Most of us have no idea that we can actually control what we’re afraid of, that is, we can decide which responses are appropriate to a situation and which are not. Many dysregulated eaters suffer from anxiety and negativity, and changing their response to fear helps enormously to increase their quality of life and relationship with food.
Toward that end, I’d like to pass on to you a strategy put forth by my friend Ernie, a retired psychology professor. Here’s what he says to do the next time you’re in a situation in which you feel anxiety. Once you recognize that you feel anxious, “STOP—and do nothing for 10 seconds except look and listen.” Move from feeling to observing.
Ernie uses the example of walking into a room and thinking that everyone is staring at you and recommends using 10 seconds to carefully observe what you see and hear. He says, “Probably nobody is staring at you…or maybe you’re letting experiences from the past determine your reaction.” Likely, you have had people stare at you or you’ve felt self-conscious in social situations earlier in your life. Fact is, in just 10 seconds you can test out if you’re in recall (triggered by memory) or reality. “The 10-second cure can be used to reduce any reaction you don’t need or want. Stopping your usual response for a few seconds gives you a chance to fact check the validity of the expectations triggering your reaction. And it distracts your brain—reducing the strength of the association between the situation and your automatic response.”
Think back to the last time you were hijacked by anxiety. Here are some examples: entering a social gathering, giving a wrong answer in your adult ed class, having your boss point out an error in front of your colleagues, forgetting to send someone a birthday card, or making a joke that few people laugh at. Rather than feeling fear and jumping to the (most likely wrong) conclusion that people are focused on your error, how would it have been if you’d stopped what you were thinking for 10 seconds and had given yourself time to come up with another possibility. For each negative reaction to all of the above examples, there are also emotionally neutral ones you could have had were you not so wired to react with fear.
If you’re inclined toward being anxious, you might be doing this 10-second “cure” multiple times a day. Great: that would give you lots of time to practice. Imagine getting into the groove of giving yourself 10 seconds of lag time to actually assess what an appropriate reaction to a situation is. Imagine how this approach could help you do less mindless and emotional eating.