The 'Small' Thing That Gives Me Anxiety When I'm Grocery Shopping

A while back I was doing my weekly grocery shop. I was in a place that already gives me mild anxiety — the supermarket. Bright lights, noise, crammed spaces, lots of people. These are things I have ways of dealing with and can usually manage OK even though I don’t like any of it. But this can all change rather suddenly and can be triggered by the smallest thing. This time it was that the normal brand of sliced cheese I buy wasn’t there. Not only was it not there, it appears to have been removed from stock completely. The little space on the shelf where it normally sits was now filled with other things.

This one small thing caused my anxiety to jump up several notches. When I shop, I have a list so I know exactly what I have to buy. I follow a certain path through the supermarket so I can get in and out as quick as possible. I buy the same things and the same brand every time. I like my routine. So when something changes, I start to panic a little and even though I know logically it’s not a big deal and I should just choose something else, it doesn’t stop my thoughts from racing.

What went through my head when the cheese I normally buy wasn’t there?

Maybe they’ve just moved it, but I can’t see it. Have they changed the packaging? It’s not here. Do I need cheese? I have to get cheese. What about these other brands? This one is different to the one I normally get, it doesn’t have the plastic wrap around the individual slices. Do I need plastic wrap? I could just put it in a container. What about this one? Is this one is expensive? This one is too small. Will my boys like this one?

Then my thoughts move on.

People are looking at me. I’m getting in people’s way. It shouldn’t be this hard to make a decision. Why isn’t the normal cheese here? I have to choose, what if I get the wrong one? Will they bring back the other cheese or is it gone forever? Someone else is trying to get something. The trolley is in the way. Pick something and move the trolley. People are still looking at me. I need to move, I need to get out of here.

By now, I’m starting to feel my heartrate go up. I’m getting fidgety and I start crunching up the shopping list, rolling it over and over in my hand. I’m trying to take deep breaths to calm myself but in a subtle way that others won’t notice. I’m looking around, not only at the various types of cheese, but at the other people around me. I’m wishing the floor would just open up and swallow me.

All of this happened in a matter of a few minutes but honestly it felt like forever. I’m left feeling agitated and disappointed in myself for not being able to make a simple decision like a “normal” person.

It happened again last week. This time I was getting some feminine hygiene products. They didn’t have my normal product of choice so I was left standing there staring at rows of pads and tampons, not knowing what to do. For some reason I get embarrassed buying these things. I normally rush past scooping what I need of the shelf as quick as possible. I don’t know why it’s like this. I mean, it’s a natural part of life that women have to deal with. But now I’m standing here reading labels hoping no one is watching while I try and pick my second best option with a whole new set of irrational thoughts going through my head.

This is part of my social anxiety. I guess it’s a fear of having to “perform” in front of others when the reality is other people are probably so involved in their own thing that they don’t even notice me standing there staring at packets of cheese or whatever else it is that I can make a decision on. Logically, I know this. Why didn’t that other part of my brain get the memo?

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