How to Survive Big Family Gatherings as a Socially Anxious Introvert

an anxious introvert at a big family gathering

If you feel a pang of anxiety every time the holidays roll around — bracing yourself for another round of forced merriment — you’re not alone.

Do you feel like a horrible human being for wanting to avoid what is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”? As an introvert, any social gathering with more than four people (even two or three) is exhausting for me — and family parties are no exception. They can be awkward, too, especially when it comes to family you only see once every few years, or if there are weird family dynamics going on. (My aunt repeatedly asking, why don’t you have a boyfriend, is nothing compared to the other drama that comes up.) 

Ever since I can remember, I have dreaded big family events, and as a teen, I had no choice but to sit awkwardly at the dinner table. My parents thought I was being a “brat” and didn’t understand why I didn’t want to be there. I mean, it’s only family, after all. However, introvert or not, family dynamics can be too much for anyone at times. And since most introverts hate small talk, these get-togethers can be even more tiring and painful for us “quiet ones.”     

I’m Not Only an Introvert, But I’m a Socially Anxious Introvert

Not only am I an introvert and would prefer spending the holidays reading a book — alone — versus attending a party, but I’m also a socially anxious introvert. Sometimes my anxiety is so bad that it feels impossible for me to leave the house to attend such an event.

Although introversion is a personality trait that we “quiet ones” are born with, anxiety is something that we’re not born with, and it’s something I continually work on. However, the combo of the two definitely makes family gatherings more challenging.

Thankfully, I’m an adult now, and while I do reject some invitations (yes, you can do that!), others seem mandatory and leave me with no option but to come up with coping mechanisms so I don’t bolt the minute I arrive. These tips have helped me get through those tedious moments and even — sometimes — helped me enjoy family gatherings.

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6 Ways to Survive Family Gatherings as a Socially Anxious Introvert

1. Be on time (even early, if possible) to allow yourself to settle in.

I always try to arrive on time because not only is it courteous, but it also gives me time to settle in without a ton of people around. I like to get to the family event while the guests are trickling in. That way, it’s not so full-on like it would be if I were to arrive late and everyone’s eyes were on me as I walk in.

I also find that having even a few minutes of alone time at the beginning will help me decompress before all the forced socializing begins.

2. Give yourself a time limit, but leave early if you feel yourself turning into a grouch.

Sometimes my family likes to party until 3 or 4 a.m., and even in my college days, I didn’t enjoy staying up that late. Instead, I’d rather dip out early before I turn into a grouch. 

So give yourself a time limit at the party. Depending on how things are going, 2-3 hours should be enough time to grab a bite and catch up with cousins before your social battery runs out. 

If you get really uncomfortable, you can always make up an excuse to leave (headache, anyone?). Don’t force yourself to stay, as it will only make you feel worse. Congratulate yourself for at least getting out of your comfort zone and showing up — which is not easy, especially with social anxiety.

3. Hang around the people you’re most comfortable with so you’re less tired at the end of the event.

Sit next to your immediate family, cousins, or anyone you feel close to or comfortable with. This will help you connect meaningfully, and the conversation will flow and feel less forced and tiresome. 

You can also take the conversation to a part of the house where there are fewer people. Feel free to bring a good friend along, if possible, to act as a buffer between you and others in case your social timer starts ticking.

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4. Don’t carpool or room with others.

First of all, taking a separate car, cab, or using a rideshare service (thank the introvert gods for Uber!) is a great choice, so you can leave at a moment’s notice without inconveniencing anyone.

If you’re staying overnight, opt for your own room or housing instead of staying with a dozen people at your aunt’s house. This will help you get that much-needed introvert recharge time away from everyone. 

After all, there’s nothing worse than rooming with a ton of people, especially when you’re cooped up with them the whole weekend (or week!). Giving yourself separate space from everyone — at least late in the night and early morning — will help you be a more pleasant person to be around. 

If you can’t afford either option, don’t be afraid to bow out early. Simply state that you can only stay one day.

5. Run away (as fast as you can)!

Just kidding! 

Unless it gets really bad, then by all means, high-tail it out of there. If you feel extra uncomfortable, run (not literally) to the bathroom or take a walk — nature tends to soothe the introvert soul

You can also offer to help out (preferably, in the kitchen, away from most of the crowd) or run to the store for something the host forgot. These are my go-tos; this way, I’m out of people’s way.

These small breaks between socializing can also help make interactions more bearable and will distract your mind for a while instead of focusing on the overwhelm to come.

6. Don’t feel you have to attend every family event.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and every holiday in between, the number of family events can add up. Most families usually only get to celebrate a few of these (lucky for us introverts!), but if you struggle with mustering up the energy for a dozen events a year, then I welcome you to skip the ones you’re not into. 

As introverts — and especially as socially anxious introverts — every day can be just as exhausting as running a 5K. So skipping a few events won’t hurt (as long as your family gets to see you from time to time). 

A good rule of thumb is to skip one and then attend the next one; that way, you’re not always MIA and people still know you’re alive. For example, if you went to the Hanukkah dinner, feel free to skip the New Year’s party.

With that said, I do love my family. As fearful or awkward as it may be for me to see them — even when they annoy me — they are here to stay. However, I recognize that they won’t be around forever, so I try to make the most of my time with them, as limited as it may be. Even we introverts need people to lean on from time to time, and that’s what family is for. 

What are some of your go-to introvert tactics for family time? Let me know in the comments below.

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