THE BLOG
11/26/2012 03:09 pm ET | Updated Jan 26, 2013

Stress-Free Hosting: How To Ease Tension With Holiday House Guests

The ugly truth is that even visits among the best of friends can really stress out the host, the guests and innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Acknowledging the psychological realities of visits make situations requiring apologies and reconciliation much less likely.

For overnight visits to be the pleasant bonding experiences planned, it's important to recognize that human beings are territorial. Sure, we like to think we've left our evolutionary past far behind us, but the truth is, our history as a species continues to influence our lives today.

When we're in our own territory we relax and when others intrude we become tense. What this means in practical terms is that both a guest and their host are unsettled, at a fundamental level, by sharing the host's home. Hosts need to accept a guest's "invasion" of their space and guests must understand that they're on someone else's turf, literally.

Guests and hosts invariably have different sets of rules that govern their use of any space. Almost all are fine, really. Putting the toothpaste away immediately after use, or not, is simply a choice, one valid option among many. So is cleaning up as the cooking/eating process progresses or doing so at the end of a meal, sleeping until 7 or 8, or being a night owl or a lark that's up before the sun. Accepting and experimenting with new ways of
living prevents these fundamental differences from causing disagreements. If your guest is a late-riser, don't schedule an early brunch rendez-vous with others, relish the early morning time alone as an opportunity to do solo activities you enjoy, for example.

Our culture and personality have a fundamental influence on how we chose to use and experience the physical world. For example, introverts prefer less energizing spaces than extraverts, probably because they are better at processing sensory information than extraverts. Members of some cultures choose to stand and sit closer to others, be in space that can be modified more easily, have more time alone, or be in homes that are more or
less soothing. Accept.

All that acknowledging and accepting is fine, but not very concrete. What specifically can you do to minimize in-visit stress?

People sleep more soundly when their bed is positioned against a full height wall - we still, in some part of our brain, remember when carnivores sneaking up on us while we slept were a real threat. Try to position guest beds accordingly.

Hosts need to give visitors some control over their physical experiences. There probably aren't too many ways to re-position the sleeper-sofa in the living room, but perhaps lamps can be relocated so guests can comfortably read while they fall asleep - if those guests like to read after they retire. It's great if visitors can determine the temperature where they'll sleep, by opening a window or setting a thermostat. Allow guests to position things they own and value in in their temporary territory - let them leave some of the contents of their suitcase laying around the space where they're sleeping and stake a symbolic claim by putting their wallet or purse on the mantel - or wherever.

Cede territorial control to your guests; guests generally take only what they need to feel calm. The changes made depend on how the visitor likes to live their life and the realistic modifications that can be made to the host's home. When guests are in a space that supports their preferred ways of living, they experience less stress, which means that they are more relaxed, get along better with others, and think more clearly.

Scents and sounds can also be used to de-pressurize a situation. Science has shown that the smells of lavender, of vanilla, and of orange are relaxing, for example - so, potpourri or air freshener can do wonders for the well-being of guests and hosts alike. Serve comfort foods both guests and hosts enjoy - their scents and tastes really will comfort. Play music with 50-70 beats a minute, it's calming. Google "beats per minute" to learn how the music guests and hosts enjoy measures up on this parameter.

Our homes are our most private and personal territories, so sharing can be really difficult for both guests and hosts. Understanding our nature as territorial animals, and creating a soothing environment, can ease some of the tension. And remember, in time, visits end and all involved can relax again in their own spaces, at least for a while.

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