Tips to Deal with Grocery Store Anxiety
Do you have grocery store anxiety? If so, you are not alone. Whether you have anxiety at the grocery store because of social fears or for some other reason (such as the current state of the world in 2020), it’s a very real problem that I don’t feel like a lot of people are talking about.
The truth is that grocery stores are natural triggers for anxiety, whether you need to wear a mask and gloves or not (if you’re reading this at a later date—look up what happened in early 2020 for an explanation of what I mean).
Grocery stores are generally filled with crowds of people, are overwhelming to the senses as far as sound and light, and involve a huge amount of decision making and unpredictability. All of these factors combine to make them easy triggers for anxiety.
So, if grocery store anxiety is real, and if it’s specifically related to social anxiety or a fear of people, what can be done? I decided to come up with some quick tips to help you out. I know you need some quick wins right now—we all do.
Control What You Can
My first tip is to recognize what you can control and what you can’t. I know this is a “logical” step that doesn’t always work when faced with anxiety, so I suggest that it’s something you work on before you go to the store. Once you’re there, I’d suggest other methods for managing anxiety.
So, before you go, what can you control? Here are some ideas.
- The time of day that you go.
- The store where you shop.
- The list that you bring.
- Your social skills at the store.
- How you respond to your anxiety.
- Where you park your car.
- How you pay for your groceries.
- The foods that you choose.
- The path you take through the store.
I know you are thinking… but so many things could go wrong with all those things I can control! What if I go at a time that I think it will be quiet, and the parking lot is full? What if I bring a list, but something I need is not on it? What if my debit card doesn’t work? What if the aisles are blocked?!
Okay… I hear you. Lots of things could go wrong. But hear me on this… if these are your thoughts before you go to the store, then you are making your anxiety worse. Make your choices about what you can control, and then let the rest go. Practice flexibility in the face of obstacles. Control what you can. More on that later.
Limit Your Options
I heard that the average store these days has over 40,000 products. This means a huge amount of options for you to choose from, which can trigger anxiety in some people. If this is you, I have a quick tip.
For myself, I follow a strategy when making choices. You don’t have to follow this strategy, because maybe your priorities are different from mine.
First, I always choose sale items from within preferred brands. So, if I go to buy pasta sauce, and I see that a particular one is on sale, then that is the one I choose (as long as it’s a brand I know and like).
Then, if there are no sales, I always choose my preferred brand. For me, this is usually the Walmart store brand, because I do all my grocery shopping at Walmart. And, I find that their store brands are usually quite good. You might have a different preference.
Finally, if the store is completely out of an item that I have on my list, I don’t worry about it. Literally, I just drop items off my list in my head if they are not there or I can’t find them easily. I will come back to it next week. It’s not the end of the world. You can make do.
Change Your Thoughts
Okay, I said we would come back to your anxious thoughts. So, imagine you are at the grocery store and you start thinking things like…
“Everyone is watching me.”
“People thinking I am being slow, I am holding them up.”
“I feel dumb standing here not making small talk. This person thinks I am loser.”
These are all thoughts that center around a fear of being judged, which is common among social anxiety. Perhaps you have different anxious thoughts, but the process of dealing with them is the same. If you’d like to learn how to do it using the strategies of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), I’ve got some worksheets to help you with that. Simply sign up to my newsletter at the top of bottom of this page, and you’ll have access to my resource library to get started.
Gradually Face Fears
It’s one thing to control what you can and manage your thoughts. It’s a completely different thing to engage in avoidance. When you avoid the thing that is making you fearful, your fear grows stronger. That’s why it’s important to keep doing, keep going, keep shopping. As trite as that sounds.
For example, imagine that you did not go to the grocery store for whole year. Would it be easier or harder the next time you tried to go?
Every time you do something, the fear gets weaker and your ability to do it gets stronger. Plus, if you start to change certain things about your trips, such as the time that you go, then you build your resilience to change.
It’s a delicate balancing act of keeping to a routine to make life easier and feel relaxed, and also stepping a little bit out of your comfort zone a bit at a time, to make sure that you don’t become so rigidly set in your ways that any little deviation from the norm sends you into an anxiety spiral.
Practice Social Skills
Can you practice social skills while grocery shopping? Perhaps not so much in the situation we are in right now in 2020, but for sure there are little things you can be practicing each time you go to the store. Something simple like smiling and making eye contact with the cashier who checks you out will make you feel more confident and less avoidant of people.
I can’t stress this enough—as much as possible, move slowly. I don’t mean waste time or just hang around in the aisles. I mean literally, move slowly. Your anxiety feeds on you being in a rush and feeling pressured—don’t give it that gasoline.
When you move slowly, you are forcing your anxiety to slow down too. It will also help you if you tend to think people are always waiting for you, such as in the checkout line. If you are intentionally moving slowly, then there’s never a reason to rush.
There are lots of ways that you can practice relaxation before and during your grocery store trip. This might include things like bringing along an essential oil rollerball to help keep you calm (lavender is proven to help), practicing deep breathing, or doing some art therapy before or after you shop.
If all else fails, and you’ve never received treatment or been in therapy for anxiety, that might be your best option if the grocery store and other public places are causing you daily distress.
While social anxiety is the fear of being judged, agoraphobia is the fear of being trapped somewhere and having a panic attack. So, there are a number of different types of anxiety that can manifest at the grocery store. If you don’t have any local options to talk to a licensed mental health professional, I have used and recommend Betterhelp.
How about you? Do you have any coping strategies to share for managing grocery store anxiety? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
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