Overcoming Fear Of Eating In Front Of Others
Most people at some point in their lives feel nervous when eating in front of others. However, the intensity matters and, of course, if the problem remains. Some people simply cannot handle this nervousness and, what’s even worse, the issue seem to persist while others, on the other hand, start to feel easy after a just few attempts…
…because let’s face it: eating in front of others can really be a loaded situation with a lot of things that can potentially go “wrong”, so to speak.
It can be your first date, a tense family event, or a very important business meeting and you feel uncomfortable and don’t like to spill your wine, coffee or food or, God forbid…
…swallow a piece of food and choke on it.
Fear of eating in front of others is classified as social anxiety
This is social phobia, or, having social phobia in a specific situation. It is possible to be anxious about eating in public without having social anxiety in other situations. However, the majority of times, people who are socially anxious in general tend to have this problem more often than others.
Sadly, this fear can disturb your whole social life, quality of life and If you don’t feel comfortable with drinking or eating in front of others, then you have three possible routs to take:
- Avoid eating in front of others for the rest of your life
- Do it whenever you just can’t get away from it… and suffer intense discomfort
- Practice, try different tools and figure out ways that works for you so that you’ll finally overcome this fear
Avoidance of the problem
Avoidance, more often than not, creates a nasty cycle in which you have to significantly narrow your activities and life. Also, it won’t help you. The more you avoid social situations, the harder it becomes for you to treat your issue. As a result, you will find yourself turning down invitations to events or you will try to only select events where fewer people are invited or that, in some other way, are the least uncomfortable for you…
…this is understandable. It is VERY understandable because, while many people would not get what the big deal is, this problem can be stubborn and the attempt to overcome it is often accompanied by severe discomfort and pain.
How Is Fear Of Eating Linked To Social Anxiety?
According to the assistant professor of Psychology ‘Justin Weeks’, social anxiety is just a normal thing for some people. On the other hand, for others, it arises in some specific social conditions such as
- Speaking in public
- Eating in the presence of people
- Using public restrooms
- Calling someone unknown on the phone
- Writing something while someone is watching
…and so on.
These situations may be very uncomfortable and the sufferer might find himself worrying about a particular kind of situation, that he knows is coming, days or sometimes weeks or even months in advance. It is the fear, discomfort and time spent worrying about these situations that separates the problem from just regular shyness…
…in short, if the problem is limiting your life and lowers your quality of life, then you are classified as having a social anxiety disorder.
Why Overcoming fear of eating in front of others is something you should work on
Overcoming fear of eating in front of others would be desirable, as having anxiety about eating in public will stand in the way of you reaching you full potential in several ways. As a result you may face loneliness as when people would want to get to know you, you are just ignoring their invitations, and because of that, they will gradually stop inviting you.
Here’s the deal:
The risk is very high that this problem will reduce your confidence as well as self-esteem. Also, your chances of success becomes reduced as social exposure is really important in your professional life (in most professions anyway) and going in school and studying for that profession involves socializing to begin with…
…and not to mention dating…
…after all, we all know how common the phrase “let’s meet up for coffee or lunch” is.
Being nervous about eating with others will hinder you from fulfilling your dreams.
I know you know all that already and I know how much you hate this problem so let’s jump in to the solutions now, shall we?
OK, I’m having anxiety about eating in front of others so…
…what should I do about this problem?
Overcoming Fear of Eating in Front of Others
-STEP 1: Be sure to get your mindset right for the journey-
You should adapt the mindset that this is a problem that you will work on over a longer period of time. If you jump into it with the attitude that you will “fix” it over this incoming weekend, while it might be possible, you are most likely to be disappointed.
Adapt a “warrior” attitude!
By this I mean that there will be pain involved in the process and it is wise to, right from the start, accept that. You will also have many situations where you rather stay home, on your couch in front of the TV, instead of going out facing this pain. This is where you need that warrior attitude. Look at the process as a war in which you will have to face several painful battles. Some of which you will lose…
…but also, many that you will win.
Buy looking at yourself as a warrior, and the anxiety demons as your enemies, it will be easier for you to detach your ego from the whole process. In other words YOU are NOT your anxiety and YOU are NOT anxious or incredible scared. You are not even insecure.
What? Not insecure?…
…that is 100% correct…Look:
We are all born with confidence. Confidence is our default state. It is the negative thoughts that sabotages our confidence and makes us insecure. This, believe it or not, is backed up by science. So I repeat, YOU are NOT insecure our anxious and you are not your feelings. It’s just that the anxiety demons (negative thoughts) are messing with you but that’s ok…
…because you are a warrior.
Overcoming Fear of Eating in Front of Others
-STEP 2: Tell someone about your problem-
If you have not already done so, you need to talk about this problem with someone. As this is a pretty heavy problem to carry alone it is imperative that you get someone, who you trust, to listen to you. While it might seem “heroic” to carry heavy loads on your own shoulders it is definitel not a good idea in the long run.
If you have parents you can talk to then I would recommend that you tell them, however I do understand that not everyone is so lucky, or even have parents that are still alive. If that’s the case then, if you have friends, turn to some of them.
Also if that’s not a possibility then there are always professionals you can go to a couple of times. They will listen and understand and, believe me, it feels good to get it off your chest.
Do NOT skip this step. You might have a long journey in front of you and having someone in your corner as you go your rounds is, not only helpful but, almost a must.
Overcoming Fear of Eating in Front of Others
-STEP 3: The exposure/training-
Choose your battles!
Now, as I’m sure you understand, it will be necessary to expose yourself to your fear and practice eating in front of others, even if it’s uncomfortable. That said I believe exposure therapy is NOT productive if the fear level is too high.
What do I mean?
Well, imagine a scale from 1-100 where “100” is absolute panic and gruesome pain, anxiety and discomfort. On the other hand “1” , on the scale, is you being super confident, chill, relaxed and enjoying yourself. Now, if you take on a situation that is close to 100 on that scale, and you suffer tremendously for a long time and then leave the situation…
…well, now you have been telling/programming your nervous system and brain that the situation that you so feared is indeed very scary and painful. You have in essence only reinforced your fear. So this is why we have to choose our battles wisely, even if we have that warrior mindset.
Do this instead:
Go after situations that are 10-60 on that anxiety scale and do them often instead. Now you are closing in on your fear from a position of strength instead from a position of panic and this will make you progress much faster and you will develop confidence as you go along…
…instead of reinforcing your fears. Trust me on this!
Finding “eating situations” with anxiety levels that low might mean that you have to be creative or use different tools to lower your anxiety levels so that you can be more comfortable practicing them. For example if you have a fear of drinking because you are afraid of spilling the glass of water then start by only filling your glass to 30%…
…or always carry around some fruit and eat an apple in front of your friend or colleagues. Eat a hamburger while sitting alone in your car while being parked in a place where people pass by on the steeat…
…the possibilities are endless. Be creative and find ways to start small and work your way up. There is nothing wrong with going for anxiety levels that are only about 20 on that anxiety scale, in fact, I recommend that, so again, choose your battles.
Challenge your negative thoughts!
You are almost guaranteed to be attacked by negative thoughts during some of your exposures. Some common ones for me were:
- You are shaking so much they must think you are seriously sick!
- God you must be so incredible stupid when you can’t get a grip on this problem
- They must think that you are a mental wreck
- They must be laughing so hard inside at you because your hand is shaking
- If you swallow the food and start coughing, EVERYONE will look at you and wonder what’s wrong with you
…and on and on. No wonder we get depressed huh?
It’s very important that we never let one of those thoughts go by without talking back to them. Pretend that it is an annoying person that does not know what he is talking about who says all that stuff to you. Your mission is simply to be like a lawyer in a court room, challenging the mercy less accusations. Every time.
Demon: They think that you are a mental wreck because you stutter and your hands are shaking!
You: Really? What evidence do you have for that? Don’t you know that most people don’t focus that much on others? Besides, so what if they saw me shake? There are hundreds of reasons why a person might have shaky hands so how could you possible know what they are thinking IF they think anything at all?
And so on. You get the picture.
This is not to say that, by doing this, you will instantly eliminate “the anxiety of eating in public problem” , but it is one of the steps in the process. It is really something that you must start doing in order to get a grip on the negative thinking…
…which, as we talked about, undermine your confidence and self esteem.
Do not resist your anxiety when eating with others
Another thing that is important, when you are facing your fear of eating in front of others, is to NOT resist your anxiety. Resisting makes our emotions about 5x stronger instantly, and unfortunately, that goes for anxiety as well.
If you have shaky hands and try to resist the anxiety, when you lift your glass of water to have a drink, the anxiety may turn in to a panic attack, making drinking impossible. Your hand might react with a jerky movement insted of shaking this time…
…and with a full blown panic attack going on it will be almost impossible to swallow the water if you get the glass to your mouth in the first place.
What you want to do instead is to feel the wave of anxiety and simply try to ride it, SURFING on it without
letting it grab you…
…if you remember only one thing from this article it should be this, as it’s the most important of all the pointers. Practicing and mastering this point is what will make your anxiety about eating in public finally go away.
The last thing I want to remind you of, when it comes what mindset to have when you are practicing and exposing yourself, is that when you are going into a fearful situation you should remember that it IS going to be uncomfortable. Also remember this as you are sitting there, eating in front of others…
…practicing overcoming your fears IS painful and that’s OK. You are a warrior, remember? Fighting battles is not always fun. It can be very awful but the results will come. They might even come sooner than you think if you adapt this “warrior” attitude.
Overcoming Fear of Eating in Front of Others
-STEP 4: The tools you can use-
The purpose of using different tools to lower your anxiety levels is because, as you remember, you do not want to expose yourself to situations that are too high on that anxiety scale. Now with that said it is also important to point out that the tools should NOT be used only to get away from the unpleasant training of overcoming your fear of eating with others…
…they are tools and should be viewed as such. Tools to assist you in overcoming your anxiety. Not to replace or getting away from discomfort forever.
An example of how I used anxiety tools
- To make a situation, that otherwise would be about 95 on the anxiety scale, and take it down to 60 on that scale. (So that the exposure therapy will be more beneficial)
- To be able to do things that I otherwise would completely avoid. (Avoiding, as we know, will not get us anywhere at all)
- To reduce my stress at home so that I will better be able to relax and fall asleep. (That is important for recovery and for being able to go at it stronger again the next day. After all, it’s during rest that we grow stronger)
What are your options when it comes to anxiety lowering tools?
I have used everything there is out there and I’ll start with the least desirable option:
Benzodiazepines (prescription drug)
Benzodiazepines works by increasing the neurotransmitter GABA at the GABAA receptor, which gives sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. High doses benzos may cause amnesia and dissociation. These effects of the drug makes them useful in dealing with anxiety, insomnia, seizures, muscle spasms.
I have used these in my own battle against anxiety but I really must say that this is the LAST way to go as these drugs are very potent and can easily cause a dependency. They also messes with our brain and, without going in to too much detail here, let me just say that bad stuff can happen quickly if benzodiazepines becomes our main tool. So again, they should be considered the LAST option if your anxiety is so bad that nothing else you try is helping…
…try to stay away from them. Trust me on this.
Beta blockers (prescription drug)
Beta blockers work by blocking the release of adrenaline and, unlike the benzodiazepines, they do not impair our thinking processes (benzodiazepines might slow down your thinking and change your personality a bit like alcohol can). Because of the blockage of the stress hormones beta blockers can be useful in situations where you want to have better control over your body’s response to stress.
Beta blockers makes it easier to hold your hands steady and it also keeps your heart rate low even if you are having anxiety. In other words, they won’t make you have less anxiety, because they do not work on the brain, but they will lower the physical symptoms of anxiety, like trembling, racing heart and so on…
…this can be useful if you are having trouble with holding your hands still as you are eating or drinking in front of others…
…however, even though I have used beta blockers a lot during my years, I would not recommend them as a first choice either, because there are side effects and they can potentially be harmful if used for a long period of time.
Natural anxiety supplements (no prescription needed)
What I like most, when it comes to my own anxiety, is using natural anxiety supplements because they can be used often and with no side effects or health risks. You can do a little search on this website to find more info on this but what I personally would recommend for helping with exposure therapy is a supplement called ProVanax…
…I use Provanax myself and if you are interested in learning more about it you can
click here to read a review I made about the product. I like it because it makes the body more relaxed AND it also works on the brain, making us more social, as well as lowering our anxiety, negative thoughts and worry. One particular ingredient in it also helps with increasing our confidence so it is an excellent choice for social anxiety, but, as I said, I talk more about that in my review.
I would also like to recommend a good magnesium supplement. In fact, magnesium is the first supplement we should take when having anxiety because, if we are deficient in this mineral, it is literally impossible to overcome anxiety. This is because magnesium is highly involved in brain and muscle relaxation and, with levels that are too low, our brain and thinking will be stuck in the “ON” position and, in addition to this, our muscles will e tense and unable to relax.
You should also make sure to choose the right form of magnesium as many of them (for example magnesium oxide) possesses a very poor absorption rate. To learn about this and to find out what form and brand I use you can click here to read and learn more.
Other anxiety lowering tools
Breathing exercise assist you in many ways and especially when it comes to anxiety. As a result of the “flight or fight response” to a stressful situation, your breathing pattern automatically increases. By deliberately slowing down your breathing you are sending signals to your brain that there is no need for a strong anxiety response right now. This will also help you focus your mind and control your racing thoughts.
Do it like this:
- Breathe IN for four seconds through your nose
- Breathe OUT for four seconds through your mouth
- Keep going like that for a couple of minutes and then slow down even more:
- Breathe IN for six seconds through your nose
- Breathe OUT for six seconds through your mouth
Lower you shoulders
In fearful situations we automatically raise our shoulders a bit. This will often happen without us being aware of it. As soon as you notice your shoulders being raised, or tense, make a conscious effort to relax them and bring them back down. Again, by doing this, your brain gets the signal that the situation is really not that dangerous. Raising shoulders are also a bad idea because we got sensitive nerves in our neck area, and by tensing the muscles around them, well…
…that alone can trigger anxiety and panic. Tense neck muscles also messes with the blood flow to the brain which is another thing we do not want when we need our thinking to be clear and sharp.
Remember that overcoming fear of eating in front of others is a process that, if you keep practicing, will get better over time. For some it takes a couple of weeks and for others a couple of months. Pursue patience and try not to get discouraged if you have setbacks. The results WILL come if you keep at it. Also remember to choose your battles wisely and don’t take on too high anxiety levels at first.
If a particular situation is just too scary then there is no shame in skipping it for the time being until you have built your way up there. If you still, for some reason, have to go then use the anxiety tools I recommended as they will most likely lower your anxiety levels significantly.
Now start implementing the things you have read in this article and, before you know it, your anxiety about eating in public will be at such a low level that you will have a hard time remembering what being really anxious, when eating with others, actually felt like.
Best of luck to you!