Thanksgiving, all the holidays really, are when we’re supposed to feel happy and thankful. All the ads show everyone feeling joyful, not fearful or anxious. We aren’t supposed to feel stressed and, let’s be honest, thankful when it’s over. Am I right?
One of the things my clients mention frequently this time of year is their fear of losing control with all the food and drinks that are everywhere at every event this time of year. The holidays revolve around food. It isn’t just the quantity of food, it is also the “special” food that is only available now.
Knowing that you are (or may) have to deal with the fear is sometimes even worse than dealing with the fear itself. You get the dread of dealing with the fear and food even before getting to the party. And, that sucks even more.
Understanding fear and where it comes from helps you prepare for and deal with it. That way, you can focus on enjoying the parties, and have a happier holiday season while leaving the fear about food behind you.
Two Fears: Fear of Being Different or Fear Born from Restriction?
Where do these fears come from?
Fear can come from a couple of places. First, is the fear of not being a part of the group which was critical to keeping us alive back in our caveman days. We fear being different, and so we want to eat and enjoy the same foods as the rest of the partygoers.
The second type of fear comes from restricting food. You are afraid that won’t be able to control yourself around ALL THAT FOOD.
In this article, we’ll talk about the fear of being different can lead to losing control, and how to deal with it. In the next post, we’ll talk about the fear that comes out of restriction.
Fear of Being Different is Just Fear Doing Its Job
Let’s say you’re attending a party thrown by a new-ish friend. She’s asked everyone to bring a dish to share and a beverage to share – a bottle of wine, sparkling water, etc. You’ll know a few people at the party well, some a little, and most will be new people. The party is a bit late for you, and you decided to eat dinner before so you wouldn’t be famished when you got there. You show up with a box of cookies you picked up at the local bakery and a bottle of wine. You open the door and you don’t recognize anyone. You feel. . . fear.
Feeling fear is OK – it is natural. Fear’s job is to help keep us alive.
In the context of social gatherings, fear works to make sure we stay as a part of the group and don’t get kicked out on our own. Part of staying as one of the group means doing what everyone else is doing. In this case: eating and drinking.
If you’re the only one not eating or drinking – then, you’re the “weird” one.
“Hey, what’s up with the weird guy who’s not eating any of the food we brought?”
“Does he think we don’t know how to cook?”
“Does he think our food is dirty?”
No one wants to be the center of that kind of attention!
If/when people start to question you about why you aren’t eating/drinking, your hands may get sweaty, your mind may go blank, and your “fear brain” kicks in and tries to take over.
When “Fear Brain” Tries to Take Over the Driver’s Seat
When you’re feeling fear, and having all those fear-based thoughts, that “fear brain” is trying to crawl into the driver’s seat of your brain and take the wheel and get you to safety. For the sake of the example, let’s call your fear-brain “Lucy.” (I chose Lucy because for some reason the picture of Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory came to mind as I was typing this. Feel free to name your fear brain any name that makes sense to you.)
Lucy is trying to kick you out of the driver’s seat and into the passenger’s seat or even to the curb so she can take your body over to the buffet table, grab a plate, fill it to its breaking point, then shove all that food in your face so that everyone sees you’re cool and LOVE all that food. That’s the loss of control – when you’re trying to show you’re one of the gang.
“See! I’m one of you!”
Lucy is trying to protect you and keep you as one of the group so, at your brain’s most basic level, you can stay alive. The group will continue providing protection for you.
Once you know and understand this is happening or may happen, you can then come up with strategies to deal with Lucy when she starts trying to take over the wheel.
How to Kick Lucy to the Curb (Or at Least Lock Her in the Trunk)
If you find that Lucy is a constant companion at gatherings, then here are three tips for kicking her to the curb, or at least locking her in the trunk, so you can relax and enjoy your holidays.
- Prepare before you go. If parties have been challenging in the past, spend a couple of minutes deciding what you can do differently this time. Sometimes just being aware that parties can be a challenge is enough. Other times you may need to prepare some things to talk about so you have them ready for when convocation lags.
- Take a couple of slow, deep breaths and tell yourself that you’re OK. Fear activates your fight-or-flight response. Taking a couple of slow, deep breaths helps short-circuit that response and help put Lucy back in the back seat, or even the trunk. You’re telling her, “It’s OK. I’ve got this.”
- Check-in with yourself and see how you’re feeling, and what you need. If you feel Lucy reaching for the wheel, mentally pause for a minute, shove her aside and ask yourself, “what’s going on? What am I feeling?” If you need to, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom for some quiet time. Once you figure out what you’re feeling, you can then ask yourself, “What do I need?” Maybe you really are hungry and need some food? Or, are thirsty (or have had a little too much bubbly) and need some water.
These three tactics can help Lucy know that you’ve got things under control so when if you start to feel panicked, she won’t try to take over. You can remind her, “I’ve got this!” And, you do!
The holidays should be a time when you can enjoy the food, the people, and the parties – not fear them. My clients have gone from avoiding parties to looking forward to and enjoying them. They no longer worry about losing control because they know, “I’ve got this!” If you want to be able to confidently say “I’ve got this”, too, just set up a call and we can work together to put together a plan that works for you.