Dreading the holiday party season? If you would rather stay home than hobnob over egg nog, you are not alone. Even the most self-assured people approach parties with trepidation, says Thomas Ellis
, PsyD, ABPP, director of Psychology for The Menninger Clinic.
“Practically everyone at a party is nervous, at least at first. They may not show it, but most people describe themselves as shy.”
Dr. Ellis offers the following tips on navigating the anxiety-inducing holiday party scene:
Prepare yourself mentally. Socially anxious people often view parties as hostile environments, populated with highly critical people. That’s not usually the case, Ellis says. “Reassure yourself that these are going to be nice people, and you are going to be fine,” Dr. Ellis says. And if people aren’t nice? “That’s not the end of the world. It is really important that you don’t have to be liked by every single person.”
Avoid the pressure to entertain. If you are shy or have an introverted personality, don’t feel you have to transform yourself into an extrovert. Trying to be something that you are not will up your anxiety level. “If you are someone who likes to listen, that is a strength,” Dr. Ellis says. “Ask the people you meet questions about their work, family or where they grew up. Most people love talking about themselves.”
Plan your party strategy. Advance planning helps ease party anxiety. Ask a spouse or friend to accompany you for support. If going to a party alone, arrive early so that you can meet people before party goers separate into cliques. If you arrive later, ask the host to make introductions. But don’t hesitate to join a conversation. “You are not invading someone’s private conversation,” Dr. Ellis reassures. “Start listening, and then wait for an opportunity to join in.”
Limit alcohol. A drink or two helps loosen inhibitions, but more than that can lead to problems. “Many times, people use alcohol to try to make the anxiety go away. But in excess quantities we end up doing things we regret,” he says.
Leave when you’ve had enough. While extroverts like to party into the wee hours of the night, introverts enjoy being with people in small doses. So if you’ve been at a party for an hour or two, and are ready to leave, thank the host or hostess and don’t feel guilty. “The party is for you to enjoy. Whether you enjoy it a little bit, or a lot, is really up to you.”