One in four adults in the UK feel anxious about social gatherings during the festive period with nearly a fifth pretending to be sick to get out of staff Christmas parties.
The findings, released by mental health charity Mind from a survey of more than 2,000 adults, came as the UK prepared for the biggest night for staff Christmas parties on December 18.
While one third (31%) of workers said they enjoy meeting up with colleagues outside a working environment more than a quarter (27%) admitted that they felt under pressure to participate in, and attend, work events during the festive period.
Rachel Boyd, information manager at Mind, said: "Coping with social anxiety can be difficult at any time of year but at Christmas there are extra events and demands that leave you feeling even worse than usual. The pressure to feel on good form and join in at work when everyone around you seems to be having fun can have an effect on both the body and the mind. Physical symptoms can include increased heart rate, muscle tension, dizziness, difficulty breathing, sweating, shaking and feeling sick.
"Psychological symptoms include feeling that people are negatively judging you, being on edge and more sensitive to sounds and sights and wanting to run away or escape from the situation. For some people, anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it takes over their lives. Some may develop a phobia about going out and about, or may withdraw from contact with people, even their family and friends."
A significant number of workers make up excuses to get out of attending staff functions over the festive period. One in 10 pretend that they cannot find childcare when staff parties are taking place while 11% have said that they would meet colleagues at events only to not show up. One in 20 (6%) admit that they have pretended to get lost en route to get out of attending staff events taking place in the run up to Christmas.
Of those who do make it to Christmas lunches and parties, 22% admit that they pretend to enjoy themselves – 25% of women and 18% of men. The likelihood of enjoying getting involved in such events decreases with age; 32% for 25-34-year-olds and 15% for those aged over 65.
Respondents reported Christmas is a tough time of year, with 20% admitting they have felt lonely during the festive period. Meanwhile 13% say they have had problems sleeping and 18% drink more alcohol than usual to cope with the pressure of Christmas. The poll also found that 6% take antidepressants to deal with the pressure directly associated with the festive period.
Boyd added: "It’s key not to take too much on and to be honest with people close to you if you are finding it difficult to cope. Keeping anxiety bottled up can make things worse so find someone you can confide in and let them know that you need some support. If you aren’t in contact with family or friends there are lots of other forms of support, either through local community groups or online through peer support communities."