For some people, holiday party season is the best. You get to take time to meet new people, catch up with family and friends, and even socialize with coworkers who you may not otherwise talk to often. For others — introverts, shy people, or even extroverts suffering a crisis of confidence — this aspect of the holidays is borderline unbearable. The small talk, the long days (how often are corporate holiday parties almost immediately after the close of the business day?), and the constant stream of unfamiliar faces can be entirely too much.
But the difference between nervously pacing in the moments before getting in the car and confidently handling the situation might be as seemingly-trivial as a change in how you’re standing.
According to Science of People founder and body language expert Vanessa Van Edwards, one of the best ways to boost your confidence is to address what’s really making you nervous, and then, essentially, fake it ’til you make it.
“Fear likes to dress up as things that it’s not,” explains Vanessa, who calls all of those pre-party worries — that you’re awkward, that you’ll be disappointing, that no one likes you — “gremlins.” They’re nagging and they’re plentiful, but in the end, they can be defeated by as little as changing the way that you’re sitting, standing, or otherwise carrying yourself. Because, scientifically, your body responds the same to a real threat (“like a snake or an accident,” says Vanessa) as it does to, say, “an awkward pause” or “someone who gives you a dirty look at a networking event.” This response “emotionally hijacks” your brain, making it impossible for you to conduct yourself in a normal, convivial way.
“When something makes us afraid…we can’t move past it. So we have a hard time connecting,” she explains. To get back on track, then, you have to examining your fear, and then physically fight the fear response.
First, allow yourself to really feel your anxiety. But, instead of judging yourself for it, ask yourself what is triggering your response. Why do you feel this way? What is causing these feelings? Are these rational, actual fears? This introspection can help you get support, get reassurance, and reframe the feelings.
Next, says Vanessa, focus on that reframing.
“Your fear is there. We’re not going to try to repress it — believe me, that only makes it worse,” she explains. Instead, “name and tame” your fear.
Simply by rating how afraid you are and turning that negative self-talk into “clarifying self-talk,” says Vanessa, gives the fear less power over you. Instead of denying its existence, you admit that it’s there — and then move past it.
If you’re still nervous or afraid — which you probably are — the next step is to use your body to fool your mind.
“Our body is a positive feedback loop,” says Vanessa. “When we go into low-confidence body language, we actually begin to feel more low-confident. We produce the stress hormone that makes us feel worse. So we get worse and worse and worse,” she explains. “Whereas if you feel confident, and you stand confident, you produce the exact hormone you need to perform well.”
So, strike what Vanessa calls a “high power pose,” wherein, essentially, you take up a lot of space. You can do this either before you leave for the party, or even in the bathroom or a private place (just make sure you’re alone). Just by acting out confidence — performing it with your body — you’ll be telling your brain that you are safe, and that it’s ok to emotionally connect with others. Then, since your brain won’t be blocking your ability to socialize and connect, you might find yourself more affable and amiable in whichever social situation you might find yourself, which will definitely give you that much-needed confidence boost.