An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

The holiday season is a joyous time we all look forward to because it means we get to celebrate with friends and family.  At least it is joyous for some people.  For introverts, all of those celebrations can actually make the holiday season the worst time of the year.  A typical month of December might include:

  • Your company’s holiday party.
  • Your significant other’s company’s party.
  •  Friends holiday party.
  • A Christmas Eve get together.
  • A Christmas Day get together.
  • A New Years Eve party.

That is a lot of social events all in one month.  What’s worse, society expects us to attend all of those otherwise we get labelled as a Scrooge or potentially damage relationships.  Is it any wonder this time of year can be such a hardship for introverts?  We are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Before I continue I want to clarify what an introvert is.  For our purposes an introvert is someone who feels drained when participating in large social events.  An introvert can still enjoy a social event but they need time to recover.  If the thought of attending a social event or having any in person communication makes you nervous, increases your heart rate or makes you break out in a cold sweat that doesn’t mean you are an introvert.  That means you have social anxiety which is a disorder  Often an introvert can develop social anxiety but it’s important to realize that social anxiety is a problem you should work on improving.  It will hold you back from developing important social connections.  Being an introvert is not a disorder.  It’s just a character trait with its own sets of strengths and weaknesses.

Now, let me tell you about how my holiday season used to look.  I live in the United States which means the holiday season starts at the end of November when we celebrate Thanksgiving.  From there, I had a week or two before holiday parties started.  Typically this was my company’s Christmas party, my wife’s company’s Christmas party and then at least one friend or family party.  So we are up to at least 4 social events so far this holiday season.. But we aren’t even halfway done.  My birthday falls near Christmas.  I personally have no interest in celebrating it but trying to convince my mom to not celebrate it was a lost cause.  We also had a tradition of watching a Christmas Boat Parade. A few days later it’s celebrating Christmas eve with my wife’s family followed by celebrating Christmas with my family.  Next comes New Year’s Eve.  For many, this would be the end of the holiday season but in the first week of January we have two other immediate family birthdays to celebrate.  That brings us up to at least 10 social events to attend between the end of November to the beginning of January.  That’s a lot for anyone but for an introvert it’s a crazy amount of social ‘obligations’.  

That’s only discussing social events. Shopping for gifts becomes an ordeal since every visit to the store becomes a slog.  If you have children then the amount of stress is going to be even higher.

The important thing is we introverts don’t have to suffer.  We just need to become assertive and set our boundaries.  We can enjoy the holidays and we can even enjoy social events. We just need to make sure we place our needs first.  Some might call that selfish, and it is, but being selfish isn’t always a bad thing.  We are just making sure we are the best version of ourselves at the events that actually matter to us.  


Learn How To Say No.

Saying no to people you care about or when you are afraid of denting your professional reputation can be difficult.  We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but at the same time is it fair for other people to expect us to suffer for them?  If it is an extrovert that is extending the invitation they most likely won’t understand why going to two parties on the same weekend is just too much. Again, it’s not fair for you to suffer just because they can’t put themselves in your shoes.  We have to learn how to put ourselves first when necessary.

Don’t make up any excuses as to why you can’t attend.  If you lie that means you have to maintain that lie and you risk being caught.  What do you think is going to sting worse, declining an invitation or having them find out you lied to get out of going to their party?  Remember, they won’t fully understand that it’s nothing against them, it’s just that you need some time to recuperate.  If you are lying to get out of social events then you are just adding more unnecessary stress to your life.

My suggestion is to simply answer with “Sorry, I have other obligations at that time.”.   This isn’t a lie.  Your obligation is to yourselfIf anyone presses it you can say it’s personal and you don’t really want to talk about it at the moment.  Again, that probably isn’t untrue.  That doesn’t leave anyone with much room to press you unless they are a clueless jerk… in which case why would you care about their feelings or want to spend time with them?

What about my company’s holiday party?  Not going will look bad and affect me professionally.  People will talk about me behind my back!

I just happen to have some experience here.  Previously, when I was involved in the IT field, I had a job working directly under the owner of the company.  I attended the holiday parties out of a sense of obligation but I rarely enjoyed them.  One year I simply decided not to go.  Some of my coworkers were shocked at my choice.  I can’t say how much talk was done behind my back but I can tell you that a number of people confided how envious they were of me being brave enough to not go.  I can say that it didn’t hurt me professionally.  Within a few years I had tripled my salary and when I finally left the company, 10 years later and 0 more holiday parties attended, it was on my own terms.  

Perhaps your situation is different but it likely isn’t.  You have a self-limiting belief that people will think poorly of you because you didn’t attend.  This may or may not be true but what’s important is you don’t let it have power over you.  Making your own decisions based on your own needs and wants instead of others expectations is brave and empowering.  If nothing else, ask yourself if your company culture is so toxic that you can’t prioritize your own mental health then why would you want to be a part of it?


Plan Your Events

What eventually saved my own sanity is that I put my foot down.  It seemed that every year I was affected with Seasonal Affect Disorder(SAD) but it had nothing to do with shorter daylight hours.  It was because I was constantly being put into large, social engagements so frequently that I never had any time to recharge my batteries.  So what I did is I made a deal with my wife that I would only attend one event from her friends, family or business.  I also negotiated with my wife, my mom and… well myself that instead of throwing 3 birthday parties we would just have one big one.  This cut down the events I was attending in half.  What’s more, since I had time to rest in between each event I was actually able to be present at at them instead of just showing up.  

Think about which events you are likely going to be invited to this year.  Pick the ones that are most important to you and just attend those.  If you have family trying to pull you to many engagements then it’s time to negotiate.  Let them know you are only attending X amount of events this year so they can pick which one is most important to them.  Again, this is in fact selfish but being selfish isn’t a bad thing.  Remember, you have an obligation to yourself.


Plan Your Rest

It’s a bit of a myth that introverts can’t participate in large social engagements.  We can but it often just takes a lot more work on our part.  This leaves us exhausted and why we sometimes want to stay at home or go spend time in small social encounters, such as lunch with a friend.  When you know what events you are going to attend then you need to block off at least a full day afterwards to let yourself recharge.  Don’t focus on chores or being productive, you are just chilling out.  If you end up feeling the urge to get some stuff done then by all means do it but you want zero obligations penciled in.  If you need more time then pencil that in as well.

 The importance of rest cannot be overstated.



Take Control

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.  Throwing your own party or making some polite suggestions at another function can yield some great results.  If a typical get together is sitting around with people rehashing the same stories and small talk it can be very challenging for an introvert.  Instead, make a suggestion to turn it into a game night.  Now instead of being nothing but conversations there is another activity going on that is driving the party.  This tends to make everyone happy.  The extroverts are happy because they are engaging socially with many other people.  The introvert is happy because now the party is no longer driven by just conversation.  You could use this tactic with card and board games or even recommending you do something completely different like an escape room, laser tag or even axe throwing.


Find A Fellow Introvert

It’s estimated that 25 to 40 percent of the population are introverts.  That means that at any given social event there are going to be multiple introverts just like yourself.  They are going to find the crowds and the festivities as overwhelming as yourself.  The good news is that you can quickly turn them into an ally.  If you see someone else who seems a bit removed from the crowd go up and introduce yourself.  A great ice breaker is “So, you aren’t into parties much either?”.  At this point you can make more conversation or if you really don’t want to talk much then this is just the person you are hanging out with until it’s time to go.  They are your alibi that you aren’t being a stick in the mud.  There is a good chance you can make friends with that person if you want to.  If you look at the holiday season as a battlefield then this is your brother(or sister) in arms.


Shop As Little As Possible

Shopping and the holiday season go hand and hand.  This unfortunately means that every store seems to be two or three times more busy than normal.  Just getting groceries can be stressful, let alone shopping for loved ones.  This means even simply weekly shopping becomes a stressful event for the introvert.  I have three suggestions for this:

  1. The first is to utilize online shopping as much as possible.  I suspect most of us are already doing this.
  2. Many grocery stores have free pickup.  That means you place an order online and wait in the parking lot and they bring you your groceries.  My frugalness won’t let me pay for this but you could also have your groceries delivered to you as well.  This is the only time of the year where I won’t give a disapproving frown if one feels it is important to pay to have their groceries delivered.
  3. Consider instead of trying to buy gifts for others you simply make them.  Most adults don’t really NEED anything and, for me anyway, most gifts will just invoke a polite thanks and then wondering what the hell I am going to do with this random thing.  Usually they end up being donated.  Making someone a consumable gift, however, is often appreciated much more than random store purchase and since it’s consumable it doesn’t become junk that just clutters up their house.  My wife and I have gotten a lot of compliments on the years we made jelly, dry rubs or even when we gave away honey from the bees we were raising at the time.

These are the tips I have used to manage the holiday season for myself and I emphatically say that I am able to enjoy the holiday season again.  The biggest trend between all of the tips I have given is that they start with you taking action.  You have to proactively make the holiday season work for you and that’s all it takes. A little bit of work and the holidays can be enjoyable for you again.

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