It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — and not just any Christmas. The multi-denominational event that I like to refer to as Christmukkahkwanzaa 2021 is The Big One, the festive season to end all festive seasons, post-pandemic Yule. Already the virtual equivalent of what Tatler-types used to refer to as “stiffies” are filling up inboxes everywhere.
Next week, Prada will throw an achingly fashionable soirée at Tate Modern. On November 29, the British Fashion Council is bringing the Fashion Awards back to the Royal Albert Hall — with guests including Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, Tyler, The Creator and A$AP Rocky — preceded by a select bash at the Bulgari Hotel to launch its hot new lounge. There’s the annual Claridge’s Christmas Tree blast, with word on the street that this year’s design by Dior’s Kim Jones is a corker. I’ve been asked to a knees-up at the Tower of London, surrounded by the Crown Jewels, no less; more work carouses than I care to count; and the yearly shindig held by my mate Fitz at which I met my beloved seven years ago.
At Mayfair’s Sketch, the Christmas display runs to more than 100 neon lights and a forest of 10ft-high pines and palms. The big, bouncy blow-dry is back (cheers, Adele). While, on the resale platform Depop, searches for party frocks began to spike in mid-September, a national sequin shortage imminent.
Obviously, all this is brilliant, bonzer, top; about bloody time and just what the doctor ordered. We’ve longed for this, we’ve needed it, and, damn it, we’re going to enjoy it. Only is anyone else feeling a little terrified?
“The thing is,” confesses one well-known party-goer who asks to remain anonymous, “I’ve lost my mojo. I find myself ashamed of how slow my reactions are. I worry about what I’m going to wear and whether I’ll have anything to say. Last week, I got my hair done, painted my face, then remained planted on the sofa. For the first time in my life, I’ve got Pre-Party Anxiety Syndrome.”
I patted her arm sympathetically because — as a closet introvert — I have spent decades pretending that parties are my thing. As a nipper, I refused to attend any. Only when I started drinking, at 13, did I feel myself sufficiently armoured. Cue 30 years of lunatic high jinks until, now, sober, I have to forcibly eject myself from my flat. Why is it that, this year, even hardened hedonists appear to be joining me in my social phobia, suddenly awash with pre-party panic?
Writer and psychotherapist Julia Samuel — creator of the Living Loss podcast, about our grief when our lives undergo abrupt and uncontrollable change — has noted the phenomenon. “This is because our confidence in ourselves and trust in life have been severely dented through social isolation,” she explains. “And it has become a negative spiral where doing the thing you actually need is the hardest thing to do. Additionally change, even if it is something we want, always feels uncomfortable. We are wired to look for danger, and anxious emotions are messengers of information.”
Her tip? “Don’t block the feelings, that only intensifies them. Breathe and name what you are feeling. What is it telling you? Start with small steps, and build up, so don’t go straight to a huge party, but meet a few friends in a bar. Give yourself a reward when you’ve dared to party. Let yourself know that you can go for a short time.”
I heartily endorse this. Not for nothing have I become known as “The Bolter,” so accomplished are my French exits (fleeing without bidding farewell so as not to break up the party). I would add: only accept events that you actually want to attend with people you actively like (sounds obvious, really isn’t). Allow yourself to get a cab there and back, if possible, so at least the journey doesn’t feel like a vast effort.
Get your hair done (you’ve invested in said bash, plus your look is no longer your responsibility). Sport clothes that make you feel amazing — but, crucially — relaxed, as anything suggestive of painful effort may prove a deal-breaker.
Psychotherapist Julia Samuel adds: “Remember that the sensations of fear and excitement have the same signals in the body. It’s a question of how we interpret them — perhaps let yourself know you feel both? I would encourage you to have the courage to step out of your comfort zone because (a) we all need fun,(b) it is unlikely to be as bad as you fear, and c) bad habits are hard to kick and, once you start stalling, it’s harder next time round. Social connection is vital to our mental health: feel the fear and do it anyway.”
And, if you run across me at your next bash, then come stand by my side: we can be anti-socially anxious together.