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The Anxiety of Errands During the Age of Coronavirus

I’ve always dreaded running errands. Will the store be busy? Will they have everything I need? Will I be able to find parking? Will I run into someone I don’t want to see? In this weird age of coronavirus, my anxiety has only amplified. Did I remember my mask? Will people be respectful of social distancing? How long will the line outside be? Will I accidentally walk in an exit, or go the wrong way down an aisle? Will I get sideways looks from people if I accidentally cough or sneeze? Just the thought of attracting this kind of attention causes me to feel the heat of all those eyes on me at once.

Since having a baby, I have no idea what size I am and with fitting rooms closed, I’ve had to buy clothes online and try them on at home. And when some inevitably don’t fit, the quickest way to return them is to go in-person to the store.

Before I leave to make my returns, I jump in the shower. I can feel my heart pounding in my throat. I notice my breathing is shallow and try to encourage myself to take a few deep breaths, feeling the steam enter my lungs. I dry off, and while I get dressed, sweat pours off of me, and no, it’s not hot in my apartment. I quickly attempt to dry myself off a second time. If people see me sweating, they’ll think I’m sick.

Before leaving I put on my armor: a baseball cap to absorb some of that nervous sweat, my headphones so I can listen to music that takes my mind off my anxiety, and my mask. I put on some Lizzo and immediately feel more relaxed and stand a little taller. Phone? Check. Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. Mask? Check. Lizzo? Check. And with that, I push myself out the door.

photo of the contributor wearing a patterned face mask, baseball cap and headphones while looking into the camera

On the way to my destination, there are two voices arguing in my head:

Voice One: “This is going to be terrible. The line to get in is going to be wrapped around the block. This could be the place you finally catch the coronavirus.”

Voice Two: “You’ve got this! People run errands every day and don’t catch anything. Don’t stress.”

They go back and forth, swimming in circles in my head. I can feel myself beginning to spiral. In an attempt to regain control over my thoughts, I mentally walk myself through my next steps: get to the store, wait in line, make my returns and go back home. It sounds so simple when I break it down like that. I try to assure myself that everything will be fine. I can do this.

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When I arrive at the store, return items in hand, I take a moment to center myself and assess the situation based on what I can see: only three people in line in front of the entrance, a staff member just inside with hand sanitizer, allowing one person in once one exits out the side door. I get in line, ensuring I have enough space between me and the woman in front of me. The heat from breathing behind my mask is already making me sweat. I take three deep breaths and discreetly wipe my brow by adjusting the brim of my hat. A couple of minutes later, I settle into my place in line, finally starting to feel at ease when a woman approaches the line and stands far too close behind me. I can feel the tension climbing up my back and into my shoulders. I check in with myself. I take a couple of deep breaths. I stand up straight, pull my shoulders down away from my ears, and move my head from side to side, stretching the muscles in my neck. I massage the hinge of my jaw through my cheeks until my teeth are no longer clenched. I imagine the anxiety leaving my body, floating up into the air and away. I try my hardest to ignore the too-close woman. I mindlessly scroll through Instagram and bop my head along to Lizzo to distract myself.

The man standing inside the entrance motions to me to come in. I step over the threshold and dispense some of the free hand-sanitizer at the station inside the door. I look around, scanning the store for the nearest checkout counter. After spotting it straight ahead, I walk over and take my place in another line. I take another deep breath and wait for my turn — only about three minutes, luckily.

The woman behind the counter waves me over. She smiles at me from behind her mask and the Plexiglas barrier between us. She asks me how my day is going and what the weather is like outside. She laments that she has been stuck inside working all day. It strikes me how “normal” our conversation is. If someone heard a recording of the interaction, they might think it took place in the before-times. I slide my receipt, top, jeans and dress that didn’t fit, under the barrier where the woman receives them and starts scanning. When she finishes she slides my receipt back under the Plexiglas barrier, smiles and tells me to have a good day.

I turn to go, walking toward the door I had seen people exit from earlier. I dispense one more squirt of hand sanitizer at the station near the door for good measure and push it open. I take a deep breath, filling up my lungs with fresh air until they’re full. I smile up at the sunshine beaming down, warming my face. Relief washes over me. I did it.

Before heading home, I take my newly discovered confidence to a nearby cafe and bookstore. I decide I deserve a reward for getting through that ordeal. By this point in my journey, I feel more confident in my ability to handle public places, having conquered one already. I manage to get in and out of each shop within five minutes. With my latte in one hand and new reads in the other, I park myself on a bench nearby to reflect on the sequence of emotions and events that brought me here. I take a sip of my latte, close my eyes and silently congratulate myself for working through my anxieties and persevering. I try to lock this feeling of pride into my memory so that when it comes time to go to the grocery store in a couple of days, I’ll remember that although the anxiety feels overwhelming sometimes, I will push through.

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Image Credits: mcoyleshibley

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