I don’t often admit this but I am going to do it now. I am terrified of the grocery store. I absolutely dread grocery shopping and do my absolute best to avoid it. Ironically, I love cooking and eating, so I must often face my fears, sometimes on a daily basis. I believe that this fear is a symptom of my anxiety that stems from my bipolar disorder. Just the mere thought of going to the store gives me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, chest pain and racing thoughts.
But what is so scary about grocery shopping in particular? Why does it make me feel like my chest is going to explode? Why does it make me feel like curling in a ball and hiding in a dark hole? There are so many reasons, none of them particularly rational but they make sense to me. I will try to explain myself so that, if anything, you can feel as if you have some clarity into the mind of someone with mental illness.
First of all, the grocery store causes major overstimulation because there is just much going on. There are aisles and aisles of food, tons of people weaving around you, loud noises and bright lights glaring in your eyes. I honestly feel very vulnerable in this atmosphere because it doesn’t feel like there are any safe and quiet spaces where I can collect my thoughts and recharge quickly. Therefore, I have to muster all my energy to ensure my mask of normalcy remains in tact for the duration of my shopping trip. And grocery trips are never quick. They always turn into hour-long affairs.
Grocery shopping involves a lot of social interaction, whether it is with a clerk, cashier or fellow shoppers. You can’t remain anonymous if you are having a bad day – the grocery store ensures that you have to speak to others. Especially because you most certainly always have to do that little dance with the carts because you are in someone’s way. I am terrible at hiding my feelings so it is inevitable that my problems and emotions will be on display for all these people to see and judge. When I am at the grocery store, the harsh lights feel like they are putting a spotlight on my flaws. I feel messy, sloppy and inadequate.
Grocery shopping also involves a lot of decision-making. Even if you have a list, which I rarely do, you need to choose the brand based on a myriad of factors. You need to choose your “route” in the store. Even more simpler than that; you need to choose between a basket or a cart. When you have depression, decision-making can be more difficult than a complex algebra problem. Not to mention, you need to make these decisions in public, with the extra stimulation I mentioned earlier. It’s a lot of pressure.
Grocery shopping can also trigger a lot of panic because it brings up feelings of derealization; the sensation that the world around me is not real. With all the overstimulation, my mind often causes me to feel as if I am dreaming in the store. It can be really scary because I can feel trapped since I feel obligated to finish my shopping trip. It’s always at this point that I have to wait in a massive line, of course. I’ve read that florescent lighting can trigger de-realization so that anxiety symptom kinda makes sense.
It seems that I am not alone. A quick Google search shows that grocery shopping anxiey is very real, especially for people with social anxiety or eating disorders. In my research, I found a few great tips for managing the anxiety around grocery shopping. I also found tons of forums where people discuss their anxiety, like on Reddit. I also read this brilliant article that suggests grocery store anxiety comes from fear of rejection and fear of uncertainty. But there is definitely a lack of scientific information on the topic. I’ll make a note to ask my psychiatrist if he has any theories. In the mean time, I will work with my therapist to develop tools to deal with the fear. What I want to try first is having a list so that I can be quick and efficient in my shopping.
Do you get anxiety about going to a particular place or doing a particular thing? Tell me about it in the comments below!