Ah, the office holiday party — eagerly awaited for months, just as eagerly wished away from memory by unfortunate souls. Everyone has “that” office party story where someone crossed the line or did something incredibly stupid and sometimes the anxiety related to the party itself can be just as personally traumatizing.
Given that it all takes place among people you share your work with or owe your job too, the fun of the office holiday party can quickly turn to fear and regret.
Martin M. Anthony, professor of psychology at Ryerson University and author of the Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook, says some anxiety is natural but often people imagine a much worse outcome than what is likely to happen.
When it comes to things like letting an inappropriate joke slip through, spilling your drink or mispronouncing someone’s name, Anthony says it’s important not to sweat the small stuff because, for the most part, other people won’t either.
“A lot of times when we make these minor gaffes, we are the often the person most concerned about it. Many times it doesn’t matter that much to others,” Anthony said.
If you truly want to avoid those legendary water-cooler disaster moments, Anthony can’t stress enough that limiting your alcohol consumption is crucial.
“When people are anxious they often drink more at parties, which can make you more uninhibited. Alcohol actually has the same physical effect on the brain as many anti-anxiety medications, but some anxiety is good because you need to monitor your behaviour to not offend people,” Anthony said.
For people who are shy or feel uncomfortable making small talk, the holiday office party can seem downright stressful but Anthony suggests it represents an obstacle that is worth overcoming. Trying to avoid making small-talk because you’re afraid of making a faux pas just compounds the fear and potentially closes doors on relationships with people that could have been beneficial.
“Avoidance maintains the fear, it keeps it alive, because you never deal with it. You have to force yourself to deal with it. It’s true people are evaluated when they make small talk but they’re also evaluated when they avoid making small talk,” Anthony said.
If you’re new in the office and worried about not having enough to say, plan out a few talking points in advance and don’t set yourself up mentally to fail.
“Think in advance of the kinds of things you want to talk about and challenge your own anxious thoughts,” Anthony said.
Don’t expect to be a perfect social butterfly at all times and don’t worry about pauses and silent moments in a conversation — they are natural.
“A lot of people who are nervous about making small-talk are particularly worried about those little silences that happen during small talk. Silence doesn’t instantly mean you’re boring – all conversations eventually settle, so don’t be afraid of it,” Anthony said.