How to Keep Calm and Confident at a Grocery Store

Calm and confident while grocery shopping

Today I want to share with you some of my best advice when it comes to one of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing everyday situations that you can find yourself in: grocery shopping. 

I remember the time when I would freak out just by thinking about going to the grocery store. It's just a weird mix of all the things that can make you anxious. You have to walk into a closed space full of people that are jostling each other on their way through the isles. Then there's all the things you want to buy that you have to keep in mind and the nagging anxiety that you might forget something and will have to come back again.

And then a lot of your time is actually spent walking around in circles just to find an item you need. Or if you can't find it, you need to ask one of the employees to tell you where you can find it, hoping you won't be bothering them and they won't think you're a loser for not being able to find something in a grocery store. 

And then it's time for the check-out. Standing in line waiting for others to finish and then hoping you won't take too long with packing and payment and that you have enough cash with you in the first place. 

And even when you finally get to leave the store, you'll still be wondering if you bought everything. 

As you can see, the trip to the grocery store can be an uncomfortable experience that can easily trigger your anxiety.

The Stress Triggers

The reasons it's such a frustrating experience is because it triggers two of our very primal stress triggers that have been with us since the dawn of time.

Fear of Rejection

The first one is our number 1 source of emotional stress: fear of rejection. I learned from the brilliant physician Dr. Gabor Maté that being rejected by another human triggers the same pain circuits in the brain as physical pain does. And there's a good evolutionary reason for that. Up until about a few hundred years ago, being rejected by your tribe literally meant death becasue your chances of surviving on your own in the wilderness were very slim.

In a grocery store situation you're surrounded with a lot of people and even if they do nothing explicit that might mean that you're bothering them, annoying them or that they're bored with you, the possibility of rejection is there and it's just as stressful.


The second one is uncertainty and lack of predictability. I learned this one from biologist Robert Sapolsky who has done amazing research on how stress affects our health. He teaches that it's really the unpredictability of a situation, the unknown that causes us stress. 

When you go to the grocery store, there's a lot of "unknown" that you have to deal with. You have to somehow make sure you don't forget anything on your list, that you don't get in the way of people, that you don't accidentally damage any of the products on the shelves, that you've got enough cash with you, etc. 

There's also a lot of decisions that you have to make. There are a variety of products available that are essentially the same. And you have to be able to pick a single one that offers the best bang for your buck. This can be a daunting task with so many options laid out in front of you for each item on your list.

The #1 Mistake You Want to Avoid

So the first advice of your anxious inner voice is going to be to avoid the grocery store altogether. It's unsafe and so many things can go wrong. And if you end up having a panic attack, you can't just walk away once you're in. 

But do you want to give in to your lower self and stay at home?

I mean it's okay once or twice to avoid the grocery store if you feel really exhausted. But as a long term strategy refusing to go grocery shopping for the rest of your life sounds like a feeble plan to me.

Instead what you want to do is gradually expose yourself to the stressful situation and set up your own safety net in case something goes wrong. 

The Solution

Here's some of my best advice that will help you walk into the store with confidence and leave unscathed:

  1. First of all, give yourself permission to leave the store. Before you leave your home make it clear to yourself - even say it out loud - that if you feel really bad, it's okay to leave the store right away. This way you won't feel trapped once inside. You'll know that there's always a way out if you can't take the pressure anymore. 
  2. Once inside, look around you at all the people there and take a moment to think about how they might feel. My experience is that about 50% of the people in a grocery store at any given time feel uncomfortable and stressed out. Not all of these people might be aware of it and many of them might be able to hide how they feel but they're stressed out nonetheless. It's not just you, you know?
  3. Find a time frame when there's less people at the store and do your shopping then. In my experience early in the morning, during working hours and late in the evening is the best time to do your grocery shopping. When there's less people, you eliminate a big chunk of the fear of rejection element.
  4. Never go to the grocery store hungry. This is a huge one. Not only will you make unhealthy meal choices on your way or in the store, but you'll also have less energy, you'll be impatient and more sensitive to stressors. Also, hunger will distract your focus and make you think about unhealthy foods. Make sure you grab something to eat before you go shopping to clear your mind and replenish your energies.
  5. Make a shopping list. This is a very simple one but it's very important. This one eliminates the nagging worry that you forgot to buy everything you needed. If you've got it all down on a piece of paper, it's inevitable that you'll buy everything you need so you won't have to worry about that anymore.
  6. Give yourself time. Don't rush it. If you're in a hurry, you'll be nervous and you'll end up forgetting something anyway. Just make sure you have enough time to grab everything you need.

Final Thoughts

Going to the grocery store can drive your anxiety through the roof because it's a stressful experience. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you follow my 6 tips above, you'll learn how to stay calm while grocery shopping and actually enjoy the process!

If you have any questions or there's anything you'd like to add, leave a comment below and I'll try my best to get back to you soon. 

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