t go?” cringe-fest.

As someone who struggles with social anxiety myself, I have had my share of dreading holiday work parties.

I’ve also gone to a number of them over the years, and I’ve never regretted going…after the fact.

I once had a friend tell me: “Make yourself go out. You’ll never regret having done something as opposed to skipping it.” I tend to agree with this philosophy. Office holiday parties can, under the right circumstances, be fun and a great way to socialize with your coworkers.

But it’s not always east getting getting yourself there. So in today’s post, I’m going to share six effective strategies for surviving the holiday work party when you have social anxiety.

Buddy Up

Pick a friend, a coworker you get along with, or invite an outside guest if you’re allowed to do so. If you’d like, you can let this person know ahead of time that you feel a little awkward in social settings and would appreciate their support during the event. Maybe you’ll find someone who also feels ill at ease in these scenarios, and you can be each other’s wing-person. You can set up a plan to check in with one another periodically, or if you want to do the same activities during the party, plan to do them together. You might be surprised to learn how many other people feel awkward at these kinds of professional/social events and would love to have you in their corner as well.

Decide What Will Be Fun For You

And then do it. It helps to know ahead of time what types of activities will be offered at the gathering. I’ve gone to holiday work parties with everything from karaoke, to buffets, to photo booths, to raffles, to acrobatic performances, to casino games, and more. You know yourself best and you know what types of activities you find the most enjoyable. It’s important for you to get something positive out of this party, too, so make sure you do the things that will be fun for you.

Choose a Social Anxiety Goal to Work On

Knowing you have social anxiety is half the battle. Don’t beat yourself up about it or wish you were different. Be compassionate with yourself, but also figure out beforehand how you can stretch yourself a little outside your comfort zone during this event. Doing this will give you a sense of accomplishment and will also help you grow, possibly paving the way for decreased social discomfort in the future. Set your goal ahead of time and then knock it out. Maybe your goal will be to start a conversation with three new people. Maybe you want to practice sitting with the discomfort of natural silence in a conversation. Or maybe you want to get up and sing karaoke in front of all your colleagues. If it’s the last option, are you sure you actually have social anxiety? (Just kidding.)

Don’t Drink to Avoid Your Discomfort

There is nothing wrong, of course, with enjoying some spirits during the holidays. If you have social anxiety, however, you may feel tempted to overindulge in an attempt to numb or reduce your nerves. This can easily backfire, as I’m sure many of us can attest to. CBT therapists have a saying: “Avoid avoidance.” Drinking to to simply enjoy the moment is different from drinking to avoid your uncomfortable emotions. Keep this in mind and if you sense that you want to sip on some bubbly to escape how you’re feeling, try replacing this with a more positive coping skill, such as mindfulness, taking a short break from socializing, or talking to a supportive friend.

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Know Your Asparagus Breaking Point

My friend (who also happens to be a therapist) introduced me to this one and I love it. She’s an introvert, and unashamed of the fact that for her, social interactions feel more draining than energizing.

So what is an “Asparagus Breaking Point”? Imagine holding a bundle of raw asparagus in both hands, then twisting your hands to break the bundle in half. The asparagus will flex and give up to a certain point, and then it will snap in half. Your Asparagus Breaking Point will be unique to you. It is the point at which you know you have reached your limit and need to start saying your goodbyes and grabbing your coat.

Each person has unique warning signs that tell them they’re approaching their Asparagus Breaking Point. Maybe you’ll start to feel a little punch-drunk, or irritable, shaky or burned out. Maybe you’ve made the rounds and now feel totally exhausted. Know how to tell when your Asparagus Breaking Point is approaching, and honor it.

**Extra note: If you think you might use the Asparagus Breaking Point as an excuse to cut out of the festivities super early (i.e. avoidance), set a minimum time-spent-at-party goal for yourself (an hour, two hours, etc.) and don’t allow yourself to leave before then.

Plan a Recharge Afterwards

So you’ve survived the holiday work party. Not only did you maybe have some…fun? But you also stretched outside of your comfort zone, talked to some new people and (hopefully) enjoyed some delicious free food. Now it’s time to pat yourself on the back with a recharge reward. For you, it may look like going home and spending the rest of the evening with your cats (no judgement). Or listening to your favorite music, watching a show you love, picking up dessert on the way home. Make sure you treat yourself to something nice and give yourself a chance to recharge and recover…before the next big holiday bash.

What are your favorite tips for navigating office holiday parties? Share in the comments below.


4 thoughts on “Surviving the Holiday Work Party When You Have Social Anxiety

  1. This article reminds me of an old Woody Allen joke. He would take a women’s sweater to the party, keep it on his arm and tell people his date was in the bathroom. Still makes me giggle after all these years.

    Liked by 1 person

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