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7 Shopping Tips for Neurodivergent People Who Get Sensory Overload in Stores

Going to the store, for many, is a necessary part of adult life, but when you live with sensory sensitivities due to neurodivergent conditions, it can become a bit more difficult and at times, a literal headache to endure.

If you struggle with excursions to the market due to your sensory sensitivities, here are some general and basic tips that will hopefully come in handy the next day you have to run errands.

1. If you don’t already, wear earbuds.

Noise protection earphones are a must. Personally, I love my AirPod Pros, because they are excellent at canceling outside noise, but I recognize those are expensive and there are earphones at half the cost that can do similar. 

Whether you are like me, and you use music to emotionally regulate, help with your cognitive processing, or you just want the option to not be bombarded with the constant and at times incessant sounds around you, earbuds help give you better control of your surroundings in the small way you can.

2. Time when you’re going (if you can).

When stores first open, they tend to be less busy. Likewise for when they’re about to close (excluding holiday seasons). If you time it correctly, you may be able to shop at a time when the stores have fewer people, thus less foot traffic, noises, smells, sounds, you name it. 

Also, if you’re a first responder or in a certain age demographic, some stores have special hours specifically for you to shop! Look into your local markets because if it applies to you, you’d definitely want to take advantage of that.

3. Keep wearing masks.

Yes, COVID-19 is still very real and we are very much still in a pandemic, but and also, there’s a certain peace and calm that comes with wearing masks. 

When you are neurodivergent, we can catch ourselves physically masking constantly. If half of your face is covered, guess what? That alleviates the need to control your face as much. Because I’m not so preoccupied with masking my facial expressions, I’m immediately not predispositioned to being incredibly overwhelmed.

4. Have a go-plan.

I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which means my attention span is minimal on a daily basis. Sometimes I tend to go into a store, and not actually leave with anything I need because I become so preoccupied with everything around me. Making a go-plan or a list (yeah, yeah, I know) helps drastically.

Having a definite focus keeps my mind on the task at hand, and not on the BOGO sales that always inevitably catch my eye.

5. Order ahead and do curbside pick-up.

If you can, ordering ahead is such a joy. If you’re able to just go on the store’s app, put in your purchase, and then pick up your purchase at guest services or while parked in a parking space, you can almost eliminate the need to go into the store, to begin with. That means you get to remain in the comfort of your own car, where you can control your environment (hopefully).

6. Bring your stimming toys.

If stimming helps you, then make sure you bring whatever stimming toys that help bring you peace. There are wearable stim toys, toys that attach to your keys, small portable ones, etc., that way if you are stuck inside a store and sensory overwhelm isn’t being kind to you, you have a way to release that tension.

7. Find the “secret” cash registers.

Obviously, there are the self-checkout and traditional check-out areas, right? However, in a lot of stores (especially Target), there are other check-out areas that aren’t advertised.

If your brain seriously disagrees with standing in those long lines (like mine does), find the secret cash registers. Usually, they’ll be in an electronics, clothing, or produce section. Just know that you can’t always check everything out there (alcohol and medicine for example are usually no-nos).

This helps you get in and out, without having to stand in what looks to be a long line. Now, are the lines ever really that long? No, but you know how our brains can be.

Shopping can be stressful with the vast kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, smells, and textures around you, and depending on how your neurodivergence impacts you, these tips may help, or they may not. Navigating in a neurotypical world isn’t just hard at times, but it can also be draining, isolating, and can even lead to the feeling of being “othered.”

Let this be a jump-off point for you to consider how you can accommodate and advocate for yourself in public shopping spaces, that way you can get done what you need to get done without having a downright horrible time.

Getty image by FG Trade

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