Ah, the office holiday party -- an event full of mixed emotions: Excitement, nerves and certainly stress all come into play when we think about meeting with our coworkers after hours for a celebratory function (and who could forget that infamous karaoke incident from 2010?).
"The office party has a stigma -- that some horrible disaster will occur," says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., M.S., P.T and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “I think a lot of the time, people think about how something bad is going to happen at the party and it stays in their mind at the party and they can’t enjoy it.”
The office holiday party does provide a unique stressor that other holiday events may not. Lines can be blurred and boundaries greyed when it comes to what's appropriate. And, we might be extra nervous about presenting ourselves in an out-of-office setting to those who are used to seeing us behind our desks. It's important to remember that people are "generally more concerned about themselves than they are with you," Lombardo says -- meaning that the only person really scrutinizing your every move is, well, you.
Jon Wortmann, executive mental coach and author of Mastering Communication at Work: How to Lead, Manage, and Influence, says this mixer is a valuable time to think about why attending is so stressful for you. "Think about the triggers at the office that drive you crazy," Wortmann says. "If you can figure out why a particular colleague or boss makes you insane, you'll learn a bit about yourself from this experience." And, he says, once you learn what it is that is stressing you, you can "better enjoy the experience -- even if it's just enjoying the food, getting to know a new person or seeing a new part of your city."
And, hey -- attending the party might make you feel better than skipping it to stay home: Socializing and friendship has been shown to reduce stress.
To ease your nerves before the fiesta (and to actually have fun while it's happening), check out these nine tips below.
Go With A Positive Attitude
This goes back to that office holiday party stigma. If you go in expecting the worst, you can expect the worst. Instead, look at the positives. "If you consider this a nice chance to see people outside of the office, you're more likely to have a positive experience," Lombardo says.
Get A Good Night's Sleep
Being tired makes you less likely to feel social or confident. So it’s crucial to be well-rested for a party where you want to present your best self, Lombardo says. Having trouble dozing off? Check out <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/26/stress-sleep-insomnia_n_2019418.html?utm_hp_ref=sleep">these 10-minute stress busters</a> for better sleep.
Don't Come Hungry
Beware the dangers of arriving on an empty stomach: “You will be the person making a clown of yourself -- the stress response in your brain will be at an even higher level,” Wortmann says. "We’re vulnerable when we’re hungry,”Lombardo adds. So while there's likely to be a plethora of exciting treats at the party, make sure your hunger is under control ahead of time -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/15/foods-that-boost-energy-_n_1779032.html">try to munch on something that will boost your energy</a>.
Feeling confident is key, so dress the part. "If you have any doubts, don't wear it," Lombardo says. "If you think it's too [revealing], it is." Ask around beforehand to see what others will be wearing.
“No one has ever woken up the night after a holiday party and thought, 'Gee, I wish I had one more martini last night,'” Lombardo says. Remember: Less is <em>certainly</em> more when it comes to imbibing at your office holiday party. While you might be inclined to ingest some liquid courage, Wortmann adds that it's important to be clear about your personal limits. You don't need to abstain entirely, but "you should know at what level alcohol goes from a pleasant elixir to dangerous to you," he says. Lombardo suggests planning ahead: Decide how much you will drink <em>before</em> you have a glass in your hand and you'll feel more in control and, as a result, less stressed.
Reach Out To New People
While it might be most comfortable to hang around with your cubemate or team, this is a great opportunity learn something about those people you see around the office, but don't actually know. To release any awkwardness, Lombardo says it’s best to start with the obvious. Try opening with: “Hi! We’ve never really met to each other but I always see you around.”
Nervous about holding a conversation away from the water cooler, or saying something inappropriate? Asking questions is your best bet. “Be the person who wants to get to know the other people better," says Wortmann. “Ask [your coworkers] about their holiday plans or what their holdays were like growing up." Asking questions will help ease your company's stress, too. "When someone pays attention to you, you immediately feel like you're in a safe environment," Wortmann adds.
Have A Graceful Exit Plan
Asking questions can help make people feel comfortable. But, Wortman warns, some might get <em>too</em> comfortable, and start revealing personal information that makes you uncomfortable. To avoid the problem in the first place, "Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to," Lombardo says. But sometimes, Chatty Cathy can't be controlled. If that's the case, have an exit strategy ready: Pick up a “call” from a family member or kindly excuse yourself to speak to other party-goers, Wortmann suggests.
Bring Your Favorite Party Friend
While this event is an opportunity to socialize with people from the office, you might prefer to stay in your comfort zone. And that's fine. If this is the case, and you're allowed to bring a plus-one, “find someone who you like to go to anything with and turn it into an opportunity to be with that person,” Wortmann says. This could be your favorite co-worker, a spouse or partner, or a good friend who always lightens the mood.
How Socializing Reduces Stress