There are lots of reasons I was excited to move in with my partner, Brian, and hosting parties together was a big one. I love the idea of playing host — of old and new friends crowding together over food and drinks in our living room. Plus, having friends over to a shared home feels like an important milestone, a real bar-raising of a relationship’s seriousness.
And yet, hosting proved to be more anxiety-inducing than I originally thought. A few Saturdays ago — months after we’d officially moved in together — I got so angry over one party guest who repeatedly walked into our bathroom (and all over our nice clean bath mat!) with his dirty sneakers on.
My focus on this behavior may be nit-picky, but it is consistent. In college, for example, I was always the first to start cleaning up after cooking with my roommates, and I do the same thing when I visit my family. But still, I was startled to see the extent to which I was triggered by other people’s messiness in my own home. And I felt bad that I was rude to my partner in response, blaming him for his friend’s mess.
If you, too, get stressed when you have people over and they mess up your stuff, there are a couple of things you can do before the party that can help. Practicing being just a little less orderly is valuable, because it can better prepare you for the eventual slip-up from a guest, Dr. Dean McKay, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Fordham University, tells Thrive. And while relaxing your own standards can help, anything that’s especially precious to you should just be put away entirely, to avoid any extra stress when guests inevitably get it dirty or inadvertently move things out of place. (Note to self: Stow away the bath mat the next time guests come.)
Here are four more practical strategies for how you can still enjoy your own party — even when you can’t help but see the mess everywhere.
1. Remember why you’re entertaining in the first place.
If you’re starting to stress over details like the drink rings from no coasters on your coffee table, remember why you’re entertaining to begin with, Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and author of Hack Your Anxiety How to Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love, and All That You Do, tells Thrive. Whatever your original intentions were — whether you invited people over to catch up with old friends, or to introduce a new co-worker to your broader social circle — focus your attention there instead of tuning in to what’s upsetting you.
2. Recite some affirmative mantras in your head.
Don’t underestimate the power of positive self-talk. If redirecting your attention to the party’s purpose didn’t help, and you’re still fixated on the crumpled pillow or the beer that spilled on the floor, try reminding yourself that you can clean (or fluff) it later. Clark emphasizes that giving yourself permission to experience what you’re feeling, by saying things to yourself like “it’s okay that I don’t like things out of place,” can be particularly calming.
3. Refocus your attention on helping.
It’s easy to fall into a “woe is me” habit of thinking — the feeling as though things, especially those we don’t like, are happening to us without our control. Focusing on helping others is a “really positive strategy for a number of negative feelings, but especially for soothing anxiety,” Clark says. Ask yourself: Have I offered my guests something to eat or drink? Have I asked them about what’s going on in their personal lives? The last question in particular can help move you into connection and out of your anxious distractions, Clark adds. If you’re still fixating, remember that you can often sneakily help your guests help you — for example, placing their drink on a coaster, if that’s the thing that’s bothering you.
4. Take a break.
If the previous strategies just aren’t working for you, and you feel yourself becoming angry, it’s time to remove yourself for a bit to cool down. Go to a separate room, the bathroom, or even the car in your driveway. “Nobody thinks twice about a host getting up from a conversation to go do something, because part of being a host means having to attend to things,” Clark points out. Because of this, it’s relatively easy to slip out and take a moment to yourself to calm down. You can distance yourself from the mess, and allow yourself to re-center, so you can come back and enjoy your event.
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