anxiety

I Am Terrified Of The Grocery Store: An Interesting Anxiety Symptom

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!

36 comments on “I Am Terrified Of The Grocery Store: An Interesting Anxiety Symptom

  1. I do understand this, Bev… I get terrible panic attacks in queues; as such I’m happy to walk around grocery shops — as long as I don’t have to get any groceries… which defeats the object of going, of course(!)

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  2. ranterwrites

    I don’t do much of my own grocery shopping yet as I’m still living with my parents, but often when I go to Tesco (my nearest big supermarket) by myself I feel as if I’m not really there and everything just feels a bit off. At first I had no idea what was going on but then I heard someone talking about derealization online and realised it matched what I felt. I haven’t been diagnosed or anything and it only really affects me in that situation but I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. (I also have social anxiety btw so it probably makes sense). I’d never heard about anyone experiencing it from grocery shopping before so it’s nice to know I’m not alone in that 🙂 Personally the sensation doesn’t scare me that much but it’s just a really really bizarre feeling! I wonder what doing proper grocery shopping will be like next year when I go to uni…

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  3. PurpleOwl

    I understand totally. I love cooking but hate food shopping, I’m always terrified I’m going to bump into someone I know. Hate it and get it over and done with as quickly as possible.

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  4. So it’s not just me! At the risk of over sharing…there was a point in time where within five minutes of stepping inside the grocery store usually turned into a mad search for a restroom. My stomach would churn and go crazy in there. Not sure why. It’s gotten better and it only happens every once in a while now. Hang in there.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Agreed completely. I hate grocery shopping when it’s busy. Especially Walmart — there’s always some buzzer going off, which is one of those “automatic anxiety” things. And just lots of people and stimulation. Then money anxiety. I always do a check over of my cart before I go to check out because I don’t want to overspend and end up putting 5-6 items back.

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  6. I go through the same thing, Beverly!! I go to the market when it’s not crowded, after I drop the girls off at school. I also never leave home without my homeopathic Rescue Remedy as my “Linus blanket” anxiety relief backup.

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  7. I can absolutely relate to this. This is one of the affects of my PTSD. To many choices, to overstimulating, to many people to attend too. Thanks for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Honestly, this is such an amazing blog!! It’s first time I hear about this and I feel exactly the same all the time. I’ve felt this for years. I’d get really bad anxiety and my vision starts getting blurry mostly thanks to the over stimulation. And then the feelings of derealisation were some of the worst.
    Thank you for allowing the realisation that we’re not alone even in these very odd symptoms of anxiety.

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  9. Grocery stores get my brother too. Now I understand why. Thanks for explaining it so well!

    Have you tried ordering groceries online?

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  10. Grocery shopping is the worst, for all the reasons you pinpointed. Its so stressful and there’s so much pressure, especially if you’re poor or in a tight spot. Its so interesting to know that the lights may cause derealization… I wonder if the sound/echo plays a part too… Very interesting read!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. For me, it’s confined spaces like crowded shopping centers, busy tourist areas like the Aquarium or zoo. I feel suffocated with so many people screaming and running around. I sometimes feel that way in a crowded grocery store like Costco. Great honest blog…love it!

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  12. This is an excellent post. You write very clearly about your experiences with anxiety at the grocery store, and frankly it’s completely relatable. I make my husband shop after work, which I feel guilty about, but it works for us.

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  13. I can relate to this so much…glad someone finally wrote about it – thank you!

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  14. My wife hates going to Walmart for this very reason. Makes her anxious as can be. You are definitely not alone, this seems to be a very common anxiety.

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  15. Thanks so much for writing this! My bipolar was ultimately diagnosed because I had a severe panic attack break down in a grocery store. I pretty much order all of my groceries online and pick them up or get them delivered.

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  16. TheNutFactory

    I feel you! I always shop early in the morning when it’s just opened because there are less people around then.

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  17. I too HATE the grocery store. I avoid it as often as possible and bring hubby with me whenever I can.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Supermarkets are like kerosene for my OCD. I wrote a loooong poem about it.

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  19. Charlie Hasler

    I hate grocery shopping. I have to build myself up for it. Tight chest, anxious. I thought it was just me.

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