That is until your co-worker has one too many and starts blabbing about what a kiss-up she thinks you are, or you stop into a friend’s open house and realize that the only person you know is the host, or your dad takes the opportunity — once again — to tell you why you’re in a dead-end career.
Then the holidays start looking more like “Christmas Vacation” than “White Christmas.”
Our society has expectations about how the holidays are supposed to be that comes from years of seeing holiday TV shows and movies and listening to Christmas songs on the radio, said therapist Deborah Hill, a licensed clinical social worker who owns My Email Therapist in York.
“There’s myth about what the holidays are supposed to be.”
And when those holiday ideals inevitably fall as flat as a bottle of New Year’s bubbly, disappointment and stress levels can rise.
For people who have anxiety going to parties, Hill recommends re-evaluating your expectations — and trying to separate those that are unrealistic from those that aren’t.
Just like you want to spend time selecting the perfect party attire, take time to mentally dress yourself — pinpointing where your stress lies Whether it’s worrying that your pumpkin pie doesn’t taste like grandma’s or dreading not having anybody to talk to, facing those anxieties before going can help you manage them.
“Sit yourself down and say, ‘Why am I anxious? Why am I stressed? What am I afraid is going to happen?’” she said. “It sometimes beneficial to write that down.”
Once you’ve identified the causes of your stress, ask yourself whether your anxieties are realistic. Be mindful of what you’re telling yourself and try to reprogram those thoughts.
When you’re at the event, notice the signs your body makes when you are getting stressed — sweaty hands, tense muscles or clenched jaw, for instance. As soon as you notice those symptoms, think about what you’re telling yourself and try to reel yourself in. Deep breathing exercises can help you calm down, Hill said.
Hill recommends doing this before reaching for that third glass of eggnog.
“People will consume alcohol to try and get themselves to relax and feel more confident,” she said. “All it does is mask what’s going on.”
Tips for hosts
Melissa Martin, wedding and events planner and owner of Stylish Occasions Wedding & Event Planning in Lancaster, offered several useful tips if you’re hosting a holiday party:
If you’re hosting a big party, it might be helpful to hire a bartender who can monitor how much guests are drinking and flag those who have had too much and shouldn’t drive.
If you’re hosting a party where children are invited, make sure to have activities for them, like a holiday movie or games to play.
If your guests don’t know each other, consider trying a simple party game to get people talking. Martin hosted a dinner party once where she broke the ice by asking her guests to answer the question, “if you could have dinner with any actor or actress, who would it be?”
Navigating the holiday party circuit
Here’s what our experts had to say about going to …
Before heading out to your party, make a mental list of people you want to talk to — especially managers and higher-ups, Martin said. The party could offer you a good opportunity to network and boost your career, just make sure not to take up too much of anyone’s time. Avoid negative conversations with other guests about the company or office gossip. The office holiday party is not the place to air dirty laundry. And definitely watch how much you’re drinking — especially if there are a lot of executives attending or you are unhappy with your job or your boss. Imbibing too much could result in you saying things you later regret.
Make sure to bring a gift to the host — a bottle of wine, bread from a local market and olive oil or a cheeseboard, are some good options, Martin said. Don’t just talk to the same people the whole night; make sure to mingle so you’re not too cliquish, she said. Introduce yourself to neighbors you don’t know telling them your name and where you live, or ask the host to introduce you. Keep the conversation going by trying to talk about things you know you have in common.
“I always ask a lot of questions because people like to talk about themselves,” Martin said. If you’re typically shy at parties, try to bring someone along who will help make you feel more comfortable.
Obviously, at a family get-together, you shouldn’t have too much trouble mingling, however, past conflicts have a way of bubbling to the surface during the holidays. Family members often try to live up to and exceed expectations from past holidays — cooking Thanksgiving dinner the way mom used to, for example, or attempting to override family angst that doesn’t just disappear because of the season — which can create a lot of stress going into a gathering, Hill said.
Instead of putting all the pressure on one person, Martin recommends having each family member bring a side dish or dessert to share.
“If there’s a lot of conflict in a family, you might want to limit the amount of alcohol available,” Martin said.
Hill agreed. When people drink too much they’re not putting their best foot forward, which can jeopardize relationships and result in someone doing or saying things they regret later.