The holidays are just around the corner, and that means attending gatherings of all sorts. For many people — introverted, extroverted, neurotypical, and neurodiverse alike — office parties are among the least exciting social events of the holiday season. So much so, that some people may even try to actively avoid them.
Social anxiety at office parties is normal, but there are some steps you can take to function more successfully at this type of event. Here are just a few tips for making it through.
5 Tips for Managing Social Anxiety at Office Parties
1. Don’t Show Up Alone
The feeling of isolation is a major trigger of social anxiety at parties. Feeling like you’re alone or that you’re adrift amid a crowd of connected people can quickly exacerbate anxiety and make an event like an office party feel uncomfortable. You can work against this by having a party buddy.
Simply walking through the door with another person helps you feel connected and anchored throughout the party. Whether you’re bringing a friend from outside the organization or showing up with a colleague, arriving in a group will make interacting with the larger crowd easier. Plus, you’ll always have at least one person to talk to.
2. Prepare a Plan
Always show up with an exit strategy. This will make it easy to leave the event if you become overwhelmed or feel like you might shut down. An exit strategy is especially helpful for people with autism, ADHD, or are otherwise neurodivergent, as it helps create a sense of comfort. You can plan when and how you’ll leave in advance, and you won’t need to feel like you’re lying, being dishonest, or acting strangely.
Your exit strategy should be unique to your needs and emotions. Everyone will understand if you need to leave early to feed or take care of a pet, finish a school assignment, get up early to do errands, or simply because you’re tired and have exhausted your social capacities.
3. Set Aside Alone Time
Even with a lot of foresight and good planning, you may find yourself quickly getting overwhelmed or exhausted socially. Remember, it’s okay to carve out some alone time. People with ADHD or autism are particularly prone to becoming overwhelmed or shutting down in social settings, which is why it’s crucial to carve out alone time.
When you feel like you need time to yourself, consider stepping outside or going to the bathroom. A couple of minutes of silence, alone time, and maybe some mindless phone scrolling can be invaluable at holiday office parties.
4. Practice Conversation Topics
What should you do if you don’t just want to survive office parties, but instead thrive at them? The first step is to prepare yourself for the types of conversations you’ll engage in. At professional social events, it’s likely that colleagues will discuss work, including client relations, tasks to be completed, or areas of success to celebrate.
Prepare talking points on some topics you expect other people will be interested in. Sports, music, movies, and other pop culture subjects are all good places to start. If you recently saw a movie in theaters or streamed a popular TV show, it’s an excellent talking point.
5. Hone Your Listening Skills
Finally, practice listening. Being a good listener is important, as it shows others that you’re invested in the conversation and are actively participating in it. Focus your efforts on dedicated listening. Chime in when the person asks a question or seeks guidance, but being a good listener is an excellent quality, especially in the workplace.