supermarket

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

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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?

Follow this journey here.

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Thinkstock photo via gopixa.

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Panic, but Not at the Disco – at the Parking Garage

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I came home with the kids, some groceries and a full blown panic attack today. My husband said, “What’s wrong?”

I say, “I’m having a panic attack.”

He says, “Why?”

Why? That’s a really good question.

It probably started this morning, a Sunday, when I was feeling conflicted and guilty about whether or not we should go to church. Trigger one.

I think I don’t really want to, but I feel obliged and moved to, at the same time. My family don’t want to come, which I understand, so I go alone. Trigger two.

While I’m there I connect with some familiar faces, I squeeze a woman’s hand when she tells me her friend found her son dead after five days, and I weep with a man who just wants to love all the people on the fringe of society. A girl I’ve spent several hours with and know online didn’t remember who I was until I reminded her. An innocent mistake, but for me: Trigger three.

I am moved by talk of great poverty in the world and wonder what I could possibly do to contribute. I feel purposeful, moved and conflicted. Yet somehow useless in the scheme of things. Trigger four.

There was someone there I get a sense is unhappy with me for some reason, so I message her but don’t hear back. She must be unhappy with me. Trigger five.

I feel agitated all day. I’m speaking mumbo jumbo about how I feel about the greater system of church, spirituality, but the people, I love. I don’t struggle to love people. We have committed ourselves to loving people. I probably put too much effort and energy into the way I love people. I can’t even get that right. Trigger six, and it’s not even midday.

So. There’s a voice that’s kind of loud today. It’s that voice that tells me I’m a bit fat. That I’m not really doing anything meaningful with my life. That I’m not quite good enough to tackle the projects I have on my plate. That I might not get that job I applied for, and it tells me I can’t build the business I want to, and applying for a job is a cop out because I should be following my dreams. Triggers seven, eight and nine.

Later, I take the girls to a kids party at the movies. Social anxiety. Trigger 10.

It’s something that should be simple, there’s another Mom there I know, but I feel like she might be unhappy with me too. I touch her arm in conversation to try and build connection.
But that’s quite creepy right? I’m a creep. Trigger 11.

We leave the cinema, and my husband wants me to grab some things from the supermarket. I feel so wound up at this point it bothers me. I can’t find the soda. My daughter can’t keep up and complains I’m leaving her behind. Let’s wrap that all into Trigger 12.

Then we forget to scan the hot cross buns and my daughter walks out with them without paying. I choose not to go back, because it’s too hard. But I feel guilty. Trigger 13.

We get in the car, I put my (what I thought was validated for free parking) ticket in the machine, I owe $8 and it tells me I need to go to the pay station. Fuck. Trigger 14.

There’s people waiting behind me, they’re annoyed for sure. I run out of the car, leaving the kids there, the machine is super close. But it’s out of order. Trigger 15.

I run downstairs, in a fluster, that is out of order too. Fuuuuuck. Trigger 16.

Cars are lined up, everybody hates me, I left my kids in a running car, I race upstairs and ask if I can skip the queue. The man says no. Trigger 17.

I explain my awful actions, I’ve left my kids in the car and everybody is waiting for me. I’m the worst human right now. I race back to the car and a man is there telling me I could have actually just paid right there. So I pissed everybody off for no reason, just because I can’t think in a fluster. Triggers 18 through 24.

Now that voice is super loud and completely taken over, stealing my breath and any shred of confidence I had as a human. You are useless, stupid and now you’re upset about it, what a loser. You know you shouldn’t panic about panicking. Thats what makes you more panicky. My kids are berating me, “Why did you do that Mum? We got in trouble!” I’ve lost count of triggers, and can’t even breathe.

I start to to cry, and my chest is tight, but I have to drive and get out of there, and get my kids home safe. The voice gets louder…instead of just brushing it off, look at you now, you pissed everyone off, and fucked it up and now you’re having a panic attack. Good one. You can’t cope with this, you’re not going to be able to cope with the new job, if you even get it and there’s dinner guests at home. How embarrassing. You’ll go home crying in front of them. My kids have gone quiet, and asking me if I’m OK, I can’t even answer. What a crap Mom.

I arrive home. My daughters hug me, and this brings a small amount of peace. My friend hugs me. I cry. And disappear. And snap at my husband. How do I explain all of that as a reason for a panic attack?

Writing this all down helps. Because I know that voice is not the truth, it’s just some thoughts. It was just a moment in time after a very anxious day. A series of unfortunate events that led to a hectic physical and emotional response.

So, as a word of advice, when you see that someone having a panic attack, it’s not likely just one thing that triggered it. It could have been a whole Sunday of triggers, background anxiety and a nasty voice. Throw in an unexpected situation where you’re potentially disappointing people on top of that, and you have a perfect storm.

That’s why.

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Thinkstock photo via Ozgur Coskun

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The Anxiety Coping Technique That Turned Into a Passion Project

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You may be thinking, really, another coloring article? But hang in there with me, and let me tell you my story as I reflect back on Mental Health Awareness Month.

About two years ago, I started having anxiety attacks. I felt like I was in a chronic state of stress at work. And to top things off, my partner and I were planning our wedding. Prior experiences had been stressful, but the attacks were new for me; the tight chest, the shaky feeling I had on the inside while finding it hard to move, the migraine after. It was scary and I didn’t know how to help myself or how to tell those who cared about me what I needed for support.

It got to the point where I realized I couldn’t get through this alone — sometimes that realization and acceptance is the hardest part — so I sought out help from a professional. Along with therapy, I tried a range of different coping strategies and now use a combination of them to manage my anxiety. I took a meditation class, I started walking outside more and I started coloring. Coloring became one of the most successful coping techniques I developed. And for a while, I was grabbing every adult coloring book I could find and going through packs of markers like it was my job.

Back at my actual job, I realized I needed a project for myself to feel reinvigorated. Science outreach has always been my passion, but over the years, that passion got farther and farther away from what I spent my time doing at my 9 to 5 position. One night, while coordinating patterns and colors, I had a lightbulb moment for a side hustle.

I thought, what if I designed a coloring book that celebrated women in science and technology careers? And with that, “Super Cool Scientists” was born. “Super Cool Scientists” features 22 amazing women in science, technology, engineering and math careers. A community of people from all over the world have come together in support of the coloring book idea, with a successful Kickstarter campaign and positive feedback to follow.

It’s hard for me to express the deep gratitude I feel for everyone who has supported both me and the project throughout this process. I’m grateful, not just because their support helped get the book designed and published, but also because their support validates something that is so connected to my anxiety. It helped me realize my journey of learning to live with anxiety can also have a positive side. Coloring helped me calm down and it also helped spark an idea that reignited my spirit. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Thinkstock via shironosov 

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How Weightlifting Eases My Anxiety

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Throughout my life, I’ve unsuccessfully tried several different gyms and workout routines, never quite finding the right fit for me. I always had the desire to get in shape and go to the gym, but I continually considered it a chore that would only heighten my anxiety. I had never in my life considered weightlifting. I believed all the misconceptions out there, thinking I would never be strong enough and it would make me bulky and unattractive.

Weightlifting has provided me with a healthy outlet for my anxiety and even on my worst days, I walk into the gym and find instant relief. I’m forced to solely focus on my lifting, allowing my brain to shift away from its anxious thoughts. I feel a release from all my daily tension as I work through my reps and my workouts provide an outlet for all of my pent-up anxious energy.

 

Every time I lift a little heavier and reach a new goal, I feel continual reinforcement that I can get over my anxiety. I’m motivated to push myself harder because in lifting, failure is OK and even encouraged, because failing makes you better. Embracing this mentality at the gym has helped me adapt it in my daily life.

Of course, the people who have been guiding me along the way are a huge part of my journey. The gym has become my place of refuge, allowing me to abandon my anxieties at the door so I feel refreshed when I leave.

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Thinkstock photo via Reince Preibus

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The Breaking Point That Told Me I Needed to Get Help for My Anxiety

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I think I’ve always been an anxious person. Always seeking the approval of others, worrying and overanalyzing everything. Going the extra mile to please everyone and apologizing for everything — even when it wasn’t my fault. So many thoughts and questions with no safe answers to give me peace of mind. I wanted to seek help but I was scared of what others might think. I didn’t want to be seen as weak and helpless.

Instead, I struggled silently with anxiety and managed to control it. When it came time for a “me time” break to regain my focus and thoughts, I took one. It helped me regain control before having an anxiety attack. It also prevented me from hurting others because of my insecurities. Trying to self-manage my anxiety, I thought one day it would go away. I had no idea I was creating my own internal bomb that would go off harder than I ever thought possible.

Years later, after getting some chronic illnesses and chronic pain added to my life, it felt like living an internal life of chaos. I was working twice as hard not to fall apart. I felt guilty for getting sick, for feeling lost and alone, for feeling like a failure in all my relationships — especially as a mom. I made so many more apologies because I’m not the same person I once was. My list of insecurities got longer and heavier to manage alone. My biggest fear of being seen as weak and helpless was suddenly visible for the world to see.

Doing everything possible to take care of myself physically to get better, I stopped controlling my anxiety. I forgot about the “me time” breaks. I continued to believe I could handle it and once I was all better, everything else would be too.

Wrong!

What I failed to understand and accept is anxiety is a symptom on it’s own and increases greatly as a symptom of my chronic illness, pain and medications. It also brings friends — stress and depression. Despite the internal chaos I was living, I still refused to get help or seek support from my family and friends. I was still determined to handle it on my own.

I had labs done before my third surgery and it was brought to my attention that some counts were high which resulted in stress and inflammation. It was either inflammation from the other surgeries that are still healing, inflammation from stress or inflammation from healing and stress. I felt my whole body tense up. I knew it was out of control, but I had no idea how serious it was. Everyone has a breaking point and I found mine. It was a scary thing, feeling so vulnerable admitting I needed help, but I did it.

I felt like a coward. For fear of what others might think, I did not seek help. Don’t make the same mistake. Be honest with yourself try not to worry what others will think. It’s your life and only you can help yourself.

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Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

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When Anxiety Is Your Best Friend

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Anxiety is my best friend.

When I was a young girl, I met someone who changed my perspective on life. She was my friend, someone who was there for me in ways I couldn’t explain. We were attached at the hip from the very beginning, and it remained that way for some time. She was my partner, the one who gave me advice that I weaved through life’s wicker basket of decisions.

It was a Saturday. The sun was shining into my room as I was getting ready for my little sister’s bowling tournament. The windows were open and the breeze coming in was calming. I had the radio playing Simple Plan, a band that my kid sister and I shared a love for. Needless to say, the morning was going by in a pleasing manner.

Then — it happened.

My friend came into the room with a smile on her face that seemed a little mischievous. She was always a little more on the spontaneous side than I was. You see, I was, and always have been, a quiet girl until you get to know me. My friend took me by the hand and walked me to my full length mirror decorated with band photos and pictures of my hamsters, Princess and Sassy. She stood by my side and we both looked directly at the image before us. At this point, I wasn’t sure what was happening, but she whispered something gently — “You are not enough.”

From that moment on, those words branded into my soul.

My friend, who I put my trust in, who was always by my side, had crushed me.

And her name was Anxiety.

She’s like a whirl pool that spirals deep into the ground. She’s your conscious that’s at every corner of your mind. She is an overthinker, an underestimator, a crack in the sidewalk. She will set you up for failure because you can’t get her words out of your mind.

She will depress you, ruin your confidence, make you second guess every aspect of your life at every second of the day.

She will consume you.

She will enable you to forever think you’re not enough.

Some days, she won’t let you get out of bed because you can’t stop thinking about her.

She will ruin your best days, your confident days, in the drop of a hat.

She will control all of your thoughts, dreams and motivators.

She will separate you from everyone you love because she has a way of twisting your emotions around at any given moment.

Sometimes you’re extroverted, but she will permanently make you introverted.

You’ll break promises, you will push your friends away, you will become unreliable.

Her words will consume you. She will consume you.

Anxiety is the darkness.

But I am the light.

Anxiety is my best friend, but someday, is will change to was.

And on that day, I will rejoice. There is hope.

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Thinkstock photo via Hemera Technologies. 

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