A trip to the supermarket feels like a very different experience now to how it did a couple of months ago.

Fears about coronavirus spreading and the measures supermarkets have sensibly put in place to protect staff and customers mean a simple outing to pick up your weekly supplies feels very unfamiliar.

Add to that, the government guidance means that for many people a shopping trip for essential food is one of the only times they’re leaving their homes during lockdown, apart from for their daily exercise.

Long waits for online delivery slots and priority for these spaces being understandably given to vulnerable people, may mean ordering shopping online is not an option either.

Our member Indira Chima, a counsellor and psychotherapist, says it’s perfectly normal if a trip to the supermarket is currently making you feel anxious.

Normal reaction

“Feeling anxious in this scenario is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation that we all find ourselves in.  Anxiety comes into play when we feel fearful or threatened in some way and the fear and threat are very real today.

“Supermarket shopping is normally a safe, familiar and non-threatening experience.  In these circumstances, however, it’s one of the few reasons we are legitimately allowed out and one of the rare occasions we get to enjoy human contact.

Fear closer to home

Indira, who runs The Counselling Living Room near St Albans, adds: “With the new measures in place though, what was once safe and familiar has now become a foreign experience, bringing the fear closer to home.  It leaves us feeling that nowhere is safe. 

For some people, depending on their life experience and history, this can be a triggering experience and they can feel powerless and unsafe as they connect with familiar feelings from the past. For others, they can feel anxious about catching the virus and going to hospital and dying. 

Makes it real

“We can distance ourselves from what we see on TV but being in our local supermarket and seeing people queuing to get in, wearing masks, cleaning trolleys and bare shelves makes it real.”

Coping strategies

If you’ve found a trip to the supermarket has made you anxious, Indira has some coping strategies that may help.

Phone a friend

“Shift the focus by phoning a friend or family member when shopping,” says Indira.

“This can help you to feel more ‘normal’ and grounded.  It can also help shift the brain from panic to something else.”

Speak to store staff

“Speak to supermarket staff (keeping a safe distance of course) and ask how they are and say something about how you are feeling. Again this shifts the brain from panic mode to something else.” 

Listen to music

“Play music on your headphones – Something you enjoy from a regular playlist or you find relaxing.  Or listen to a podcast about something that interests you.”

Structure and control

“Take control over things you can in the supermarket eg. the order you do your shopping in or take a shopping list and tick it off as you go along.  It gives you some structure and means you can get in and out quicker,” adds Indira.

Use a basket and shop quickly

“Take a basket instead of a trolley and if you are feeling overly anxious then go straight to checkout and leave.  You will probably have enough to make do.”

Use a grounding technique

Indira recommends: “If you are starting to feel panicky then use a grounding technique to help you connect with the moment by focusing on the 5 senses.  So something I can hear?  Something I can see?  Something I can feel, touch and taste.  Do this exercise slowly and you’ll feel less anxious by the end.”

Remember, it’s ok to feel like this

And she adds: “I’d also reassure people by saying ‘it’s ok to feel like this’.  It’s a perfectly normal, valid response.  ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, there’s something wrong out there!’  By saying this I am locating the problem outside of the individual.”

This isn’t forever

“This won’t be forever,” she says. “It will pass and some new normal life will resume, we just don’t know when.  It’s important to hold onto this.  People need to know there will be an end to this.”

If you’re struggling with anxiety, you can find a counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you with our Therapist Directory.