Feeling weird as a guest
The weather is warming up, which for many of us means travel plans to see old friends, maybe visit the in-laws this summer. I’ve written about the stress of hosting in the past, but it goes both ways: If you find yourself feeling weird as a guest - not knowing what to do with yourself and generally uneasy, you’re not alone. This definitely falls into the “first world problem” category. But it’s a real thing, and I’m determined to find ways to overcome this mild annoyance.
Not my own space
I was visiting a friend recently over the weekend, and I had a bit of down time between activities. I hit the backyard by myself to get some fresh air and to give the host (and her husband and kid) some space. I stretched out on the grass, waiting to feel centered, to feel like myself again. While the sun felt good on my face, and I enjoyed the quiet breeze, I still didn’t get a reprieve from feeling generally uncomfortable. As long as I was in their yard, I couldn’t relax, and definitely couldn’t meditate the way I would in my own space.
This could come down to classic social anxiety. When you’re already socially anxious, being away from home and someone’s guest exacerbates and highlights the anxiety because there is no escape to your comfort zone.
While I’ve never ended a trip early as a result of it, the thought has crossed my mind.
Giving up control
Even when you visit the best of friends or notice very thoughtful touches to your stay, the guest is often in a position of less power. You have little control over the plan for the day, when you eat, when you sleep, and when you poop. This can feel chaotic to those of us who like a certain routine. If I can’t unbutton my top button after meals, let alone walk around the house in my undies, do I even want to see Cincinnati?! Well yes, I suppose I do. But the point stands.
Being a guest can take away your sense of agency. You might revert back to a state of helplessness, like a kid waiting for mom to tell you when to wake up, make meals, and take you to soccer. Even when asked what I want to do, I can lose sight of my own needs. I feel like I’m at the whim of the host - they know their town best and I have little idea what I want from a new experience. It’s different when I travel to a new place where I book a hotel room, and decide my itinerary; then I at least have some control over my day.
All that to say, being a house guest can be disorienting.
The overly accommodating guest
I’m the kind of introverted extrovert combo that loves people, but doesn’t know what to do with them. Even close friends and family. I’m also an empath, overly in tune with how others are feeling. I would never want my presence to be the cause of any unneeded stress for my host. This in turn makes me feel like I’m imposing, invading their space, in the way, a burden. I feel an incessant need to help and be accommodating. I know this can become annoying, so I check myself and then feel like I’m not helping enough. It’s a vicious cycle of self-censorship and anxiety.
That makes it hard for me to enjoy my stay and their company.
5 tips for overcoming guest anxiety
The point of traveling and seeing friends out of town is to have fun! And all my complaints are most definitely fun-killers. Vacations should be relaxing, so I came up with ways to check all this anxiety and keep a level head:
1. Get curious. Take an interest in the new and be open to new experiences. Set aside expectations, and try to keep an open mind to whatever ends up happening.
2. Take a break when you need down time. No one can be non-stop fun all the time. And don’t worry if a nap in the hammock isn’t relaxing like it would be at home. You’re not in your element, and the newness can cause anxiety. That’s ok - frame it as a new experience.
3. Offer to help, but don’t go over the top. Wash the dishes a couple times, clean up after yourself, but otherwise let the host do their host thing. Chances are, they don’t want you to take over running their home.
4. Keep the trip short. I’m talking…one weekend. If it turns into a longer trip, find ways to entertain yourself, figure out your own transportation, do some exploring on your own. This will minimize the feeling that you’re a burden, and will give you some stories to share with your hosts about your adventures when you reconvene at the end of the day.
5. Remember most hosts are happy to have you. They want to show off their city, wow you with a home cooked meal and impress you with the new kitchen remodel. Show your appreciation, and let them know when you’re enjoying yourself.
We all have a persona we put on when we’re “on” around people, and one that lets loose when no one is around. The irony is that I’m most comfortable, my best self - the one I want to share with others - when I’m alone. If only I could teleport the relaxed, alone version of myself into someone else’s space for the weekend!
Sometimes visiting friends in new places brings out some realness. Ask yourself (and be honest when you answer): Do you truly like traveling? Do you prefer your own space? Are you curious? Are you open to going along with someone else’s plans? It’s ok if the answer isn’t a resounding “yes!”
I know it’s romantic to have a sense of adventure, to be carefree and spontaneous. But it’s also human to want comfort, peace, home, familiarity. Traveling and being a houseguest is revealing - it’s a great way to learn about yourself, your likes, dislikes, and best and worst traits. Think of it as a personal challenge and a learning experience.
We can help!
I hope you have some fun plans for the summer. But if you just plan to stay in and read a book in the shade with some iced tea, that’s also great. Now if even the thought of going on these trips causes anxiety, we have counselors who can help! Does your relationship need a tune-up before visiting the in-laws? Or, are you feeling anxious seeing your high school friends again and you don’t know what to say? Improving couple relationships and managing social anxiety is our bread and butter, or toast and avocado.
Karen Lenz is the Office Whiz Extraordinaire at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is looking forward to a family reunion next weekend to celebrate the 4th, and she’s thankful that it will be at a campground so that no one will have to be concerned about being on their best guest behavior.