The throng of revellers wearing tinsel and shouting at each other to be heard over the deafening strains of Slade or Wizard (does anybody really wish it would be Christmas every day?), the pressure to talk to people you hardly know, the demands to join in and have fun – actually, you aren’t the only one who would rather be at home with a good book or film.
But social gatherings are a particular ordeal if you prefer quieter interaction, and find it physically and emotionally draining to deal with large numbers of people and the general clamour.
Nothing will change the nature of drinks parties, the work do, extended family gatherings, neighbourhood get-togethers and all the other events which are part of the festive season. But a little thought and preparation (which you’re probaby good at) will help to take a lot of the stress out of these occasions.
Don’t accept every invitation
Be strategic in your selection. There are a few things you really have to go to, and you know what they are.
These might be the occasions you hate the most, but avoiding the office party, the traditional family meal, clubbing with your best friends and all their friends, isn’t worth it.
Social events are about more than jollity. They strengthen ties and indicate that you belong, that you are part of this group.
So decide to accept the invitations that really matter, and turn down the peripheral events. This way you will build in some breathing space, and gain sufficient calm to enable you to prepare for the big guns.
Say no gracefully
Again, use some strategy. Casual invitations from people you don’t know well can be refused in a casual, friendly way. If the invitation is from someone a little closer, you might want to make it clear that although you are not going to turn up to their eighties-themed fancy dress party or karaoke carols evening, you do value your connection.
In these cases, you might consider writing them a note. Don’t email, it’s too easy for the recipient to fire back an immediate reply, putting more pressure on you, and anyway it’s a bit impersonal for what you want here. An old-school written note on a nice card — not the Christmas card you were sending anyway — saying thank you, you won’t be able to make it but hope it’s a good evening and you’d like meet for coffee/a drink/a chat soon.
Do some preparation
Listen to your instinct, and identify just what it is about this particular event which fill you with dread.
If it’s the kind of do where you will have to talk to people, do some homework. Small talk and social chit-chat can be managed if you go armed with a few ideas about what to say and how to handle this kind of conversation. Treat it like a project.
This might sound a little too exposing, but it’s better than putting it off until the party is in full throttle and the clamour and activity is overewhelming. A quieter start will help you to keep calm.
It’s also a good strategy to say hello to important people and have them realise you’re there before they engaged with so many people that they won’t remember you, or have had so many eggnogs that they don’t recognise you, even if you are their line manager, right-hand person or second cousin once removed.
Identify your bolt-hole
Scout out a place you can escape to. It might be the bathroom, especially if it’s one of those nice hotel ones you feel you could move into, with luxury toiletries and thick hand towels, or a door leading to a patio or outside area. (If you have to say anything, claim to be just grabbing a bit of fresh air. Say this even if it’s snowing. No one actually cares.)
Sometimes the kitchen is a good place, if you can be helpful for a few minutes. Clearing glasses makes you look involved without requiring you to speak. You could hand round food.
Whatever you do, don’t do it for too long. Just take enough time to get your equilibrium back.