If the prospect of another year of working the holiday party circuit or cooking Christmas dinner for 30 of your nearest and dearest has you eyeing that bottle of tequila you brought home from your Mexican vacation, take a breath. There’s no reason why the holidays can’t be fun, relaxing and hangover-free if you approach your obligations with confidence, thoughtfulness, and the best nerve tonic of all, humour.

Worried about making friends, and small talk, at a holiday party where you only know the host or hostess? Don't drown your fears in a glass of wine or bury your nose in your smartphone, experts say.

Checking email or Twitter while you’re standing alone at a party may make you feel more comfortable while everyone around you has a great time. But anxiety expert Naomi Koerner, a psychology professor at Ryerson University, says it’s a mistake to deal with shyness by using your iPhone as a crutch.

"While you are gazing down at your electronic device, you may miss out on cues that people would like to chat with you," Koerner says. "People may assume that you are not interested in conversation and may be less likely to approach you if you are not looking up and making eye contact."

Koerner also advises against using alcohol to calm your nerves before you leave for a party -- or heading straight for the bar once you arrive. Alcohol may only worsen your anxiety, which often dissipates on its own.

But you can help it along, Koerner says, if you "step out of your comfort zone," and strike up conversations with different people, including those you don’t know.

"Once you start a conversation with someone at a social gathering, you may want to stick with that person for a while because you feel comfortable," Koerner says.

"Instead, take a risk. Try to strike up a conversation with someone else, especially with a person you have not met before. You may learn something new about a person you already know, or you may discover that you and a party guest you have just met have things in common."

And whatever you do, don’t hide out in the kitchen prepping food or washing dishes. There's time to help your host or hostess later, if you wish, after the party breaks up.

Family feuds defused

For many, attending parties is the easiest part of the holidays compared to hosting a gathering, including the big family Christmas or Hanukkah dinner. In-laws, step-parents and single siblings all make up a potential minefield of hurt feelings, awkward run-ins and frazzled nerves.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, McMaster University assistant professor of sociology Melanie Heath tells CTVNews.ca.

Heath suggests that as you begin planning a family gathering, call or email invitees for ideas that will help make the event more inclusive.

Getting some feedback ahead of time can go a long way to “ensuring that people feel included and there’s not going to be some way that people would somehow be singled out as different from the dominant of the idea about what family is.”

If you are inviting a new member of the family, such as a step-parent, communicate with who may be affected by your decision so "everyone understands that you are opening your house to them, and you want to make sure that they feel welcome."

The other side of that situation is, of course, when someone is no longer part of the family due to a break-up or divorce. In that instance, Heath suggests, sending a card to let that person know you are thinking of them will lead to goodwill on both sides.

As for the joy-destroying stress of cooking the big dinner and the pressure to be the perfect host, Heath says one answer is to delegate. If you’re cooking a big bird, have your guests bring the side dishes. And put different people in charge of different tasks, such as setting the table.

Another option is that while a big, home-cooked meal is a tradition that many folks like to keep alive, there is something to be said for hitting a restaurant and coming home to a clean and quiet house.

That advice comes straight from the Heath family.

"We started having Indian food to do something different," Heath said. "It became an interesting tradition. It became, 'Ok, we’re going to find this great Indian restaurant and have this great Indian food on Christmas Eve."