As a naturally introverted person, I’ve occasionally found the prospect of attending parties during the holiday season to feel more daunting than exciting — even if I truly want to go. When my former boss invited me to a company party at his home, I had mixed feelings. I was grateful to be included, but still felt waves of apprehension wash over me.
Whether it’s an office party, a family gathering, or a group of friends getting together, social occasions can spark some anxiety if you’re not the most comfortable in groups. Here are tips for how to be a good guest, enjoy yourself, and remain as at ease as possible.
Select an outfit that makes you feel confident
When selecting your clothes, choose an outfit that you feel good about. I’ve found that if I feel stylish, I’m more outgoing and apt to come out of my shell. Wearing clothes that are especially flattering gives me an added boost of confidence. Clothes should be comfortable and appropriate for the occasion. If you’re unsure how formal the party is, find out ahead of time by asking the host or another invited guest.
Mentally prepare for conversations
When I attend parties, I like to think of a few conversation starters ahead of time just in case I need to fill an awkward silence or want to break the ice with someone I don’t know. I like to ask general questions that have easy answers and may elicit an ongoing conversation. For example, I ask about holiday plans, vacation ideas, pets, professional interests, favorite books, or recent movies. If you’re truly at a loss, comment on the food, decorations, or music. Preparing in advance can help reduce feelings of nervousness.
Make the first move
If you see someone standing alone, don’t be afraid to make the first move. As an introvert, I know it can feel intimidating to approach someone. But, I have found that most people appreciate when someone goes out of their way to acknowledge them and strike up a conversation. I’m still friends with someone who approached me at a social gathering in NYC more than 10 years ago. In our first conversation, we discovered that we shared mutual interests in photography and the local music scene. She was looking to get headshots taken and ultimately hired me for the job, and we became good friends afterwards. You never know where a conversation might lead!
Offer to help
One of the best ways to navigate situations where you feel awkward or shy is to lend a helping hand. If the party is at a private home, ask the host if there are any small tasks you can do like helping out with last-minute food preparations, carrying platters to another room or taking coats from newly arrived guests. These tasks set you up to have conversations and make connections. When I turn my focus to helping others, my own feelings of nervousness subside.
Step away for a moment
Maybe the room is too hot. Or, there are too many people around. Or, you’re wishing someone was there who isn’t. A lot of sensory stimuli can be hard to process. If I find myself feeling overwhelmed, I step outside or go to the restroom for a few moments to collect my thoughts and calm my mind. Just knowing that I have an alternate plan is reassuring.
Give yourself permission to leave early
If the party has a lot of people or loud music and you feel like you’re getting overstimulated, it is perfectly acceptable to leave early. There is no need to offer a reason. Graciously thank your host and say goodbye to those you’ve met. If the host is nowhere to be found, express your thanks to a mutual friend and ask that person to convey your gratitude. Follow up directly within a few days. A short note, brief phone call or email will more than suffice.
If you’re going to a party with someone else, talk about your expectations and discuss ahead of time how long you both plan to stay. Communication is the key to making sure that everyone gets to do what they want.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you have to miss out on holiday fun. Sometimes, it just takes practice to feel at ease in social settings. But, as with honing any skill, I have found that it becomes easier and more enjoyable over time. Now, instead of feeling apprehensive, I look forward to holiday invitations every season.