December is a month of endless holiday party invitations, which for some people means endless social anxiety. It’s exhausting and uncomfortable to try to appear witty and graceful around acquaintances you want to impress. It’s draining to be “on” every night of the week. You want to have a few drinks to loosen up, but the next day you worry you embarrassed yourself. Sometimes you just need a break, but you feel guilty when you no-show or leave early to take care of yourself. The season of holiday cheer can start to feel like a season of torture.
What can you do to manage your anxiety and make it through the social pressures of the holiday season?
- Be realistic about how much socializing you can manage. Where do you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum? Some people can go to a party every night and feel great, others find their emotional battery drains after one event and they need a few days to fully recharge. Check in with yourself — how much socializing is comfortable for you?
- Push yourself to a productive edge. Your presence at a holiday party may be important to friends, bosses, clients, or other people in your life. Try stretching yourself a little past what’s comfortable — if two events a week is usually your max, try scheduling in three per week during this season.
- When you do choose to say no, do it with grace and acceptance. When you need to take an evening off and spend time alone, let yourself feel good about your decision. You need to take care of yourself! Too often we spend alone time beating ourselves up for not going out, or wavering back and forth about whether it’s not too late to get dressed and go out after all. When you do that, you don’t actually get the full benefit of recharging, because your anxiety is draining your battery. Let yourself really luxuriate in the solitude and quiet so you get the benefit from it, and are ready to go out to the next event.
- Be kind and honest when you decline: “My calendar is full that week! I’ll be there in spirit!” You don’t have to say outright that you need to stay home and take a bath, but resist the urge to invent some other event you’re not actually attending or some crisis that isn’t happening. Keeping up white lies creates a whole other layer of anxiety. Make a mental note to prioritize your next invite from that person.
- Give yourself time (or other treats) to help yourself recover. If you are stretching yourself to be more social than usual, make sure you are taking care of yourself in other ways. Buy yourself a little treat as a reward. Sneak out of work for a long, solo lunch to give yourself some quality alone time. Take an extra yoga class so you have a good excuse to turn your phone off for a couple hours.
- Breathe! When you are at a party and feeling overwhelmed, try focusing on your breath for a few cycles. Silently count your inhale and exhale, trying to make your out-breath twice as long as your in-breath. This can help turn off the fight-or-flight anxiety response and calm you down. Or, take a break. Go outside, in a separate room, or even to the bathroom, and enjoy the hell out of those few minutes of alone time.
- When in doubt, be honest. Despite what you may think and how other may appear, almost everyone feels some amount of anxiety at parties. If you’re strapped for a small talk subject, try just naming how you are feeling in that moment. You might be surprised how many other people are also feeling a bit anxious or exhausted from talking to so many people. It’s often a relief to be real about how you are feeling, and you can make a really genuine connection with someone feeling the same. So much better than another conversation about the weather or how busy you both are.