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15 Things to Do at a Holiday Party When You're Anxious — as Told by GIFs

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Ah, holiday parties. The annual tradition that inspires excitement in some, and dread in others. If you live with anxiety, the thought of going to a holiday party may strike fear into your heart. If this is you, know you aren’t alone.

Maybe the thought of being around a large group of people makes you want to go into winter hibernation. Maybe socializing makes you anxious because you end up overthinking everything. Or maybe the holidays are just hard for you and you don’t want to celebrate.

We know living with anxiety is hard during the holidays. When you add in social obligations like holiday parties, it has the potential to get even harder. Because of this, we wanted to give you some practical tips for navigating holiday parties when you live with anxiety — with a touch of humor!

To open up this discussion, we asked members of our mental health community to share one thing they do to cope with anxiety at holiday parties. Above all else, though, we want you to know that whatever way you choose to cope with holiday party anxiety is more than OK. You do you, friend.

Here’s what our community had to say:

1. Have an “Escape Plan”

“Go into it with an ‘escape plan.’ This is a plan for when you get too overwhelmed. Whether it’s leaving, stepping out to call a friend, going into the bathroom to breathe… before you go to the party, know what your exit cue is and have a plan in place!” — Samantha S.


2. Make Frequent Bathroom Visits

“I normally excuse myself to visit the restroom under the impression I’m going to touch up my makeup. I do but not until after I rinse my face with some cool water.” — Candace K.

“Excuse myself to the bathroom for a minute to breathe and gather my bearings.” — Jordan T.


3. Talk to the Most Talkative Person in the Room

“Converse with the most talkative person so there’s less talking I have to do.” — Courtney L.


4. Hide

“I try to find somewhere I quiet I can hide for a few minutes. Usually that’s the restroom or even outside. Too many people and too much stimulation really wears me down. — Amy C.


5. Hang Out With a Familiar Person

“I stay near someone I feel comfortable with. If I really start getting amped up, I will tap the tips of my fingers on my thumb in a rhythm. The pattern helps keep my mind busy for a moment so I can breathe.” — Kylie L.

“I also try to find people I know fairly well and can keep myself distracted with conversation.” — Amy C.


6. Get Some Fresh Air

“I go outside for a cigarette. It’s my best escape plan, as there [are] not normally a lot of people smoking at the same time, and even if there is, you can still zone out.” — Jenny B.

“I politely excuse myself to step outside. Especially if its cold outside and I let the cool air wash over me and take deep breaths. Once I’m calm, I go back in. But well before I ever go to the party I make sure the host understands my situation and we have a plan set in place for me to escape just in case.” — Samantha M.


7. Stand in the Corner

“Grab a drink and stand in a corner until I need a new one.” — Kaitlyn L.


8. Bring a Book

“I always stay close to walls. I always bring a book with me.” — Brittany P.

“Just sit for awhile, with your phone or a book or just taking deep breaths.” — Samantha H.


9. Find an Animal to Pet

“On Monday at our holiday party for work, I walked next door to a pet shop and played with a kitten up for adoption! It was much needed relief from the noise.” — Lauren L.

“Play with the pets. ‘Oh yeah I’m just going out for some fresh air,’ but actually I’m gonna go chill with your dog.” — Shyanne Z.

Find an animal and pet it.” — Amanda C.


10. People Watch

“Sit in the corner and people watch.” — Elizabeth N.


11. Hang Out at the “Kid Table”

“Go and hang out with the kids because it’s always fun and you know they won’t be judging you or having serious conversations.” — Isaac C.


12. Play Phone Games

“I play puzzle games on my phone. It distracts my mind but is still challenging me so I’m not just running away and hiding.” — Alex R.


13. Use a Fidget Toy

“Bring along a fidget toy, go outside take a walk, stay in a quiet, calmer area bring someone along that helps you stay calm.” — Racheal M.


14. Help Clean Up

“[I] make myself useful in the kitchen and wash up concentrating on the running hot water on my hands and disconnect from everything around me. I use this method all the time and no one ever complains about someone offering to wash up.” — Leanne S.

“If there’s a meal being prepared, I will ask if I can help by doing the dishes. It’s a mindless, methodical task for me. It also allows my back to be to the crowd of people that are making me anxious. I feel like I’ve contributed, but haven’t had to be overstimulated.” — Brittany P.


15. Leave Early

“I try to leave and I hardly talk to anyone, or only to a few select people. I usually never enjoy these types of events.” — Sydney C.

“When it’s time to leave, go and don’t feel guilty about it.” — Sarah P.


Can you relate?

Originally published: December 14, 2017
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