Why do some people feel overwhelmed when looking at a harmless menu?
A new form of social anxiety is coming to public consciousness, and it affects younger generations more often than older generations. The problem is called “menu anxiety,” and although it isn’t an official diagnosis, it affects countless people.
A survey of 2,000 adults conducted by OnePoll and commissioned by Avocado Green Mattress found younger generations were far more likely to have anxiety while ordering a meal off a menu—41% of Gen Z and millennials (aged 18–43), compared with only 15% of Gen X and baby boomers (aged 44–77).
There are many different ways in which menu anxiety manifests itself. People may have difficulty deciding what to order, especially in a place with an extensive menu. They also may be overly concerned they may have made the wrong choice.
The social aspect can also be challenging for some people because they may feel they’re being judged for their order by others at the table or that they are under undue pressure to make their choice in a timely manner.
Add to that, some people may be concerned about the environmental impact of their order and how long it will take to cook.
“I would imagine that people who are already experiencing anxiety would be more prone to experiencing menu anxiety,” licensed mental health counselor Natasha D’Arcangelo tells Lifehacker. “People who struggle with performance anxiety or perfectionism might also be more prone to experiencing it. It could also be a sign that your general stress levels are increased if what used to feel like a simple decision is now paralyzing you with anxiety or fear.”
Popular TikTok creator and comedian Elyse Myers, who’s been open about her struggles with mental health issues like ADHD, anxiety and depression, explained how she manages her menu anxiety.
To help herself feel comfortable in a restaurant, Myers pours over the menu hours before the meal and practices the name of what she wants to order.
I’m a blast 🚀 #coffeetalk #theadhdway #menuanxiety
Myers' approach to overcoming her menu anxiety closely mirrors advice provided by mental health professionals. An article co-authored by Natalia S. David, PsyD, recommends that people look over the menu ahead of time and write it down on paper so they don’t forget.
She also suggests that people plan a backup order in case the menu item isn’t available at the restaurant. This could prevent some unnecessary anxiety that could confound an already stressful situation.
Dr. David adds that when you practice the order, do so calmly.
“Practice feeling relaxed while you order,” Dr. David writes. “If you force your brain to think positively while you practice, it will be may be easier to do so during the real thing. If you feel yourself getting anxious as you practice, try some deep breathing.”
The study shows that even though menu anxiety is a seldom-discussed topic, it is an issue many people have. When popular social media personalities such as Myers talk about these issues publicly, they help to de-stigmatize them so people feel more comfortable discussing the issue openly. When people feel more comfortable being open about their challenges at the dinner table, then they are probably more likely to have an enjoyable meal.