7 tips for surviving — and thriving — at your holiday office party

It's holiday party season at the office! But first, a couple of ground rules ...
NBC News health editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, left, and Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski, right.
NBC News health editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, left, and Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski, right.Travis W Keyes

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By Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD

Holiday office parties can be a recipe for disaster, especially with all the alcohol and end-of-year stress. Remember that an office party should be fun (and not stressful!) so get a plan in place ahead of time that works for you.

Consider these tips:

1. Attend the party even if you don’t feel very sociable.

Showing up at certain events in life really matters. And one of those is an office party (even if you’d rather not). Make it a priority to attend, and plan to come for a short time (no one is watching the clock). Plan to talk to new people besides your daily co-workers. And this is often a great opportunity to meet the senior leadership team, if you don’t already know them. You might be surprised at what a good time you have! Of course, if you have a definite plan (like travel, or a child’s school concert) simply explain it.

2. Dress for success.

The party’s time of day and location will be the best indication of what to wear and how to accessorize. Add some special occasion flair, but keep it professional. Avoid anything too revealing or showing too much skin. Remember you’ll be seeing your co-workers back at the office!

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3. Pay attention to timing.

Arrive shortly after the start time (while someone needs to be first, it doesn’t need to be you!) and stay as long as you are comfortable. If you’re still there when you see the party starting to wind down, it’s a good time to leave.

4. Talk about topics other than work projects.

Steer your conversation to non-work topics, especially with co-workers you see regularly. And for new people you’re meeting, learn about their interests, not only their role in the company.

And no gossiping, anytime. Your mother was right – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

5. Monitor your alcohol intake.

This starts with knowing yourself, and how you handle alcohol. First, make sure you eat before you drink, to help slow down the rate of alcohol emptying out of your stomach into your bloodstream. An empty stomach releases the alcohol quickly, with a much greater impact. Pace your intake – and allow one hour between drinks, when the alcohol will be processed by your body, and levels will be almost back to zero. Stick with club soda or a low-calorie drink in between.

And remember that a serving is not the size of your glass. It’s a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or mixed drink with 1 ½ ounces of spirits. Skip the holiday punches, and most mixed drinks where the amount of alcohol per drink is highly variable, and might be much higher than you think.

6. Avoid a major food faux pas: “double dipping”

At a holiday party, there aren’t many food rules – but a big one is to avoid double dipping. It’s an easy fix to take a few spoons of a dip, and put on your plate, along with chips or veggies. No one likes a double-dipper

7. Thank the organizer.

A lot of effort goes into organizing an office party, and it’s a super-nice gesture to thank the organizer. It’s always appreciated, and helps you to make a gracious exit when you’re ready to leave.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is NBC News’ health editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.