Today we’re going to talk about dining out with Social Anxiety, that oh so wonderful dinner companion. When you walk into the restaurant, Social Anxiety leans over and points out that everyone is suddenly looking at you. When you try to make your order Social Anxiety starts giggling uncontrollably because it knows you’re about to trip over all of your words. And you want to ask for something extra? Why are you being so picky and demanding? No one likes customers like that. Oh, you want to go to a buffet? Everyone is judging you. Just let everyone go in front of you, you are so slow. You need to leave a tip. You’ve suddenly forgotten how to math. WHAT IS MATH?! AND WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?
When you have anxiety, going out to eat is not about the delicious food you’re about to stuff your face with, it’s all about how you are going to survive it without, at the very least, being uncomfortable or worst case scenario, having a panic attack.
I rarely went out to eat in my teens – my family always just ordered pizza as a treat. I kept that tradition alive once I started living on my own. My friends were always shocked that I’d never eaten here, there, or anywhere. I always had a ready excuse. “Oh, I just like to save money. I’ve been meaning to check it out. I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve just been so busy. I’m trying to eat healthier…”
The reality was, I was too scared and filled with anxiety to try new places.
For someone that doesn’t have anxiety, it’s really hard to understand just how stressful something like going out to eat can be for us. We come up with 50 different things that might go wrong, and even if we logically know all of these things are silly, they still bother us. Is the world going to end if we say something silly or forget our order? Of course not. But anxiety amplifies shame, embarrassment, and guilt, and you better believe that we will remember that exact feeling eighteen months later.
So how do I make dining out less anxiety-inducing?
Research, research, research.
My biggest tool when it comes to going out to eat is researching. I feel so much better if I know what the restaurant looks like before I even get there. Checking out google, facebook, and Yelp will usually give you a decent idea of the atmosphere so you’re not walking in blind. It helps you not to worry about what to wear or what the seating is going to look like. You can make sure the lighting or decor isn’t going to bother you if you’re extra sensitive to things like that.
Use the internet to take a look at the menu. I never walk into a restaurant without already knowing what I’m going to get. If it’s one where you walk up to a counter and order, I feel so much pressure trying to stand there and make a decision. If it’s a sit-down restaurant, I feel bad making the waiter wait for me to make a decision, or making my dinner partner wait.
Knowing just what I want takes a huge weight off of my shoulders before I even get there.
If you have money anxiety, knowing how much things are before you go into the restaurant is also super helpful!
Rehearse and have backup plans.
I always rehearse exactly in my head what my order is going to be. It’s like I’m preparing for a very serious play in which I am a confident customer ordering a meal confidently. “Why, yes, I know just what I want, thank you.” There’s always the possibility that they’re out of what you want or they ask you a follow-up question that you didn’t anticipate. Breathe before you answer it instead of saying the first thing that pops into your head. Sometimes “No, thank you,” will come out when I really meant yes!
When ordering takeout on the phone, before we could order food on the internet, back in my day, I’d always write down exactly what I was going to say and recite it over the phone. No shame and super helpful. I’d even write down my address because I’d get so anxious I’d sometimes forget!
If you’re going on a date with someone you don’t really know, rehearse conversation topics. Come up with a mental list of stories you can tell or things you can talk about. That awkward silence is the worst.
Bring a Talker.
It’s great to have a meal companion that can fill up the awkward silence. I think it’s funny that my favorite people are the ones that talk and talk and never run out of things to say. It makes going out to eat so nice when you know that the weight of conversation isn’t on your back. You can just sit there and happily listen. Talkers really do make great company.
They’re also really good at asking for refills, substitutions, and sending things back. The miraculous thing? They don’t even think twice about it! It’s like a magic power. So if you have one, bring one.
If you’re eating out alone, (go you, you are awesome!!) bring a book, kindle, or music to listen to.
Amp up the Self Talk.
“You’re doing sooooo good.” That’s my mantra for all things. Combat your anxiety by reasoning with it. Whenever you feel one of those anxious worries creeping up, talk yourself through it. Mentally comfort yourself. Talk yourself through all of the ways and reasons that things really are going to be okay. If you feel like people are looking at you, reason with yourself that they aren’t.
If you’re worried that you’re going to mess up your order, remind yourself that you’ve totally got this. Talk to yourself the way you would someone else that was having the same anxiety issues.
Bring your anxiety tools.
Music, crystals, essential oils. Whatever tools that you use for your everyday anxiety, bring them along. If you need to step into the bathroom with headphones to have an impromptu dance party to release that pent up energy, go for it. (The Trolls soundtrack is my current go-to) No one will know. Step outside for air if you need to. Do your breathing exercises. Bring something to occupy your hands and fidget with. Make sure that your phone is fully charged so that you can distract yourself with a mindless internet break.
It is okay if you suffer from anxiety. So many people do and you are not alone. You also don’t have to let it control your life.
All of these tips, I’ve used for myself for about five years now and I can walk into restaurants with little discomfort. It does get better when you put in the work. There are absolutely still days where I just order-in instead of going out, but it has gotten so much easier.