Recently, I traveled to the other side of the country to visit family and friends. While there, I found myself at a big family party. It had been so long since I’d been in that situation! It reminded me how hours-long parties can wear on me, no matter how much I like the people in attendance.
At big family parties, there may be loud people, music, dancing, cooking, singing, and talking, of course. And people might drink a bit too much and act a little wild and unpredictable.
My tips on how to deal with long parties:
These tips are mainly for when you feel tapped out on the small talk and easily overwhelmed by people. And yes, these tips are more geared toward introverts than extroverts.
- Find an empty room. Depending on where you are (and how comfortable you are in this person’s house) there may be an empty room you can duck into for a few minutes. Please remember this: no one will notice if you are gone for a while. People aren’t watching you as closely as you might think. Take a break in a quiet area and don’t feel weird about it!
- Participate in activities.
- Consider participating in activities that are going on–like card games, video games, flag football, etc. You don’t have to worry so much about small talk since you’re just playing the game.
- Or, watch others doing an activity. If you don’t want to/can’t participate, just pop in and watch what’s going on and act interested. This gives you a break from having to talk directly to others.
- Or, bring a game to the party. I enjoy board games and party games, so by bringing a game with me, I’m guaranteeing that there will be one activity I enjoy. You don’t have to worry about making small talk when you’re in the middle of playing a game!
- Find some work do to. Does someone need helping preparing food? Setting the table? Cleaning up? No one will bother you if you are busy peeling potatoes. Volunteer to do the beer run.
- Play with the pets. I was once at a party where I didn’t know many people. I felt worn out with trying to make small talk, so I played with the dog for a while. Playing with animals can be fun, and gives you a break from having to talk for a minute. Even better, do the host a favor by offering to take the dog for a walk.
- Find another quiet person and chat with them. The conversation will probably flow more easily and you’ll have a shared, unspoken understanding of feeling uncomfortable at this party. 🙂
- Don’t carpool. Have your own ride so you can leave when you want. Being trapped at a party because you drove with someone else is the worst! (I wrote a post about it here.) Of course, you could use a ride-sharing service, too. Along the same lines, get your own hotel room rather than staying with a friend/family member.
- Consider arriving to the party early, when it’s quieter. (However, this means you’ll probably want to leave earlier.)
- Use this trick of small talk: ask people about themselves. Since you are an observant person, listen to what they say and be curious about it. This will keep the conversation going.
- Don’t feel bad about leaving early. I used to feel self-conscious about this but now I don’t care. Other people likely won’t care, either.
What if there are people at the party you don’t like?
What about those family members/acquaintances you dislike, who ask inappropriate questions, are passive aggressive, or have belittled you in the past? The person who is way too drunk? How do you deal with these awkward situations?
This isn’t as easy. I’d love to hear your tips, but here are some of mine:
- Physically avoid the person. Self-explanatory: just stay away from them.
- Use an excuse to get away.
- Offer them a drink. When stuck in a long conversation with someone you want to escape, notice that their glass is empty and helpfully offer to refill it. This will break up your conversation and make it easier to leave when you get back.
- Or, suddenly notice that your own drink is empty and say you need to go get a refill.
- Or, say you really need to use the bathroom.
- Don’t take their comments personally. If you see the undesirable person coming for you, expect that they are going to annoy you (as they always do). Try to face it with a smile. Acknowledge how this person makes you feel and tell yourself that you are better than this drama! See the podcast episode about dealing with criticism.
- Tell yourself that you aren’t alone. Other people probably feel belittled/offended/annoyed by this person, too. Knowing that you are not alone may help you deal with this person without getting too riled up.
- This will sound corny, but think of the good things. Look around you and be grateful for the good times, the people you love, and how you are fortunate to have family and friends around you, even if they sometimes drive you mad.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. Act confident, even if you don’t feel that way.
Are you easily overwhelmed by big parties? How do you cope? Leave a comment below!
photo credit: skohlmann via flickr
Kelly, this an excellent post and I like that you’ve covered a spectrum of contact: from the getaway room to getting busy with a chore. I think many of these strategies could also help someone who is grieving but has to show up at a function. Thank you!
My experience with hsp is that they are mentaly emotionally unstable people. That blame there feelings on other people, Victums.
Hey Jeffrey, you should read this post: http://highlysensitiveperson.net/hate-sensitive-people/
Also, you might be thinking of hypersensitive, not highly sensitive.
And you’re a loser who can’t even spell basic words correctly. It’s VICTIMS, not VICTUMS!!! And it’s THEIR, not THERE. THEIR is referring to a group of people. As in “They refuse to change THEIR minds about the park.” THERE refers to a location. As in, “Look over THERE, something is on fire.” If anyone’s mentally unstable, it’s you. People like you need to be locked away in institutions so the rest of the world doesn’t have to put up with you. Maybe you should try learning proper grammar and master the English language before you insult people. And maybe try something called thinking before you speak!
*mentally *their *victims
Jeffrey, focus on improving yourself first.
Jeffrey, how unfortunate for you. As this seems to have been your experience, I suggest that, rather than troll around on HSP sites and threads, you avoid that which clearly distresses you, and go troll somewhere else.
Hi Kelly, i love your last post about how to cope with parties. I always bring MY OWN car to parties. Sometimes i feel trapped in conversation I don’t know how to end. I feel like my only choice is to get out fast. I get overstimulated and anxious when cornered by long talkers. I have learned other coping techniques as well such offering to get the speaker a drink since I’m going to the kitchen. I tell the person I’m going to see if anyone needs help in the kitchen. I go to the bathroom, but that doesn’t get me away long enough. Those options have made conversation a little easier knowing I have an escape plan.
Thanks Deborah. I like your suggestion on offering to get the person a drink–What a great idea! I appreciate your comment!
What a great post! Thank you for the article, I’ve always wondered why I have a problem with these types of parties. I often employ several of the above ideas, my issue is that when I need to get away for a little isolation I feel like I’m being rude if it’s not a large gathering. What I try to do is get away for a little bit to “recharge” and then I’m able to engage with others.
thanks again 🙂
Hello! I am new to this blog but just wanted to comment on this. I have just had two v busy weekends with weddings on each Saturday and family meals on each Sunday. Totally lovely but also exhausting!
I had an interesting experience this Saturday night as I was trying to sleep, I could feel my brain processing the whole day (my brother’s wedding). It was like a slide show, snippets of sound and pictures all rushing about, trying to find somewhere to file. I couldn’t sleep or stop it and it was so tiring. Any advice on how to deal with the aftermath of such events?
Thanks for the blog and the podcast, both so exciting and interesting. Glad to know I am not unique or weird in this world.
Hi Joless, thanks for your comment. Just the other night I had a similar experience–things were flying through my head, and instead of being relaxed and sleepy, I felt even more keyed up. One thing that works for me is reading a book. Lying in bed and reading always makes me soooo sleepy. It also might help get your mind off everything else. That said, attending a sibling’s wedding is a pretty huge event so I don’t think it’s unusual that your brain was so active!
I did feel like it was particularly heavy processing, but as you say, it was a big event! I get this problem a lot though, usually when I am worried about something (usually tediously trivial!). I’ll try reading whenever it won’t wake up my GF, and see if that makes a difference.
I also run into the sleeplessness after a worrisome day at work, or large gathering of people. Even if it was a fun gathering or successful day. Though reading can help me shift my thoughts away from the “slideshow”, I’ve found crossword puzzles, sudoku, other games calm me down very quickly. Could you try one of those “reading” night lights to give you light without waking your partner?
Wonderful help and especially timely. Everyone doesn’t have bulletproof shields. ( though we men are taught that , one tool skill mentality.) If one has much awareness at all if the caustic world around us, it will wear on us in different ways and depths… Great advice resource help.
I just wanted to thank you for the insights and for being present for those who are highly sensitive. I am almost 40 and just discovered the trait had a name and science behind it. This holiday was much different for me thanks to your advice, and I felt much more aware of my reactions (in a good way). I am now giving myself a break more, and I smile as I think about other people’s stories and how they experience parties, too. It’s like I carry you all with me everywhere now. What a wonderful gift to receive! Thanks from the bottom of my heart!
Thank you Suzanne! I’m so glad you found this helpful!!! 🙂
Thanks. These are great suggestions!
I’ve always hated parties. As a teenager they always made me extremely uncomfortable. Everything seemed so forced as if you had to enjoy yourself, or act like you were just to fit in with the environment. The arrival was always the worst for me, as if everyone has to make some grand entry, because all eyes are on you. I hate it. I would always arrive with a friend or in a group so I could deter some of the attention away from myself. I only like gatherings if it’s with people on the same energetic, emotional level as me. Otherwise, I just feel sick and completely uncomfortable.
Hi Annabelle, I am so much like you. I hate parties especially work parties. I always find an excuse not to go. I find it so difficult to pretend enjoying when I would rather be in the comfort of my own home.
Thank you for this wonderful website. You have already mentioned a lot of excellent tips for survival. Here are a couple more that have helped me through parties:
1. I always carry with me a bag with some safety items in it. I have a mp3 player with meditation tracks or my favourite music to calm me down or give me inner power in difficult situations. I also carry a nice book and something safe to drink and eat (I have a very sensitive stomach), and comfortable clothing & shoes. I prefer a stylish and warm/cool enough hoodie that I can wear for a moment over my festive clothes. It helps me when I know that I have the option to find a lonely room or a corner where I can crawl into the hoodie and relax for a moment with my favourite things. I also make sure that the clothes and shoes that I wear for the celebration are both stylish and as comfortable as possible (both physically and mentally; really reflecting the person that I am).
2. I go for a short walk because I find nature very relaxing. I usually try to spot a beautiful place, or an intriguing object around the house, and ask if I can go to admire it (a garden, for example). I try to develop a real interest in the surroundings. I always remember to admire the place for the owner after the walk. “Oh, you have such a gorgeous bed of flowers. Can you tell me what the yellow ones are?” People are usually flattered when someone pays attention to something they themself find interesting.
3. When overwhelmed, I go to some corner and focus entirely on breathing. It helps me in a tricky situtation and also after a party. Sometimes it may take twenty minutes for my brain to calm down, but this meditation technique never fails. The other technique I use is to focus solely on listening to the different sounds around me and accept them as part of the sonic landscape.
4. If I’m stuck in a conversation that I want to get rid of, I just thank the person for a nice chat and say that I’ve promised to help in the kitchen/take the dog for a walk/to call my spouse… Then I say “have a nice party” and leave. I’ve realized that it’s ok to put limits to the conversation. People do it every day. Especially we HSPs have to learn how to do it. I prefer the stylish way, but if the person is offending, aggressive, or drunk, I don’t hesitate to be frank.
5. I try to find an another HSP in the party (no matter what age) and spend time with that person. It might be that both of us are in need of a quiet, little moment on the balcony or a walk outside.
6. I enjoy the people and the party as much as I can for some hours, then leave when still happy. I’m always prepared to pay for a taxi so I can leave whenever I want to. I’ve learned to avoid all dependance on others when it comes to my well-being.
Antonio, thank you for these great suggestions!! Really, these are so good. 🙂 I love the one about asking the host a specific question (“what are the yellow flowers?”) to show your attention and curiosity about their life/home. Thank you!
I found this post when I Googled something like, “dealing with family parties”. I am so glad I found all this great advice. I do not consider myself an HSP (by your website definition), however, I am very much an introvert.
My husband and I enjoy our monthly dinner party very much and occational movie with a friend or sibling but in general, I prefer to read, watch tv, or go to an art show or restaurant with my husband.
Our summers are usually packed with his family’s get-togethers (his father has a house on a river and owns a boat) and they have some undesirable social qualities (rude, racist, controlling, etc) with which I find abhorrent. It’s difficult for me to be around them. My husband is not like them and usually we leave earlier than everyone else (which also seems to be a problem for them as well). I’ve learned through therapy that as long as we are polite and have good intentions, saying good bye early or politely turning them down completely for a visit is fine. If they are upset with that, unfortunately for them, that’s their issue-not mine.
Thank you to everyone for all of their ideas here. Just knowing others like me are out there is comforting but then the strategies you posted are very helpful as well.
Kelly, these are great suggestions! I second the idea of making sure you have your own transportation – that way, you can leave when you’re ready, or if you need to.
Personally, I have learned to decline ‘large party’ sorts of invitations, knowing that I enjoy smaller gatherings, but can hardly tolerate large rowdy, noisy gatherings. But let’s say that I did somehow end up going to a large, out of state, family gathering. I would:
– Have my own transportation
– Arrive fairly early (tends to be calmer, and if I need to leave when it gets too loud, I’ll have already stayed awhile, so the host won’t be upset that I came and left)
– Time myself out periodically – go for a walk in the backyard, find a quiet room, even hide in the bathroom
Here’s one I didn’t see in the article, but it’s super important for me, and might help someone else – if I’m travelling to go to something like this, I get a hotel room, rather than staying with friends or family. That way, I at least have a haven to retreat to that is all mine. I know that’s not always financially feasible for folks, but if you can afford it…it’s worth it .
Good suggestion. So me.
Thank you for this! Much needed when I am at my in-laws’. My MIL watches TV all day in the hall and everyone is expected to be around. ALL the time. I can neither stand TV nor her, sorry to say, so even though it is frowned upon I take a 2 hour “nap” (=shut the door amd have me time). Does me, amd thus them a world of good!
Will keep your suggestions in mind. Thank you.
glad you found this helpful! 🙂
Im Super happy with these tips!
I only have one problem:
Once i get into a quiet room or anything quiet, i cant get out of that place.
And longer i stay the harder it gets for me to leave the room and i get stressed about how the others wil think of me when they notice im away.
And im always away for more than half an hour because im anxious about going in again.
Come to think of it, maybe im anxious of entering a room filled with people?
Anyway, sometimes im away for an whole hour and i can barely hold in my tears, wich maken it ever harder to get back to the party…
what should i do?
I also dont controle my high sensitivity as im 14 years old and moving to another city, wich is very hard because i had to transfer to an other school etc.
any tips on how i should act when it happens?
Hi Merel, thanks for your comment. I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time. Do you have a school counselor or someone you could talk to about this? I don’t know how your parents/guardians feel about you speaking to a therapist, but that would also be a great option if you are struggling greatly with this issue. I’m not a mental health professional, so unfortunately I’m not qualified to give this advice.
I love all your tips, Kelly! When I was working a corporate job way back when—and didn’t understand anything about being HSP except that I was miserable and that no one understood me—I think people began to wonder what was wrong with my bladder because I excused myself so often. It was the only place to be alone in relative peace.
Now, I’m so focused on “reeling in my own psychic tentacles” that it’s gotten much, much easier. In crowds, in my head, I’m saying over and over, “I’m focused on my own alignment, not what’s going on for everyone else. My octopus is in. I know my own energy and I know how to stay in it. I know how to be in my UES (my Unique Energetic Signature) and stay there. And, yeah, when I’ve had enough…I am SO outta there!!!
If you don’t know what your own Unique Energetic Signature looks like and feels like, how can you know the difference between what’s yours and what’s someone else’s???
Thanks again for the words of wisdom!
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