It's my work Christmas party tonight, and I have both a shiny new dress and anxiety. Shall we figure out how to manage it together? Read on!
Ahh, the work Christmas party. Trying to sit next to your friendly work colleagues whilst avoiding the person you have nothing in common with and who will probably want to talk to you about [insert your preferred boring topic here] all night, or - worse - might actually want to talk about work! Add in anxiety and it can seem like there's really no point in putting yourself through it.
But wait - you've worked hard all year, surely you deserve to have a good evening without anxiety getting in the way? Or at least try to! I've got some tips, based on my own experience and observations, of how to both survive and thrive at a work Christmas party when you struggle with anxiety (and hopefully by the time any of my colleagues read this, it will be over for another year and they can't point out my coping mechanisms!)
First, and I can't stress this enough, you don't have to go if you don't want to. No matter how many times your co-workers say you're "boring," or you're "letting the team down," it doesn't matter - £40 for some half-warm turkey and a glass of cheap plonk sometimes isn't worth it (if you work somewhere where you get your Christmas party paid for, then please disregard that!). BUT if you're only not going because your anxiety makes it difficult, that's not a good reason as far as I'm concerned. You deserve to spend time with your work colleagues in a more relaxed environment, and to see the events that will become the talk of the office first-hand rather than hearing about them on Monday morning. If you feel like you might want to go, here are my top tips:
I also know how this is going to sound, but if I could only give one piece of advice it would be this: don't drink alcohol. I don't know about you, but when I'm anxious I often struggle to know what to do with myself. If I have something in my hand like a drink, I'm likely to just keep drinking it until it's gone as a way of managing my anxiety, and if it's an alcoholic drink...well, that means that I end up downing three glasses of prosecco pretty quickly, which doesn't end well for anyone involved!
In addition, alcohol alters your perception of what you think is acceptable behaviour. That means that you can easily tell your co-workers exactly what you think of them under the guise of alcohol making you "more confident," which might not be the best idea when you have to face them on Monday morning and work with them for the next year. You don't want to wake up the day after the party wondering what you said, because that's likely to increase your anxiety and make it harder for you to go to a party again...and when you do go, you'll turn to alcohol to ease your nerves, making for a pretty unpleasant cycle.
There's always that one co-worker who tries to get you to drink at parties. That's more of a reflection of what they need to have a good time than it is on you, trust me. Being the most sober person in the room has saved me loads of times from making truly epic mistakes, and being the drunkest person in the room, whilst fun, has ruined my night (and my day after) more times than I can count. When you have an anxiety issue, it's really not worth it. If you want one drink, have one - but stop there. If you know you won't stop, then don't have any. I promise you, two hours into the evening nobody will notice or care that you're not drinking alcohol.
When you have anxiety everything can feel like it's too much. When you know that you're going into a new situation, it's especially important to feel comfortable, so that probably means that you shouldn't do anything beforehand that makes you uncomfortable. No new heels that you can't walk in. No "interesting" eyeliner, or shirt that is eye-catching but too tight after food. DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR BEARD. Yes I'm being slightly tongue-in-cheek, but you're already going to spend half the night over-analysing everything you say. Why add an internal voice saying "can anyone see that my dress is too tight? What if I fall over in these shoes? Does my hair look ridiculous like this?" Aside from anything else, anxiety is exhausting - don't give it more fuel to feed on.
If small talk is your idea of a nightmare, it can be a good idea to have a few "safe topics" that you can bring out when needed. People think that because I'm a psychologist I should be good at small talk, but very little of my job actually qualifies as "small" talk, and my anxiety can often cause my mind to go blank. My personal favourite "safe topics" are "so where did you go on holiday this year?" and "what are you doing for Christmas then?" The follow-up questions stem naturally from there - if you work in an office with enough people, they can't expect you to remember everything they've done over the last year. If all else fails, excuse yourself to the bar for another mocktail and find someone else to talk to when you come back!
Above all, remember you don't have to stay there forever. You don't live in the restaurant now and like all things, this Christmas party will end. It's a few hours of your life that you'll never get back, but might give you a useful opportunity to socialise with the people you spend the most time with outside your immediate family. If all else fails, promise yourself that you'll stay for an hour - you can always leave after that. You never know, you might enjoy yourself!
If you're Christmas party-ing this weekend, good luck! Let me know how you've coped with your anxiety in the comments.
Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects