It’s that time of year to pretend to like your co-workers and make a hookup choice that will haunt you well into the new year: the season of the dreaded office Christmas party! And the more prepared you are for the inevitable shit show, the better off you’ll be. There are many ways to guard yourself in anticipation of what feels like certain social failure, and personally, as someone who has exclusively prepped myself for inevitable embarrassment for nearly a quarter of a century, I am ready to oblige.
Like with all important decisions I’ve made in my life, I first thought about asking my mom for advice on this matter. Then I thought better of it and asked my friend’s mom instead. Carol Cullen is a mental health counselor in Massachusetts and knows how to help a socially anxious or avoidant individual navigate the minefield that is other people better than anyone in the business. With many facing the prospect of such an annual obligation this week, here are tips on how to cope.
Abandon your humanity and sell your soul to the party.
Carol’s advice begins with a simple question: Are you able to put your pride aside and just engage? If so, it might be best for all involved for you to brave through an evening of socializing before you have to repeat the same inane motions with your family the week after. And Carol has some tips to help you suck it up and make it happen!
“I tell [patients] to tune up the volume on their most positive, compassionate internal coach, and allow themselves to enjoy and breathe,” Cullen says. If you’re the type to have a drink after work, go for it, baby — in moderation, unless you’re trying to hook up with your former intern as a Christmas bonus to yourself.
If you’re really a worrier, check in advance to see what kind of sub-events are going to be taking place; will there be one of those vile white elephant and/or Yankee swap gift ceremonies? Secret Santa? God forbid, karaoke? You’re not beholden to participate in any of these things, but one engagement with a terrible holiday tradition could maintain your team player reputation for a full calendar year.
Bring the best food and no one will care how you act.
More often than not, most office parties are built around a sinister game of intrigue: Who’s gonna show up with the killer dish, and who is gonna be a friggin’ mooch? It’s a dynamic that informs the vibe of the event as a whole. If you’ve got a killer five-layer dip recipe in your back pocket, now is the time to tote it out and dazzle your lame-ass coworkers. Don’t have any cooking experience? Bring a handle of off-brand whiskey and facilitate all the weird decisions and overly candid conversations between your coworkers, and be king for a night.
Get a buddy.
Office holiday parties are a lot like bad sex and surviving a national tragedy: They’re easier to survive if you’re with friends. Rest assured, no matter what you do or where you work, there are other people at the party that don’t want to be there as much as you don’t. Your closest work friend knows what makes you bearable to be around, and can help bring that out in you.
“I encourage folks to envision the self they want to project and then I tell them to use that image and tune up the volume on their most positive aspects,” Carol, a sweet angel wizard, told me.
Make a pact before storming the veritable Bastille that is a tense, social situation: You’ll make your friend look good if they’re willing to do the same for you.
Remember, no one actually gives a shit.
A lot of Cullen’s work on loosening patients up in social situations centers around the ever-helpful reminder that other people don’t think about you as much as you do. It’s basic human psychology — the vast majority of us simply don’t have the brain bandwidth to give as much of a fuck about the distance between your thighs as you do.
“No one is looking at you and judging,” she says, which is a more succinct and classy way of putting it.
Still, managing nerves can be a tricky and tall order, and she suggests the wallflower approach if you’re feeling self-conscious. “Stay closer to the edges of the gala versus staying in the center,” she advises. “A bright smile and a foolproof ice-breaker question; a softball, open-ended one is best.”
Don’t go, or stay for a short time.
Lest we forget, you will not die if you don’t go to a lousy party that everyone has been dreading as much as you have. However, showing up is ninety percent of any given battle, and Carol recommends setting specific limits on the time you’ll be spending in order to temper your frayed nerves. Set a goal between forty-five minutes and an hour before making an Irish goodbye.
Psychologist Samantha Boardman of the Positive Prescription recommends making the time you do spend at an office party memorable by being kind to your coworkers, no matter how hard you avoid them in the breakroom on an ordinary day.
“Doing something nice for someone else eases social anxiety. So if you find yourself feeling a little awkward or out of sorts, offer to get a drink for a colleague or pay someone a compliment,” she recently told Vogue. “It’s a natural way.”
No matter which way you decide to approach it, you’re not beholden to stick it out until someone hits on you.
No, not like a ‘80s-era Wall Street coke party (although what if?), but Carol remains a realist when it comes to getting through life’s most uncomfortable moments. If your potluck contribution, overcompensating white elephant gift, and nervous smile didn’t do the trick this year, she’s giving you the okay to self-medicate a little.
When all else fails, take a Xanax!” she said with a shrug. Now that’s advice I can use!