As we gradually recover from varying degrees of social isolation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, some of us may be a bit rusty in usage of our social skills. I hope these few, brief suggestions will enhance your return to face-to-face enjoyment.

What comes into your mind as you think about going to a holiday party? Is it excitement? Is it dread? Does your stomach turn somersaults or are you calm, like listening to peaceful holiday music? Whatever your emotional stance is to gathering with old friends, family, or total strangers, here are some suggestions and strategies to enrich your holiday partying.

Phase one: Preparation

To thoroughly enjoy holiday gatherings, an initial step is to take inventory of yourself, the people you anticipate will be present, and the setting. Start with assessing your attitude. Are you neutral, negative, or eager? Will there be people there who you dislike or intimidate you? Maybe you cannot wait to reconnect with old friends. Is the setting for the gathering comfortable, inconvenient, or too far away?

After taking inventory, consider what steps you could take to increase your enjoyment. Maybe call a friend to gain a fuller understanding of the event. Whether the get-together is attractive or repulsive for you, a visual rehearsal in your mind is a surefire method to strengthen your pleasure. Take a few minutes each day to visualize yourself smiling and enjoying meaningful conversations. Begin with a brief period of relaxation, releasing stress from your body as you exhale. Notice any negative self-talk or other obstacles you might employ to sabotage your pleasure. See yourself recovering to a fulfilling level of enjoyment.

Enrich your visualization with strong positive self-talk that fits just right for you. You might repeatedly say to yourself, “I am enough. I am friendly. I am fun. I am an engaging conversationalist.” See yourself leaving the party with a big smile on your face.

Phase Two: Engagement

While at your holiday gathering, remember the first rule in communication. “We cannot not communicate!” We are constantly reading one another, evaluating, and judging one another, sometimes consciously and sometimes without conscious awareness. Others read us and we read them. Smiling is the surest path to pleasing connections.

As you engage with one or more fellow guests, position yourself to make full eye contact. Your attending skills communicate your desire to be 100% engaged. We believe nonverbal communication more than verbal. When there is incongruence between the two, we notice and are taken back. Our level of connecting with others will be derived from our inner attitudes, thoughts, and feelings. Doing Phase One — Preparation well, equips us to enjoy the party.

A final suggestion is to avoid asking questions which may create roadblocks to connecting. Instead, use the phrase, “Tell me,” in a gentle, pleasant tone of voice. For example, “Tell me what feelings or memories the holidays spark in you” or “Tell me about yourself.” The list is endless and is driven by your curiosity and comfort level. Again, research shows that our tone of voice carries more weight than our actual words.

Phase Three: Post-Party Evaluation

Most of us have heard the truism, “Experience is the best teacher.” An adaptation is to say, “Reflecting upon experience is the best teacher.” After your holiday social gathering you may benefit from evaluating how successful you were in meeting the goals you set for yourself. For example, how did I do in general? What letter grade would you give yourself, A, B, or C? What adjustments might I like to make? Better eye contact? More preparation? Regardless of your self-evaluation, never negate yourself. Feel positive about yourself. No one is perfect. We all flounder at times. Visualize yourself smiling about yourself and your enjoyment of the party.

Attending holiday gatherings reminds me of a saying my canoe partner and I use to describe our weekly canoeing adventure. We describe it as “sheer terror followed by pure bliss.” This refers to the challenges of getting the canoe into and out of the water (The canoe somehow gets heavier each year!) and the even bigger challenge of getting ourselves into and out of the canoe! Our saying may have some applicability to holiday parties. Happy holidays!

Dr. Jim David is a retired psychotherapist in Silver Spring. Visit www.askdrdavidnow.com for free, printable mental health newsletters and handouts. Email at jimsue63@gmail.com.

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Dr. Jim David

Dr. Jim David is a retired psychotherapist in Silver Spring. Currently busy with personal, spiritual and executive coaching.