Chelsey Falco
November 27, 2013 8:00 am

Remember when I talked about how to manage your fear of parties? Well, that only covered house parties. It’s almost Thanksgiving, which means it’s basically Christmas. The nights of house parties are on hiatus, and we’re entering the month of holiday parties.

As terrifying as house parties are, there’s nothing more intimidating than a holiday party. Growing up, my best friend’s family threw a big holiday party every year. Even though it was at my best friend’s house and she would be by my side, I dreaded going. It wasn’t just a party with my bestie. I also had to deal with her cousins, church friends, old family friends and countless other people I never met before. I just wanted to hang out with my friends! I didn’t want to mingle with strangers!

That’s the problem with holiday parties. It’s never just a party with friends or family. No matter how small the guest list, the parties are always full of office friends, old neighbors, and cousins visiting from out of town. If you’re like me and get very anxious at parties—especially parties full of strangers—holiday parties are torture. Unfortunately, holiday parties are often unavoidable. My parents always drag me to at least one party every holiday season, and I always hate it. Thankfully, I’ve developed a set of skills to get through a holiday party without a panic attack. If you find yourself stuck at a party, forced to mingle with old family friends who keep asking you about your future plans, follow this advice to survive the party:

  1. Find the pet. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it’s the best thing to do when you’re uncomfortable at a party. There’s always a dog or cat wandering around the party and looking for affection. Sure, scraps of food and the occasional pat on the head is nice for the pet, but they want someone to sit with them and play. So find the pet, and make them your best friend. If the hosts don’t have any pets, then find a toddler and talk to them. Basically, you need to find the least intimidating animal or person in the room and strike up a friendship.
  2. Keep eating. Holiday parties have the best food, so as soon as you get to the party, find the food table, and don’t leave it. Become an expert on all the dishes! Eat all the good food before greedy partygoers get to it before you! And a mouth full of food is the best way to avoid talking to someone. The issue with hanging by the food table is that you will probably encounter every guest at some point, but at least they’ll like you because you can tell them the brownies are delicious but the cookies are stale. You can be the hero of the party! And if you’re going to mingle, you might as well be a hero.
  3. Watch the big game. This is a very advanced move, but in my experience, there is a group of people hiding out in a living room and watching the big football/basketball/hockey game at every holiday party. They don’t want to be there either, but their spouse or parents or friend forced them to go, and they’re making the best of it by watching TV. Even if you don’t like sports, those are your people. Find them, and join them. You don’t have to watch the game with them or even sit on the couch with them, but hang out in that room. Read a book or have a drink. The less you try to make small talk, the better you’ll fit in!
  4. Keep your eyes on your phone. I used to just text myself at parties, but I realized that was pathetic and boring. Now, I send out a few texts to my friends and hope one of them is free to entertain me. Tell them you’re bored at a party, and I’m sure they’ll understand and keep the conversation going. Play a game with them by texting a series of emojis that describe the plot of a movie or TV show and make them guess the title. Or you can break out the solitaire or Candy Crush and play a game alone. Your phone is full of possibilities to entertain you. Just make sure you make a lot of concerned or shocked faces. That way people will think you’re having an important conversation and not being rude.
  5. What if the party is at your house? Hide in your room, but don’t hide for the whole party. Go to your room and read a chapter of a book or watch an episode of something on Netflix, then go back to the party. After 45 minutes of mingling, return to your room and repeat the process. As long as you make occasional appearances at the party, people won’t notice that you spent half of the night hiding. I even do this at small family gatherings. When socializing at your house gets stressful, remember that you always have the option to take a breather in your own room.

The holiday season can be stressful enough without having to deal with social anxiety. Some of these might sound like jokes, but these are the steps that get me through holiday parties. I’m only 22. I’m fairly certain that, as I get older, I’ll be forced to go to more holiday parties. It’s too soon for me to write them off forever, so I have to do whatever I can to survive the holiday season. If you find yourself trapped at a Christmas party with a family friend’s boss’s cousin, keep these tips in mind. And please share some of your tips in the comments! Thursday is the start of the holiday party season, and we need to prepare.

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