Learning how to socialize as an introvert at holiday parties without feeling uncomfortable can be a challenge. If you’re the kind of person who prefers to avoid crowds and social situations as often as possible, social anxiety can kick into high gear during the holidays. There are often more social gatherings than normal during this time of year, and that will naturally be a bit overwhelming for any introverted person.
The holiday season is a time brimming with social experiences. Whether you’re expected to attend an office Christmas party, a big family reunion, a holiday party a friend is throwing, or a New Year’s celebration, preparing for the festivities can be daunting for introverts.
While it might be tempting to turn down every social invitation you get, doing so can lead to even more stress and worry for introverts. Isolating yourself during the holiday season can strain your personal and professional relationships in the year ahead. Furthermore, isolating yourself too much during the holidays can negatively impact your mental health.
So, how do you handle all of the socializing without becoming too overwhelmed? Below are some tips for how to socialize as an introvert:
Step 1 of How to Socialize as an Introvert: Have a Plan for the Holidays
If you know your holiday season is going to be packed with social events, the best thing you can do is start planning early. Grab your calendar and make a list of all the events you may be expected to attend, and when they’re likely to take place.
Since social situations can often drain introverted individuals, it’s best not to expose yourself to too many back-to-back events in a short period of time. When you have the option, try to leave a couple of days in between each social experience, so you have time to rest, recharge, and recuperate. After all, introverts tend to regain energy by spending time alone.
You can suggest potential alternative date options to your friends and family members if they haven’t chosen a specific day for a get together. Make sure you offer more than one option, as most people will already be dealing with relatively hectic schedules.
For non-negotiable dates, such as Christmas dinner and annual family holiday parties, plan how you can prepare yourself for the experience in advance. Having an evening to yourself on Christmas Eve if you need to, where you focus entirely on relaxation and self-care can help you to feel more comfortable during a Christmas Day celebration. It’s also helpful to think about what you’re going to do after the event.
If you’re living with other people, can you ask them to give you some space after a party so you can decompress? Set boundaries in advance so your loved ones know what to expect.
Step 2: Adhere to Your Limitations and Set Boundaries
All introverts are different. Some are comfortable with short stints of socializing. You might enjoy walking around a party and engaging in some people watching for an hour or two, before you begin feeling drained or stressed. Other introverts feel significant anxiety simply when thinking about what a party or social event might involve.
Get to know your personal limitations and boundaries. How long can you reasonably expect yourself to thrive in a social situation before you feel depleted? If you know you can only engage in group conversations for a short period of time before you need a break, plan some excuses so you can disconnect from others and refresh before jumping back into the discussion.
For instance, you might excuse yourself to go to the bathroom when you need a break, or tell your friends you need to take a phone call, answer an email, or grab a drink of water.
If your anxiety worsens when more people are around, try looking for opportunities to engage in smaller group sessions. Speak to one or two people at a party, rather than joining a large group.
Throughout the event, listen to your own body and what it’s telling you. How can you recognize the signs you’re feeling overwhelmed? Does your heart start beating faster? Do you begin to sweat more profusely? Can you feel your stomach churning? When you notice these symptoms, give yourself permission to disconnect.
While pushing yourself to engage in social situations can help you to increase your confidence and overcome some of your fears, it’s important not to burn yourself out.
Step 3: Schedule Downtime When You Anticipate Needing it
Planning how to socialize as an introvert during the holiday season isn’t just about giving yourself necessary gaps between events in your schedule. The chances are you’re going to need more alone time overall, to help balance the effects of extra social exposure.
With this in mind, add dedicated periods to your calendar where you can invest in self-care. You’re likely to need at least a couple days to yourself each week, if not more, depending on how introverted you tend to be. During these days, commit to doing the things you enjoy alone the most.
Ask yourself what revives you as an introvert. Some people find they can eliminate stress and anxiety by committing to artistic hobbies, such as painting, drawing, or creating music. Others simply enjoy spending time in their own company, going for a nature walk, watching movies, or relaxing on the sofa.
You may even decide to treat yourself to a little solo vacation at the end of the holiday period, where you spend an entire weekend just focusing on yourself, with no-one else around. Not only will scheduling downtime into your routine help you to maintain your energy levels during the holidays, but it will give you something to look forward to when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Step 4: Plan and Prioritize Your Interactions at Holiday Parties
As an introvert, it’s important to know how to distribute your energy effectively during social situations. There’s a good chance you’re not going to be able to strike up a conversation with everyone at your family dinner or office party, so ask yourself with whom it’s most important to make the extra effort.
For instance, during a holiday party for your office, start by talking to the most important person in your office who has had your back the most, such as your manager or supervisor. Tackling this interaction straight away when your energy levels are still high will help you to make the right impression before you begin feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
You can follow up with talking to members of your team, and anyone else you think might be expecting to chat with you. Addressing the most important people first will ensure you can simply withdraw and leave the party if you end up feeling depleted earlier than usual.
It’s worth planning your interactions to make them as valuable as possible too. Rather than just contributing to small talk by chatting about the great selection of dips on offer, strategize what you want to talk about. At an office party, you might thank your manager for a great year, or tell your team how much you’ve appreciated their input. At a family event, congratulate your cousin on their recent engagement, and wish everyone a happy new year.
Step 5: Scope Out “Freedom Zones” or “Safe Zones”
No matter how chaotic a holiday party appears to be, there will always be spaces around the room that are less busy, and require less communication. During the holidays, there will usually be fewer people hanging out in the garden than inside of a warm venue. If you need a moment to breathe, you can excuse yourself for a breath of “fresh air” and disconnect from the group for a moment.
Once you know where the low-interaction areas are, you’ll be able to give yourself small socialization breaks throughout the event. Think of these spaces as your mini recuperation areas, where you can take some deep breaths, and work on training your body to relax. You could even bring some earbuds or noise cancellation headphones with you to give yourself a few seconds of silence.
If someone approaches you when you’re in a low-interaction area and you’re still recovering, a good strategy is to check your phone and say, “Oh just a minute, I really need to deal with this”. Most people will be respectful and give you space, even if you’re not currently getting a call. If they peak at your phone, just tell them you’ve remembered you had to respond to an email by a certain time.
Step 6: Create a Buddy System with an Extrovert
Many introverted people have extroverted friends, coworkers, or family members in their circle. If you know you’re going to be having a hard time figuring out how to socialize as an introvert during the holiday season, buddying up with these individuals can be extremely helpful.
You don’t necessarily need to clue them in on your plan (unless you already have a good relationship). Just hang out near them, and let them take the brunt of the conversation. Most of the time, you can rely on your extroverted peer to start conversations and keep the flow of the discussion going on your behalf, so there’s less pressure on you to contribute.
You can also turn to your introverted friends for help. For instance, if you and someone else you know are worried about an upcoming event, plan to help save each other from difficult situations. For example, you could ask your introverted friend to occasionally remind you of things you need to do, such as responding to a message or discussing a private project, so you can step back together and enjoy some silence.
Remember, You Don’t Have to Be the Life of the Party
The key to figuring out how to socialize as an introvert is simply accepting yourself for who you are, and approaching the situation with the right attitude. Use your CircleDNA test to learn more about your introverted nature. The CircleDNA test provides you with a personality profile that explains many traits you might have, including being introverted.
As an introvert, you’re probably going to be a little uncomfortable at times, so set strategies in motion to protect yourself from being overwhelmed. Most importantly, don’t expect yourself to accomplish impossible feats. You don’t have to suddenly transform into the life and soul of the party just because it’s the holiday season.
It’s still okay to set boundaries, look after yourself, and take time out from difficult interactions whenever you need to.
Remember that if you’re really feeling too much social anxiety and simply feeling too overwhelmed, it’s okay to re-evaluate if you should even be attending this party at all.
Psychology Today, How an Introvert Lives With Social Anxiety