How to Beat Office Party Social Anxiety, Says a Psychologist

If the idea of ​​the office Christmas party scares you or you’re stressed about all the extra meetings coming up during the holiday season, the first thing to make clear is that you’re not alone. . Sure, there’s a spectrum of severity, but feeling nervous about socializing is incredibly common.

It is part of our evolved nature that we care about things like reputation and status; we fear being made fun of or being left out. Throughout our ancestral history, humans needed to work in groups to stay alive, which is why we developed the instinct to care a lot about this social stuff.

It’s also worth remembering that social occasions are an opportunity, not just a threat – they’re a chance to forge shared memories, bond, and have fun together. So, as a first step, try to stimulate your hope about these events – for example, remember the occasions – however rare – that things went well and you really enjoyed yourself or that you you made new friends.

Then, from a practical standpoint, one of the most effective ways to reduce your social anxiety is to be a little strategic and proactive. So rather than waiting for obligations to arrive and letting them hang over you like a dark cloud, be clear about which ones you really want or need to meet.

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If there are friends you’d like to hang out with, don’t wait for them to ask you – reach out to them and make it happen (they’ll probably be happy to hear from you). If you’re having trouble chatting, don’t be afraid to do a little prep – keep up to date with the latest news or sports news, so you have gear on hand to ease those initial interactions.

If you’re a quiet nature and don’t socialize much for the rest of the year, it can be helpful to use what are called “if-then plans” so you don’t freeze up or feel overwhelmed. when you first enter. the room or take a seat at the dining room table.

You can repeat a few to lean on when you need to, such as “If I feel stuck for the conversation, then I’ll ask the person next to me what they think of Musk taking over Twitter”, or “If I feel left out, then I will look for the friendliest person or people in the room and ask them a question (e.g. if they have finished their Christmas shopping)”.

There are psychological findings that you might find comforting. One of my favorites is a study conducted by psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis. which asked volunteers with social anxiety to rate the quality of their relationship with a given friend.

Then the researchers approached this named friend and asked them to rate the relationship as well. The reassuring finding was that named friends rated friendships more positively than volunteers with social anxiety — in other words, your friends probably like you more than you think.

Here’s another heartwarming study that has led psychologists to come up with something called the “spotlight effect” – the way we tend to think people are looking at us closer than they actually are. It was about volunteers wearing an embarrassing t-shirt (at the time – circa 2000 – it was considered a Barry Manilow t-shirt) in a group and then estimating how many people were in the room noticed the t-shirt.

In short, the volunteers massively overestimated the number of people who noticed their embarrassing attire – in reality, the others just didn’t pay much attention. Keep this in mind when thinking about what to wear or what to say – you know, a lot of people are locked in themselves and they don’t judge you as narrowly as you might think.

Indeed, excessive self-focus is one of the main drivers of social anxiety. Constantly monitoring your own behavior and your own words will fuel your nerves and, in the worst case, lead you to act more awkwardly. Anything you can do to try to get out of your head and focus your attention outward should ease your anxiety.

You might even give yourself another if-then plan to help you with this, such as “If I find myself self-centered, then I will make a conscious effort to listen to what someone is saying or watch what they are wearing.” “.

Going a step further, why not set yourself a small goal to be on the lookout for anyone else at the party or dinner who seems uncomfortable or left out – there are bound to be people who feel as well – and you might be the only one to make their experience more positive.

Above all, remember that avoidance (either not going out or resorting to excessive alcohol or drugs) never helps anxiety – it only fuels it. Like all of life’s challenges that we find difficult, they become easier with practice. But don’t expect too much of yourself either – pace yourself and do your best. Plan ahead, get out of your head, and who knows, you might even have a little fun along the way.

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