I have holiday party anxiety-here’s how I deal

We’ve officially reached “that time of year.” Kitchens smell of sweet things and empty wallets weep from the never-ending gift purchasing. No matter what you celebrate or who you celebrate with, there often comes a time when attendance to some sort of holiday party is necessary. If you’re anything like me (read: introverted recluse writer/part-time running store associate), leaving the house once in a while is one of life’s cruel jokes. You get to put something on more than sweats and it’s a great opportunity to connect with people outside of the internet and use, you know, your words – out loud.

But going to events and parties isn’t always “fun” for people like me. The stress of the invitation may begin with what will I wear and somehow evolve all the way to WHO AM I?! It’s a fast-track to downer-ville and the irony of the whole thing is, if I weren’t invited, I’d be even more bummed. Being an anxiety-filled human is super complicated. (And by all means, if you have serious anxiety the number one thing to do is see a professional. I’m not a doctor! These are just a few things that work for me.) If office party anxiety has you all tangled up in lights, here’s how I cope.

I always have something to keep my hands busy.

I’ve had a worry-stone for over a year now and while it doesn’t completely stop me from clawing at my skin when my nerves act up, it helps. If you’re of the scratching/tugging kind (me), there should always be some sort of distraction within reach. You can also use a squeeze ball as a means to tame the tension, or if you’re really anxious, sit on your hands altogether. You might look strange but your comforted insides will thank you.

I decide a time-limit beforehand

I’m routine-focused so if I RSVP a definitive “yes, I will be there” it will induce anxiety just knowing I’ve committed to leaving the house. Being cooped up makes me forget how to do people stuff. To deal, I tell myself ahead of time I will stay one hour and then, if I’m still uncomfortable, I will leave. It’s that simple. Sometimes, no matter what you do to prepare, panic ensues in the middle of that hour. However, you’re number one priority is self-care. If you need to leave in the middle of the event, so be it. If your nerves won’t settle, alert the host/hostess upon arrival you might need to duck out so not to disrespect. No shame in that! And hopefully, you’re surrounded by compassionate, understanding people who understand anxiety happens. But number one: Take care of you, boo.

I limit my caffeine or alcohol intake

For the love of all things, if you’re an anxious person (again, me!) drinking that extra shot of espresso to wake you up for the event, or having an adult beverage to loosen you up within the group, can be bad news. It might seem like a given but when you’re surrounded by people having a good time, it’s only natural to want to join in. I know I have. But adding caffeine may only make you more jumpy or, on the flip side, too much alcohol could leave you in a puddle of tears on the bathroom floor. Sip one wine or beer, or even just have some sparkling water and get on with your bad self.

Remember to take it easy on yourself

We’re all human and we all have our own private battles. All you can do is your best and if that doesn’t work, it’s OK. If you have a bad night where anxiety got the best of you, despite giving it your all, don’t agonize. Sleep on it and move on. The thing about anxiety is, it doesn’t care who you are, what you have planned, or where you are when it flares up. I’ve been in the line at the grocery store when it’s gone full-on high alert. The stress and intrusive thoughts will try to wreck your life Do your best not to let it rule. And those times it feels like it has, shake it off. Tomorrow is another day.

Confide in someone

Having a social disorder is lonely. While you may really want to be involved, there are parts of your brain that prevent it from being plausible. There were many times I’ve gone to staff meetings with my heart beating out of my chest and I have no idea why. Or, I’ve avoided things I wished I gone to because I couldn’t put myself in whatever situation for whatever reasons. What I’ve found is, talking to someone about my fears puts me more at ease and helps me come up with a strategy. If the person understands I’m a nervous wreck, they might not judge my weird and sometimes irrational behavior because they know I don’t want to feel this way. So open up. You might be surprised to know that people do care.

Remember—it’s supposed to be fun

You can spend all night listing the negatives but at the end of the day, this is supposed to be a season filled with giving and warmth. If you have an office party on the agenda, go. If it’s family-focused, go. Remind yourself that the core of the invite is about the holiday. So even if only for a little bit, ignore those voices and put yourself out there. You might even have fun.

If all else fails, I don’t go

Seriously. If it’s that stressful, don’t put yourself through it. Like I said, I’ve bailed on a few things because the thought of the whole shebang ate me up. If these thoughts lingered to the point of causing a panic attack, it’s obvious, I’d just sit it out, regardless of the good times I might miss. BUT, in retrospect, I missed out on a lot of things. Jokes. Stories. Laughs. Memories. Even if I knew beforehand I’d be the lonely 5th wheel at an all couples table, I’d still regret not going once the event passed so it literally comes down to a choice: to put myself out there or stay home and wonder. In the end, I decided the only way to know is to go and you know what? I had a great time.

By putting yourself out there, you might discover a holiday get together isn’t as stressful as the scenario you cooked up in your mind. You might even enjoy yourself. Take it from me. You don’t want to live a life through other people’s good time photos but instead, in them.

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