Which came first, the anxiety or the kitchen work?

Which came first- anxiety or kitchen work? It’s funny how they seem to go hand in hand. For me, the anxiety came first. I have worried for my entire life. I come from a long line of worriers. My little bro is a worrier like me, and also a kitchen worker. Coincidence? I don’t know. I grew up worried about everything, from the house burning down to whether people liked me. I didn’t outgrow it. Teenage years full of trying to fit in and also fit out turned into adulthood and even more concern over what people thought of me. I can say for sure, even though my father and grandfathers were problem drinkers and I had a complicated relationship with alcohol during my teenage years, drinking for real for me started in culinary school and continued on through my career.

If you missed my post about drinking and anxiety, maybe pause and go read that, it’s the post  right before this one.

I say that for me anxiety came first, but my numbing of anxiety started in order to be able to survive in kitchens. What is it about kitchen life that does this? I have a few ideas.

  1. Proximity. In kitchens, there are a lot of people paying attention to what you are doing. You are costing them money. You have to work with great technical skill, and fast. You have to be able to perform every time, you have to replicate things perfectly and remember a ton of shit. All day long you work with these people and then hangout with them after work and before work. If you have social anxiety, this can be hard to deal with. That’s a lot of personal space issue. It’s a lot of sharing things about yourself and being vulnerable to a group of people who talk shit about everything. Making fun of everyone is just the good natured sport but what if you have lifelong anxiety stemming from being made fun of for your entire childhood? It’s hard to get the joke. What do you do? You hide. Hide behind drinking or drugs or competition or lying. You chain smoke. You are nervous and edgy and defensive. You talk even more shit and make fun of even more people to hide your insecurities.

  2. Competition and turnover. They are coming for your job. This is not a drill.

  3. Lack of sleep. Sleep heals your brain. This is science. If you are working a ton of hours and trying to cram your entire social life into the hours between work and bed, chances are you are sacrificing sleep. Going to bed drunk or high? That sleep doesn’t count. Sleep is so important. I can feel the tension in my temples and face when I don’t get enough sleep. I can trace the origins of my eye twitch back to the time when I started baking- I switched from getting up late to line cook to getting up early to bake but I didn’t switch my sleep habits. Or my drinking habits. I created a stress problem right then that I still battle with. Sound familiar? Ever feel that tension in your brain after a night of no sleep?

  4. Stress of the line, stress of the work, stress of not being good enough. Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger, whether it’s real danger, or perceived danger, your body responds by kicking it’s defenses into high gear in a series of automatic responses known as fight or flight. It’s possible that you spend your whole shift in some degree of fight or flight. Not a healthy way to live the majority of your life. But what can you do if your job demands this kind of stressful work? How does this stress create or worsen your anxiety? How is it that so many people with anxiety do this kind of work? It definitely makes you wonder about the chicken and the egg here, doesn’t it?

If you do line work and you have anxiety- think back as far as you can. When did it start showing up in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Join me next week for a discussion about how to tackle this anxiety, and how to live and work with less stress.

Laura Mcwilliams