Small groups are my thing. 1 to 3 people, maybe 4. Thinking about a group of 5 or more people, starts to get a little sticky.

When I was growing up, social anxiety was not something I was aware of. I didn’t have a term for the excruciating nervousness that washed over me when I walked into a party. I would try to muster up as much courage as I could, cling to friends, and continuously refill my red solo cup.

Social anxiety is pretty common, to be honest. If you are free and clear of the socially anxious realm, you most likely know someone – or several someones – that suffer from it.

Before I get into my “how to survive your holiday parties” portion of this post, I want to give you a little more context of what someone with social anxiety may be experiencing when they’re out and about. Everyone’s experience is different. I am by no means speaking for everyone with social anxiety, but I hope this gives you an idea.

Picture this: I am headed into an ugly sweater Christmas party decked out in something that I assumed everyone else would like. People turn and look as I enter, I immediately assume they have fully judged me, decided they don’t like my sweater choice and therefore have decided to dislike me in general.

In an effort to not stick out even more, I join a conversation. I either smile and nod because I’m too scared to say anything, or I blurt something out and immediately wish I hadn’t. I move on to grab a plate of food and proceed to mindlessly eat said food while I replay what went wrong in the conversation I just had.

By the end of the night, when I finally go home – I lie in bed awake and replay the evening. I go over every moment and interaction until I’m convinced that I completely embarrassed myself and shouldn’t be let out of the house ever again. Oh, and those moments (that probably no one else will remember) will haunt me for a very long time.

If you have social anxiety, I’m hoping these tips will help you get through these holiday parties. If you don’t – well…I hope that this provides some insight into how to interact with the socially anxious people in your life.

Getting out of the house.

  • For me, getting out of the house isn’t always the problem. When I first get dressed up to go out, I am feeling GOOD. Hello lipstick, hello velvet booties! But as soon as I get to a party, I immediately regret the bold lip color and funky shoes because I feel like people will judge me for it. My solution? I arm myself with my absolute BEST artillery. Things that I love so much, that not even a REAL, not-made-up-in-my-head, judgment could tear me down. Sometimes, this means keeping my appearance simple. Others, it means going bold with my glam and throwing on my favorite skinny jeans and heels. Whatever I need to feel great that night, I do it.

At the party.

  • Don’t fight the feeling. Do take care of yourself. I’m always aware of my behavior, and how people might perceive me but when my anxiety starts to build in public, that awareness multiplies. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle. One of the worst things you can do for yourself is to try and push through that anxiety without properly addressing your needs. If you have to step outside for some fresh air, do it. You might meet someone on the stoop who is also trying to escape the chaos! Taking care of yourself should always be a top priority, no matter the circumstance.

The Aftermath.

  • So now you’re lying in bed, wondering if Steve from accounting made that funny face at YOU, or if it was because he took an extra large gulp of the spiked punch. Before you convince yourself that he’s always hated you, which is why he ignores you in the break room and doesn’t look you in the eye when he says good morning, try to take a brain break. Do some affirmations or meditations, something to slow down your racing mind so you can begin to distinguish the rational from the irrational. This is easier said than done, but the more adept you get at identifying the sources of your anxiety and finding ways to negate them – the easier that next holiday party is going to be.

The causes can be unknown, but one thing is for sure. Social anxiety is guaranteed to be an unwelcome, obnoxious plus-1 at many holiday parties this year. Give yourself some grace, and maybe confide in someone you trust – an office bestie, family member or friend so they can help get you through!

You’ve got this.