Anxiety Around Eating in Public | Counseling | Therapy

Anxiety around Eating in Public: Anxiety Therapy in Philadelphia

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Anxiety Around Eating in Public

Eating with other people can serve as a connection with others in our life. Eating in public is not always the easiest for everyone however. Some of us experience anxiety around eating in public. Anxiety around eating in public can be really distressing and take us out of the present moment we want to be in. Anxiety around eating in public can also lead to isolating behaviors that hurt us.

Do You Have Anxiety Around Eating in Public?

Sometimes it can be hard to determine if we have anxiety around eating in public. Below are some characteristic behaviors and thoughts someone with anxiety around eating in public may experience.

  • You exclusively drink beverages when out to eat with others. These can be non-alcoholic beverages or alcoholic beverages. You stick to beverages so you do not have to eat around others.

  • You order specific dishes when out to prevent judgment from others. For example, you do not order sushi or tacos when eating in public because these foods can sometimes be looser, messier and therefore more difficult to eat.

  • You choose to eat in isolation instead of in public. This can look like choosing to eat in a private room instead of a cafeteria setting. It can also be choosing a more secluded setting in an eating establishment, like a booth in the back corner in a restaurant.

  • You come up with excuses for why you are not eating when out with friends to eat. Some common ones would be “I ate before” and “I’m not hungry”.

  • You consistently order takeout as a way to get around eating in public places.

  • You have completely eliminated social eating situations from your life.

It is important to remember that the reason behind these behaviors should be fear of the perception of others when eating. Some of these behaviors happen naturally and are not due to anxiety around eating in public. For example, some people get takeout because it is just easier with their schedule and activities. However, if the anxiety around eating in public is what leads you to choose these avoidant behaviors, then it may be time to look at ways to begin addressing your anxiety.

How Anxiety around Eating in Public can Affect You

Your life may be impacted by your anxiety around eating in public. Many holidays are centered around a group meal. If you are unable to eat around others, it could limit your holiday celebrations. Dates with significant others or friends often involving trying new food or going to a familiar restaurant. There are times too it can be essential to eat in public, like when having to eat at a work event or in the cafeteria at our school. If you are unable to eat in public, you could negatively impact your work or school environment by not eating at all or finding small hideaways to eat in.

Refusing to eat in public could also be indicative of experiencing an eating disorder. Eating disorders are when our eating patterns are interrupted to control the shape and weight of our bodies. Check out our article here to see if you think you may be experiencing an eating disorder.

Counteracting Anxiety around Eating in Public

When we talk about eating in public, you might feel your anxiety automatically shoot up. Don’t worry, this is a very common response! Before we get into the meat of the exercise to help us with our anxiety around eating in public, reconnecting back to the moment is essential. When we reconnect back to the moment, we become less caught up in our thoughts and worried feelings. Reconnecting back to the present moment will also allow our bodies to regulate the physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, shallow breathing, or feeling agitated.

Reconnecting with Breathing

As you notice the anxiety that comes with the thought of eating in public, let’s begin to reconnect back to the present moment. One breathing technique is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. In this technique, the numbers refer to the amount of time you spend on inhaling, holding, and exhaling your breath. So, close your mouth and breathe through your nose while you count silently to four in your head. Then, you will count to seven as you hold that breath in. At the seven second mark, you will then exhale through your mouth forcefully for eight seconds. Feel the way your body deflates as you exhale for those eight seconds. Ensure that you do not feel lightheaded. Continue this breathing for four more rounds to return to a baseline state.

Evaluating Worst Case Scenario

Now that our body is regulated, one approach to anxiety around eating in public is to think of the worst situation that would happen if you were to eat in public. While this sounds intimidating, it can be useful to delve into your fear about what it is that you are scared of. What is your most feared situation that could happen if you were to eat in public? Maybe you fear a reaction from a stranger or someone’s comments about your eating. Really draw out the details of what this situation would look like. What would you be eating? What would the person look like who’s reacting? What would be the worst thing they could say to you? The more details you add, the more real it will seem, so be sure to dig into all aspects of the situation. Picture the environment it would happen in. There’s no limit to what your fear may be. Reflect on this to see what comes into your mind.

Once you have your most anxiety provoking scenario, let’s evaluate the aspects of this situation. How likely do you feel it is for this scenario to happen? Understanding the likelihood of this happening is important, as sometimes we have big fears that don’t happen as much as we think they would. Think back on past experiences. You may have experienced your worst case scenario before. Maybe you’ve heard about experiences that other people have faced, and those experiences are your feared outcome. Look at the frequency of this fear occurring. Does it occur often? If it were to occur, would it be the first time for it to occur?

Reality Testing

Now, imagine that the most feared situation that provokes the greatest amount of anxiety around eating in public happens. Think about what the end result would be if this situation were to happen. Determine both the worst possible outcome and the best possible outcome. Evaluate how each option happening would affect you. For example, if your fear is that someone laughs at you while you are eating, what is the actual outcome that happens if someone laughs at you? It could be that maybe others join in laughing at you as the worst case scenario and you never feel that you can live it down. The best case scenario is that no one acknowledges the person laughing at you and may even scold that person for being rude. How would these outcomes affect you in the moment, one week from now, one month from now, or one year from now? In either case, the effect is likely minimal. Even with the worse case scenario in the example, having a group of people laugh at you does not hold long-term effects. In fact, you would possibly forget about it over the course of a couple of months. As you continue thinking about this scenario, you may feel anxious. At any point, reconnecting with the present moment via breath is a great way to regulate the physical symptoms that accompany anxious feelings.

With anxiety around eating in public, we are likely overestimating the chance of something going wrong and catastrophizing the consequences, meaning we imagine the worst case scenario. This pattern is called creating irrational thoughts. When we analyze our worst case scenarios closely, often we find there are illogical fallacies or exaggerations that would not likely happen or would not greatly affect if the worst feared scenario were to happen. Challenging these illogical thoughts is called reality testing. Continually reality testing when these illogical thoughts pop up and scrutinizing them can start to change our patterns with anxiety around eating in public. Telling ourselves over and over that the worst case scenario really may not be that bad to endure lowers our body’s anxious response, and eventually, it can become a situation we no longer fear.

Sometimes, reality testing our fears doesn’t always help us. This may be the case if you experience obsessive or intrusive thoughts, or have more deeply rooted anxiety. Either way, it is possible to get relief from these symptoms. If reality-testing increases your anxiety, you should consider seeking out a therapist to get a better understanding of your anxiety.

Schedule Today An Appointment to Help You Recovery

Are you interested in learning more about how to manage your social anxiety and irrational thought patterns? Then schedule an appointment with one of the skilled and knowledgeable Center for Growth therapists.

At TCFG you can schedule directly online with a therapist or by calling (215) 922-LOVE (5683) ext 100 and speaking with our intake department. Lastly, you can call our Director, “Alex” Caroline Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW at (267) 324–9564 to discuss your particular situation. For your convenience, we have six physical mental health counseling / therapy offices. We provide mental health counseling and talk therapy both inperson and virtually.

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