To Drink or Not To Drink At Holiday Work Parties: Easy Steps to Managing The Stress

By Nerina Garcia-Arcement, Ph.D.

Work place holiday parties can be a time to connect with co-workers in a different friendlier setting. Yet for many it can also be stressful and awkward. Stressful because individuals are familiar with their workplace expectations, they have scripts or rules they follow on a regular basis, yet holiday parties create the opportunity for a different social interactions that does not follow familiar rules.  It is a blending of expectations that can create stress and uncertainty about how to behave. One common way to cope with stress or anxiety is drinking alcohol, sometimes to excess.  Some drink as a way to numb or avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions, yet it can lead to problems if done at work. Over drinking at the holiday party can create problems in the workplace if you behaved inappropriately while drunk. Although this is a "party" it is still work related and those rules of conduct still apply. Sober and drunk behavior reflects upon who you are as an employee.

If you tend to over drink at holiday work parties, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from overindulging.

1. Explore what triggers you to drink. Such as: Do you feel anxious when you walk into the party alone? Do you worry about having to speak to certain co-workers? Do you find it difficult to say “no” when encouraged to have another drink by coworkers?

2. Prepare yourself before the event by engaging in stress reduction activities. If you know that interacting socially with co-workers is stressful or anxiety provoking try activities such as deep breathing, imagining yourself in a peaceful place, reading a chapter of a favorite book, and/or progressive muscle relaxation.

3. Create a plan to managing your feelings and triggers before and during the party. Recognize your triggers and walk away from them or surround yourself with positive supportive coworkers that don't encourage excessive drinking.

4. Stick to your specific plan regarding drinking. If you are not going to drink at all then remove yourself from that temptation by holding a cup with soda throughout the party or staying away from the beverage area. Take steps to succeed with the plan, such as letting your coworker friends know you are not drinking at the party. If you decide to set a limit to your drinking, remember that once you start drinking inhibitions lower and you might be tempted to alter your original plan and it becomes more difficult to keep track of how many drinks you had.

5. Invite a friend to attend with you or shorten the length of time you stay at the party if you know the party is a trigger and difficult to manage by yourself. You are not expected to stay for the entire time.

If you are concerned about how stressed and anxious you feel when faced with an invitation to a social gathering or that you over drink when at parties, then you ought to consider speaking to your primary care physician or a mental health provider to evaluate if these actions are a sign of a more serious problem such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or substance abuse disorder.