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Have a Sober, Stress-Free Holiday Party

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Whether your workplace rents out an entire restaurant to host its annual holiday party or throws a more informal potluck, these fetes can be anxiety provoking. But besides worries over what to wear and whether the CEO found that mistletoe joke funny or offensive, people who plan on staying sober during the festivities often experience an added layer of stress, according to findings in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

It makes sense. At happy hours or holiday parties, the expectation is that everyone will “loosen up” and enjoy themselves as a way to boost office morale—and too often, that equals alcohol. So declining can feel deviant, or even disrespectful, especially when combined with peer pressure from coworkers.

But sipping seltzer instead of Stoli doesn’t have to be so stressful. These four key phrases will help you deflect awkward questions or unwanted attention. And when the going gets tough just remember: Tomorrow, you’ll wake up hangover- and regret-free. Your boozy work buddies may not be able to say the same.

“Will You Come with Me?”
Bring along a friend—preferably one who’ll agree to stay sober for the night—especially if no one else at the event you’re attended knows you’re abstaining. The extra accountability and support will go a long way, especially if you’re being peer pressured, says Stuart Gitlow, M.D., president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Plus, it’s always nice having a sober buddy to chat with when everybody else starts getting a little tipsy.

“Take My Drink—Please.”
A major roadblock for many abstainers is anxiety over how others will view your choice. Will they think you’re a downer for not drinking? Will you seem like less of a team player? That’s where a little humor can be so helpful, says communication expert Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk. “The key is to not be defensive in any way,” she explains. Her go-to explanations: “If I told you [why I’m not drinking], I’d have to kill you,” or “I’m trying to get my fill of diet Coke tonight." Pause for a laugh, then change the topic. (These 7 Small-Talk Tips for Holiday Parties will give you more ideas on how to redirect the convo.)

“I’m on Antibiotics.”
If a joke doesn’t do the trick, a well-crafted fib is a great way to shut down an uncomfortable conversation with an extra-pushy party-goer, says Gitlow. The best white lies are ones that don’t offer much wiggle room like: “I’m driving tonight,” “I’m on meds that don’t let me drink,” or even, “I’m allergic to alcohol.” Still, don’t be afraid to be honest about your reasons to abstain. There’s no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed, and most people won’t bat an eye. (Learn more about How Alcohol Messes with Your Fitness Goals here.)

“I’m Good for Now.”
File this under “oldies but goodies”: Ask for a tumbler of seltzer or tonic water with a wedge of lime, and keep on sipping. People will assume you’re drinking, freeing you from having to answer questions about why you’re avoiding the open bar. Plus, you’ll be more hydrated—and therefore more gorgeous—than ever before.

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