Takeaway: If you feel worried, stressed, or overwhelmed when it’s time to do your weekly grocery restock, you’re not alone. Grocery store anxiety is real, and tons of people struggle with it. Here, I break down some common reasons why this happens and share my top tips for how to deal with it.
Picture this: you stroll into a grocery store, and suddenly the bright fluorescent lights seem blinding, the array of products feel overwhelming, and the ambient noise is setting your nervous system edge. Your heart races as you maneuver through bustling aisles, and the multitude of choices make your head spin. This is called grocery shopping anxiety. You might be thinking, I have never heard of this before--and you aren't alone. While it's not a formal diagnosis, it is really common for people who struggle with anxiety to have anxiety pop up in a lot of different settings.
I'm Arielle Pinkston, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in helping anxious Millennial and Gen Z women better navigate anxiety and lean into their favorite self. If you're reading this and struggle with grocery store anxiety, you don't have to suffer alone.
In this blog post, we’re taking a deep dive into this overwhelming experience. We will talk about what grocery store anxiety is, some signs you might struggle with it, and what to do to help support yourself through those really challenging moments.
What is grocery shopping anxiety?
Grocery shopping anxiety is more than just feeling uncomfortable or rushed in a store. It’s a wave of overwhelming stress and worry that can make the simple task of grocery shopping feel like SUCH a challenge.
Here are some signs and symptoms that you might struggle with grocery store anxiety:
- Feeling your heart racing unusually fast while in the store.
- Experiencing clammy hands or sweating even if the environment isn’t particularly warm.
- Feeling an intense sense of being overwhelmed by the choices, aisles, or people.
- A looming sense of dread or fear about being judged by others for your purchases or behavior.
- Avoiding going to the grocery store and postponing it as much as possible.
- Racing through the store to finish shopping as quickly as possible, often forgetting to buy items in the rush.
- Decision-making difficulties: Struggling with making choices, even simple ones like selecting a type of bread or fruit.
- Preoccupation: Continuously thinking and worrying about the grocery shopping trip beforehand.
- Social discomfort: Feeling extremely self-conscious or anxious about interacting with store staff or other shoppers.
- Seeking isolation: Choosing to shop at odd hours to avoid crowds, even if it’s inconvenient.
Recognizing these signs is a crucial step toward managing and coping with grocery store anxiety. With awareness, strategies can be developed to make grocery shopping a more comfortable and less daunting task.
Why do I get anxiety in grocery stores?
Getting anxiety in grocery stores is fairly common, especially if you struggle with other mental health issues. Grocery shopping trips can trigger anxiety and make you feel anxious when you previously felt calm.
While there isn't necessarily one underlying cause, here are some common reasons why you might experience grocery store anxiety.
- Many grocery stores have bright lights, crowded aisles, a wide rang of products, and background noise that can lead to sensory overload for many.
- Worry about being judged by others or having unexpected social encounters can contribute to anxiety.
- Feeling overwhelmed about being faced with a multitude of choices and having to make on-the-spot decisions.
- Wanting to make the “right” or “perfect” choice when it comes to selecting products, sticking to a budget, or adhering to a diet.
- Anxiety might stem from a fear of coming into contact with germs, especially in the context of a pandemic.
- Feeling rushed or pressured, whether due to store closing times, other commitments, or self-imposed time constraints.
- Uncertainty regarding product availability, encountering unexpected changes, or dealing with unexpected events like long checkout lines.
- Previous negative grocery shopping experiences, like uncomfortable or embarrassing experiences in grocery stores in the past.
- Individuals with pre-existing anxiety conditions may find grocery shopping particularly triggering.
19 tips for coping with grocery store anxiety
Preparing for a trip to the grocery store doesn’t have to be this stressful. Below, I share some tips to help you prepare for your next shopping trip, as well as tips to use in the store. I will also share some strategies to help regulate emotions after a stressful shopping experience and help ground you into the present moment and release any of that lingering grocery shopping stress. As with anything I share, take what you need and leave the rest. Not all of the strategies are going to be helpful or work for you, and that's okay.
Preparing for a trip to the grocery store
The first step of getting a handle on your grocery store anxiety is to prepare for you next trip to the grocery store.
1. Check in with yourself
Ask yourself how am I currently feeling? Are you well rested and properly fueled with nutrition and fluids? Do you have the emotional bandwidth to go do something that you find particularly stressful? If not, can you save the grocery store for a time where you're feeling less anxious and stressed?
2. Plan your visit
Once you have checked in with yourself, now we can move onto the planning phase. Try to schedule your shopping during off-peak hours and times when the store is less crowded. Early morning is generally a great time for most grocery stores. When possible, choose a store where you are familiar with the layout and the staff.
3. Make a detailed list
Try to organize your list according to the layout of the store to minimize backtracking. Be specific and include details such as brands, quantities, and any specific food varieties you prefer.
4. Set a budget
Try to have a rough estimate of the cost of items to avoid stress at the checkout. Make sure that you have a preferred payment method ready, like a card or mobile payment app. Taking some of the uncertainty out of your trip can really help minimize some of the anxiety.
5. Practice relaxation techniques
Engage in some deep breathing exercises before you enter the store to calm your nerves. As you walk through the store, consider practicing mindfulness to help you remain present. This could look like noticing the colors, smells. and sensations around you.
6. Use technology
Many stores have apps that show aisle locations, offer digital coupons, and allow for contactless payment. It can also be helpful to use technology to look up unfamiliar products or ingredients online beforehand to make informed food choices too.
7. Dress comfortably
This might sound obvious, but if you're struggling with sensory overload, having comfortable clothes is a must. Make sure that you're clothes and shoes are comfortable. Consider layering your clothing to adjust to temperature variations within the store.
8. Plan for social interactions
If you feel particularly anxious about social interactions, it can be helpful to have some go-to phrases ready, like greetings or small talk. If the thought of going to the grocery store alone is a big factor of your grocery store anxiety, consider taking a friend or family member to help support you.
Coping with anxiety in grocery stores
Coping with anxiety in grocery stores can be a challenge. Use some of the tips below next time you notice that you feel anxious in the grocery store.
1. Use breathwork
Remember to focus on your breath. Regularly remind yourself to take deep, calming breaths. Don’t hesitate to step aside, find a quiet spot, and take a few moments to regain your calm if you feel overwhelmed. Here are 5 of my favorite breathing exercises for anxiety that you can do anywhere.
2. Engage in mindful shopping
Try to stay in the moment, focusing on the task at hand rather than getting lost in worries. It might be helpful to minimize distractions and focus all of your attention on the task at hand.
3. Use technology
Utilize apps for maps of the store, to check products, and for easy checkout. Consider listening to calming music or an engaging podcast to keep your mind occupied.
5. Seek social support
Consider bringing along someone from your support system. This could be a friend or family member who you generally feel calm and safe around.If you are having trouble finding items, ask a store employee who seems approachable and friendly for help.
6. Pace yourself
Set yourself up for success by giving yourself enough time to shop so that you don’t feel rushed. Consider dividing your shopping into smaller, more manageable trips if a long shopping list feels overwhelming or you don't have time for a big trip.
Processing your experience with grocery shopping anxiety
If grocery store anxiety is a common struggle for you, you know just how tough it can be processing your experience after a particularly challenging visit to the grocery store. Below I share some of my favorite strategies to help you acknowledge and move through these challenging feelings.
1. Reflect on your trip
Take a few moments to reflect on your shopping experience. Acknowledge any small successes or challenges. Honor and validate any emotions that came up while you were at the grocery store. Consider rewarding yourself with something small for completing the task despite the anxiety.
2. Try journaling
After you have done your initial reflection and you still have anxious thoughts and feelings popping up, try journaling. Grab a pen and paper, and find a comfortable place to sit. Try a stream of consciousness journaling exercise where you allow your thoughts to flow freely onto the paper.
3. Use grounding exercises
Grounding exercises are an amazing way to regulate your nervous system and anchor you into the present moment. If you notice that you're still feeling anxious, try one of these 11 ground exercises for anxiety to anchor you into the moment and help you relax.
4. Lean on your support system
If you have had a particularly stressful trip to the store and are having a hard time winding down, consider leaning on your support system. You can call a family member or friend and vent as needed.
5. Get professional support
If grocery store anxiety is a big struggle for you, consider finding a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy have both been shown to be beneficial.
Get professional support for coping with anxiety around grocery shopping (and more).
Working with a mental health professional who specializes in anxiety is a great way to get support. In therapy, you will learn tools and strategies to help you better navigate anxiety as it's showing up in your life. Reach out to one of the therapists at Best Therapists to help support you on your healing journey.