“Generation Anxiety”: When my worries became a hidden dinner guest

“Generation Anxiety”: When my worries became a hidden dinner guest

One evening while on a press trip to Sicily with a half dozen co-authors I had recently met, we sat down to dinner and I began my standard dinner practice: painfully contemplating what I was going to order. Feeling the pinch because I hadn’t had a chance to read the menu online before, I joked loudly that I should have ordered last and asked everyone who could hear what they had.

Admittedly, though, it’s hard to hear them over the chorus inside my head: I should probably get some vegetables for, like, health. Is this part of Sicily known for a particular dish? Does this restaurant specialize in anything? Should I try them eggplant parm and compare with others? How many times per day is too much to eat Some kind of spaghetti?

At one point I wailed out loud, “Why is it so hard to decide what to get?” One of my colleagues looked at me and said, pointedly, “I think you’re just having anxiety.”

Naturally, I spent a lot of time unpacking this with my therapist upon my return. Maybe this woman is right. That this lovable quirk of my personality is actually a big deal — a sign that my generalized anxiety is spreading to other areas of my life without me noticing it. After all, if someone I barely knew pointed it out, it would have to be pretty obvious, right? Soon enough, OnePoll survey results landed in my inbox confirming that younger generations are more likely to experience anxiety when ordering food at restaurants — 41% of Gen Z and Millennials (aged 18 to 43) to be exact, compared to only 15% of Generation X and Baby Boomers (44 to 77). Reasons range from taste and cost to the environmental impact of food and how long it takes to prepare. Nearly half of Millennials and Gen Z surveyed also said they preferred to order last, and a quarter liked to browse the menu before going out to eat.

Is this tendency simply a manifestation of our generation’s crippling anxieties? More importantly, isn’t going out to eat supposed to be fun?

As humans, we are all prone to worry, even if the causes of our stress have changed with the modernization of life. Anxiety is what happens when that worry goes into overdrive.

“We all have different stressors in our everyday lives, be it finances, relationships, the future in general,” says Lauren Cook, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of the forthcoming book “Generation Anxiety: A Millennial and Gen Z.” Guide to Surviving in an Uncertain World.” “One of the hallmarks of anxiety is worrying that it feels out of control. The brain contemplates. Anxiety is often a very physical experience, felt deep in the body – pain, insomnia, stomach upset. ”

Seeing how he wrote a book about us, Dr. Cook isn’t surprised to learn that ordering food at a restaurant can create disquiet among the Anxiety Generation (which I have legally adopted as my self-identifier). Our social anxiety is much higher because of the pandemic, for one thing. Eating is an unavoidable face-to-face activity, which is something that makes us more anxious, he says. Not to mention the climate crisis headlines that have us questioning the planetary impact of every decision we make to what’s on our plates. But there’s something else that separates us from Gen Xers and Boomers that may play a role.

“Food has become a cultural experience for Millennials and Gen Z compared to the older generation who are less interested in restaurants and the culinary world,” said Dr. Cook. “With Millennials, it’s a place to see and be seen; it’s almost a status symbol, what do you order and what’s your taste like? Sometimes there’s a sense of judgment towards it. People can really experience anxiety in that, a fear of not being seen cultured, embarrassed to ask what crudité is, or not get peer approval.”

With so many factors competing for our attention – weighing at least what we like versus what we think we should like (phew!) – indecision can overwhelm us, and leave us feeling buyer’s remorse long after we’ve made it. our mind.

“We see it in dating,” says Dr. Cook. “What if there was a better match or option out there? With so many choices like food, it’s going to be really hard for people.”

Cook feels less anxiety in my tendency to take my time ordering food. “That’s the part of the story where I heard, ‘Screw it; I want to take my time,'” he said.

As pointed out by my own therapist, Dr. Cook notes that since I go out to eat for a living, it makes sense that I’d be more careful about ordering and wanting to eat dishes that are representative of the restaurant and its location.

“Conversely, the person telling you you have anxiety is when I hear your anxiety popping up,” she says. “Your worry lies in the judgment of others.”

“Judgement will always come with our decisions. Embrace what works for you.”

Turns out, Millennials and Gen Z really care about what other people think. This causes us to propagate the common cognitive distortion of mind reading, where we believe we know what other people are thinking. In my case, hearing a thought word spoken out loud by someone I didn’t know was strong enough to make me question my own experiences and even the hold I have on my own mental health.

This isn’t helped by a culture that confidently presents diagnoses of mental health disorders in 30-second segments on social media.

“All those TikTok clips tell us this is a symptom of anxiety and ADHD, but what’s missing, how depressing is this?” said dr. cook. “How much did it negatively impact your life and your ability to function?”

If your anxiety is beyond what you consider normal, making you feel very upset or unable to function or insecure, “you may look at anxiety or depression sequences,” says Dr. Cook. “Otherwise, it’s a stressor; it’s normal for us to have stress in our lives.”

For me, the pain factor with ordering was negligible; I even like to describe it as a self-deprecating form of comic relief. In this case, my anxiety about being judged just happened to kick in as I took some time to decide what to eat. Maybe I just need to bring that “f*** it” energy into more areas of my life.

“In the end, if other people want to judge you, that’s up to them,” says Dr. Cook. “Judgement will always come with our decisions. Embrace what works for you.”

“Generation Anxiety” is available for pre-order and will be released on September 19.

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