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I’m new to a role (started 4 weeks ago) and our work Christmas party is soon. Although I’ve spoken to most of the people I’m yet to be ‘in a group’ and the thought of going to a party where I’ll be on the edge of groups and potentially standing by myself, terrifies me.

I’ve already stupidly said yes I’ll go and given my menu choices, so I assume this means if I don’t go now, they would have wasted money on my food?

I have anxiety and panic attacks and it being particularly worse at the moment, I’m just unsure what to do. I have been diagnosed with anxiety, and I am on medication. So this is just something that tends to make them worse.

If I knew people better and had actual ‘friends’ at work I guess it would be an easier decision.

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    I think she is referring to finding a friend group – Josh Dec 9 '19 at 20:39
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    Are your anxiety and panic attacks specifically caused by the Christmas party, or are they pre-existing conditions that are just being made worse? I can understand being nervous about a Christmas party, but having panic attacks over it seems excessive unless there's some existing mental trauma you haven't mentioned. – F1Krazy Dec 10 '19 at 12:42
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    Yes I have panic attacks and anxiety, diagnosed and on medication. So this is just something that tends to make them worse. – Anna Dec 10 '19 at 21:38
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    Anna, you have my sympathy for your attacks, and it's good you are getting help. Please add such important information to the question (by editing), and not in comments, where it will be overlooked and deleted. I took the liberty of editing it in for you. – sleske Dec 11 '19 at 8:14
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    Related (because it's about establishing contact with people you don't know): How to talk to people at a singles mixer when you are an introvert?. Maybe this helps you to better "break the ice" with colleagues you do not know yet. – sleske Dec 11 '19 at 8:17
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Why not use this opportunity to make some more acquaintance and friends?

Don't outright reject the idea of attending the party - Go ahead, give it a try.

What's the worst that can happen - that you'll have no new acquaintance - same as now? However, look at the bright side - you may actually find out some like-minded colleagues which whom you can start talking.

At any point of time, if you feel you're not comfortable anymore, or if you don't find anyone to talk to, or everyone is busy with their own group and not interested in extending their circle - feel free to excuse yourself and leave.

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    To answer your question, the worst that can happen is a full-on, hyperventilating, uncontrollable shaking, someone-calls-911 panic attack. The OP's issue is not just that they're introverted and worried about being awkward. – Sneftel Dec 11 '19 at 11:54
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    Advice to those with anxiety involves coming up with healthy coping mechanisms, like goal-setting and managing one's expectations, I think this answer can be improved by elaborating on some of those skills or techniques. – Aaron Hall Dec 12 '19 at 21:54
  • Whilst I understand your point, sometimes even the knowledge of nothing bad can really happen still does not outweight the possibilities you create in your mind. My word of advice to @Anna would be: Go, try to have fun. But don't be afraid to bail out if you cannot have a good time there. I would also advise not to drink, as this can often escalate these type of thoughts. Hope you have a good time if you decide to go – M. Doe Dec 13 '19 at 7:27
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I think this will be a fine opportunity to "break the ice" and start getting better acquainted with your fellow workers. I suggest you consider going.

I know that this may be easier said than done, but I encourage you to make an effort and try to go and socialize and meet new people. No need to have a "smart" or "witty" topic of conversation, just be yourself and try to ask things that could help you know your coworkers better.

Worst case, you can go, and if you really feel awkward or uncomfortable you can leave earlier.

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Go!

Ahead of time, ask somebody you know in the company to introduce you to a few people. Making these introductions is one of the jobs of supervisors. Then say, "what do you do?" Then listen. People love to talk about themselves, and they won't notice you're anxious. Seriously.

You don't have to stay long. You don't have to make excuses for not staying long.

Or, don't go. You don't have to make excuses for that either. There are always a few people who don't turn up to parties like these, and you won't be singled out. If somebody demands an excuse you can say "I thought I was coming down with a virus and I didn't want to spread it." But they won't demand an excuse.

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    I like the suggestion you're making in your first paragraph. You could even just do it at the party. If you see someone you know, just say "hey, I'm so new, I don't really know anyone. Who do you know here?" and see if that leads to some introductions. And focusing on just listening is great, too. An attentive listener is a rare commodity at a bustling party. – dwizum Dec 11 '19 at 15:47
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I've joined purely because I think these answers skip over how serious this is for you. I went through a phase of panic attacks at machines that people queue up for (cash machines, self-service checkouts, ticket machines, etc.). At that point, I could not even get my card in the machine because you lose all physical control and can start shaking in a very noticeable way (it's a self-enforcing cycle when you panic about panicking). I also took medication for that, and things stablised for a while.

If it's any consolation, observations of people wasting time in front of me in the queue, when they got to the device, diminished these issues for me, and I'd already ditched the beta blockers long before that. In other words, these things can go away over time, so there's every chance that you'll be right for the next party.

If you don't feel comfortable going then that's fine. How many times do you hear people, the day after the Xmas party, talking about the people that didn't go vs. the idiotic things that people did do when they were there? It won't be a big issue to not go. If you are concerned about the food situation then it's probably going to be a weight off your mind to explain to your manager what the issue is.

This is not some event (telling your manager) that you should be strewing over, but rather, something you can do spontaneously when you suddenly feel in control. The relief afterwards will probably be quite impactful.

The bottom line is that the majority of managers will take this far better than you think.

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If it's giving you this much anxiety perhaps it is smart to announce you are not going. They might be able to cancel the food that was ordered for you.

You did not specify when the party is, but if it's for example 21 December, you would have to remain in this state of panic and fear for almost 2 weeks. And I doubt that's good for your mental health.

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  • "If it's giving you this much anxiety perhaps it is smart to announce you are not going" - well, that's a decision which only OP can take (and there may be downsides to not going, as explained in other answers). However, if OP does decide to not go, this is a good way to approach it. Maybe you could include that diclaimer in your answer? – sleske Dec 11 '19 at 8:21
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    Well my suggestion is to not go. There are already answers explaining why OP should go, and I simply wanted to encourage mental health over 'an opportunity to break the ice'. Since there will be many chances to connect with people later, when the anxiety has gone down. – Finn Dec 11 '19 at 9:37
  • She might avoid anxiety but develop depression by stayin all alone all the time? – Cris Dec 13 '19 at 7:56
  • @Cris that's a huge assumption. We don't know anything about OP besides what was written in this post thus assuming they are alone all the time merely based on this post is wrong. Also assuming they develop depression from this specific event is speculation. There are plenty of opportunities to break the ice with colleagues. But forcing yourself into situations that cause severe anxiety are simply not something I can recommend to anyone. Panic attacks aren't fun. – Finn Dec 14 '19 at 10:58
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It's just another night, you're not the first or last to feel this way.

This is perhaps straying too far into Interpersonal.SE territory, but as someone who suffers anxiety and similarly had panic attacks at their first work Christmas Party (and team day out, and company bus trip to the cinema, and team lunch, and performance review meeting...) - the best advice I can give is just to go, aim just to "stick it out" and accept that despite being uncomfortable it is good for your career.

The reality, is going to these dinners and parties, is where many colleagues will form bonds - especially from departments you don't normally work with. As such, missing out entirely, means you are missing a valuable networking opportunity. Moreover, just showing face, shows you care about the team and makes people more likely to see you as a real human (especially when things go wrong).

It would be a lie to say that there is no affect on your career to skip it.


So, how can you actually deal with the day itself:

  • Remind yourself these are the same people you've seen for the last 4 weeks. There's nothing special about them this time, you know these people and they aren't suddenly going to change.

  • Remind yourself that your value is your work. You have no obligation to be funny, charismatic or interesting. Coming across as quiet will not destroy people's confidence in you as an employee.

  • Remind yourself that how you're feeling is perfectly OK. It's a new situation, and it's crossing the border from work to personal life. Having a panic attack is OK, it's how your brain likes to deal with it - nobody will notice, and if they do it will only be out of caring for you.

  • Set the bar really low. Sticking it out to a certain time of night (not too early), and nothing more. You know you can manage this, all you have to do is not leave. Even if you have a panic attack - you know how to deal with these - you can just go to the bathroom and wait it out. A simple objective is something you know you can achieve.

  • Focus on yourself. In the run-up to the event, which can be terrifying, just focus on yourself and what you'll be doing. Other people will tend to themselves, you don't need to worry about fitting in with them or anything else. Just focus on drinking what you want to drink, and eating what you want. If you join in their conversations - great. If not - that's fine too, it's their loss not yours.

These feeling are normal when you have anxiety, but it will get better. Each time you force yourself through these situations, you'll get better with them - the worst thing you can do is cancel; that's the panic part of your brain thinking, and it doesn't control you.

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I suggest that you get plenty of sleep, before you go to the Christmas party.

Because a recent research study has found that inadequate sleep makes people more anxious.

Deep sleep can rewire the anxious brain

The authors of this study speculate that many people might not need anti-anxiety medications, if they just get enough sleep every night. Because chronic sleep deprivation might be the cause of their anxiety disorder.

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