Anxiety at the Grocery Store

It’s been a while since I’ve been this close to a panic attack in public. Sunday, sometime in the middle of the day, I needed to go to the store to pick up some things for the house. Typically, if my boyfriend is awake before one of his work nights, we’ll go shopping together, but he hurt his back and chose to stay home. I’m not sure whether that was a good or bad thing. We both deal with anxiety in crowded places, and if he shuts down it’s hard to know if we’ve gotten everything we needed.
I was feeling alright when I got to the store. I made a list so that I could easily pop in and out again, but as soon as I got in the door, things started to go wrong. The carts in the first row were stuck together, but before I could move to the second row, a man carrying a little girl had followed me in, so I stopped and let him have a cart. I pulled out the next one, but at this point he was blocking the entrance with his cart turned sideways trying to stuff the girl into the seat. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me and I could wait patiently, except that the door greeter was one of my old clients. One that was born without a volume control and likes to ask personal questions. She had recognized me once before, and at this point I just wanted to get past without being noticed. It seemed like it took forever for the guy to put his daughter in the cart, but once they were moving, I got around and bolted to the produce section.
Honestly, it wasn’t as bad in produce as it usually is. No matter where you put your cart, it’s always in front of something important and people get really pushy. If you’re not the pushy type, be prepared to wait for the customers before you to have debates over lettuce types directly in front of the one item you need. In their defense, you can’t always predict what type of lettuce you’ll leave with. If the type you planned to buy looks wilted, you may have to have a serious discussion about your second choice.
Being able to get what I needed fairly quickly during this trip, I followed the flow to my next destination, but traffic was moving triple wide in one direction down the frozen section. I tried to determine who was going to stop and browse so that I could scoot to their side while the others got by me. It wasn’t working. I decided to just stop where I was and wait for things to clear out. I got my frozen veggies and moved on. Things only got more congested from there, and anytime I found a quiet aisle, it quickly filled up.
At this point, I remembered that I needed non-food items when I came in, but because I was in a hurry to get away from the entrance, I went the wrong direction. Sorry, frozen veggies. On the way to the opposite side of the store, I followed in the wake of the only person going my direction, and directly behind me all the way were two younger guys having a loud conversation. My anxiety might have peaked had traffic not split at this point and they went the other direction.
Once I had everything on my list, I started to think about my mom’s birthday. She’s been upset with me and I wasn’t sure I could afford anything nice enough, or even make her something she would use since she’s already loaded down with jewelry that I’ve made and other art and trinkets. I found myself corralled back to the main aisle and then jostled around by cross traffic as I tried to get back to the center of the store to think about whether there was anything there I could get her.
By the time I reached stationary, I had completely shut down. I’m not sure how long I was there, but I came around to find myself staring at a wall of pencils. I was still feeling pretty numb as I turned around to the shelves behind me and picked through notebooks. Each cover reminded me of a friend. Animals, cartoons, superheroes, quotes. Some of the notebooks were very bright and had soft covers. I ran my fingers over the surfaces in what felt like a dream state.
Then the sounds of the store around me pushed their way back into my ears and I was aware again. I had everything on the list and my mind was exhausted, so I decided to head home. I felt like a deflated balloon, so I sent a message to my boyfriend to see if he would also like a coffee as I would definitely be getting myself one.  Doctors will advise against caffeine, but I find it calms me down in situations like this.  It speeds up your brain’s ability to prioritize incoming sensory data, which would have been great before I went to the store. While many people are put on-edge by caffeine, if you already suffer sensory overload, it can reduce stress by making input manageable.  (You should listen to your doctor, this is just my personal experience with caffeine).
I’m still feeling the effects of that trip 24 hours later, so I wanted to write down my experience while it’s still fresh in my mind.


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