5 ways to take a time out during any holiday party

A few weeks ago I was at a wedding. I used to LOVE weddings.

The romance, the party, the reunions with old friends, the dancing — it was all SO up my alley. Then my mom died a few weeks after my sister’s wedding. Weddings make me feel real weird now, so I made a point of doing lots of prep before I even got on the plane to attend this one.

I was told by friends that they prep by asking someone about the flow of events so they can remove themselves for speeches that’ll trigger serious sadness or jealousy; they find secret places to hide; they legit just leave if they need to and feel no shame.

I’m learning that whether it’s a bday, funeral, wedding, baby shower, or office party, being around people can just be so tiring when you’re grieving. And honestly, holiday parties can be the worst.

Slowly, I am learning a few things: Limit the snacking, watch my drinking (both cider and booze), and choose where and when to engage people in “real” convos. Sometimes, it’s not worth it to be “that guy” who brings down the room by sobbing. And at other times it’s the best feeling in the world to see friends for the first time since last December and just let the f go. So I choose my crowd, choose my mood to put on, and most importantly: Choose how and when I take some time for myself.

This time of year can get hella busy, and once you end up in the middle of your sixth “holiday” party in two weeks, the travel + Mariah Carey + pigs in a blanket + super strength eggnog can be a bad combo for exhaustion. Grieving through the holidays isn’t just about being *sad*, it can be exhausting, frustrating, angering, and more. So let’s pump the brakes as your calendar starts filling up and talk game plan. Yes, it’s important to figure out what potluck dish you’re going to bring, but more importantly, you’ve gotta figure out how to have maximum fun while taking maximum care.

1. When you arrive, identify a place that you can be alone for a while.

I know this can be hard when people have mini apartments or a crazy rager, but if you can identify a good spot in the place that’ll be quiet for a few minutes at a time, take yourself there whenever you need to. And if there’s nowhere, look around the neighborhood on your way and see if there’s a corner store you can “run to to get ice” or a restaurant that you can go have a snack/drink/coffee in for a breather. Sometimes you don’t need to completely leave, you just need a damn break.

2. Download a podcast or Netflix movie on your phone.

My fiance suggested this before the wedding and at first I laughed. What was I going to do? Go sit in the empty bathtub, curtain drawn, watching Sex and the City reruns? And the answer is: Why the hell not? If there’s something that can distract and soothe you during a Christmas party that’s FULL of energy, download something to watch in an extra bedroom. It can take your mind off things, ground you, completely distract, and won’t leave you alone in a room with your thoughts.

3. Assign a buddy for support.

Before I went to this wedding recently, I told a friend of mine that things could go sideways. I told her that I might lose it during the mother of the bride speech and that I could need a little hand holding. For holiday parties, consider enlisting a friend to be your buddy and let them know that when “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” comes on, you might need a good walk around the block to sob. Or tell them that you might need to leave LITERALLY five minutes after getting there if it’s just too much, and that they need to be the person who either tells everyone 1.) you’re going through it and that you went home (truth) 2.) you’re “around here somewhere” and “you’ll be right back, eventually” (lies but who cares).

4. Ask the host in advance what you can stay occupied with during the party.

Even when you’re NOT grieving it can be exhausting to talk to people all night. We’ve all been there where we’re just lookin’ for something else to stuff our mouth with so that we don’t have to tell the same story for the fifth time in 30 minutes. So ask the host in advance if you can be the person to run the karaoke station or serve up at the bar. By offering to help with something that keeps people from spending a lot of time lingering (aka digging into deep convos and bringing up sad stuff) you can be engaged with guests and limit your obligation of socializing.

5. Feel okay turning down an invitation.

If you’re just not up to it, don’t go. Sometimes it’s not worth it to power through, so don’t burn yourself out. It’s that simple and if anyone comes at you just send ‘em to me.

Alica Forneret