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Monday, September 27, 2010

Shopping Smart: Avoiding Market Anxiety

There are many tips, hints, and tricks out there for those who want to eat healthier. There are websites and blogs devoted to eating vegan or vegetarian, to incorporating more raw foods, to balancing your diet, and on and on. But there are unique challenges posed to those with anxiety disorders, even to those who are dealing with an unhealthy amount of stress and strain. Yes, we must eat more healthfully, but we must also deal with other issues...panic attacks, agoraphobia, compulsive habits, and more. These challenges can make shopping into a nightmare, especially when you are trying to start converting your diet and the calming effects of all that good nutrition aren't active yet.

One of the challenges I've faced is the sheer size of markets in this part of the country. Wal-Mart rules the roost around here, and most other stores have built enormous amounts of inventory just to keep up and compete. The huge selections, however, do nothing useful for me at all. I wander the aisles overwhelmed and overstimulated, forget half of what I am there for and leave frustrated and in a near-panic. Or at least, that's how I used to be. I have since formed a system that allows me to make my market trips more efficient, no matter how big the market.

1) Make a Grocery List.

This may seem self evident or simplistic, but it's extremely, extremely important. If you have a list of the things that you need, you're less likely to go up and down the aisles, adding things to your cart when they look good and overspending. This isn't to say that you should be completely rigid about your list...if you see something that you need, by all means, pick it up! But having that base list of items will keep you focused and calm, will allow you to estimate how much you will be spending, and will allow your shopping experience to go more smoothly.

2) Eat a Snack.

Again, this might seem like a strange missive, but it's extremely important. Anxiety is heightened tremendously by low blood sugar and dehydration. You should always keep hydrated and drink water throughout the day. But when you know you are going shopping or running errands, be sure to eat a snack before leaving or take one with you on the go. Clif bars make an  excellent snack, as do Luna bars, which are made by Clif. Nutritionally dense and organic, they will help to steady your blood sugar and give you energy to get through errands and shopping trips. They can be easily kept in a purse or bag, along with a small bottle of water. (Stainless steel water bottles are cheap, reusable, and environmentally friendly!!) If you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed, find a place that you can sit for a moment, take a drink of water, and breath.

3) Make a Plan.

When I shop, I get my staples at the regular super market, and then buy my ethnic and specialty foods at our local health foods market. I divide my list so that I know what I need to get at each market, and decide before I go in whether or not I will be looking for extras, especially at the health food market (where everything sounds so much more tempting!). I can then plan it into a routine. For example, if I know I am getting all non-perishables at one market, I can go there first. Or, I can divide the shopping trips into separate days, or plan a route so that I swing back by the house and drop off my perishables. Much like having a list, having a plan will make the whole trip go more smoothly, because it will allow you to focus. When you know where you are going next and what you are doing, you can focus on that...and lower distractions and anxious thoughts.

4) Pick Your Market.

This might be possible, it might not, but if you have multiple markets, supermarkets, and health food stores in your area, then take time to tour them. Shop around. Even if you have to drive across town to go to the market that you want, it's worthwhile if you plan the trip in advance. Choose markets that don't stress you out. Choose markets that are clean and inviting, and with a friendly staff. Be as discerning as you can afford to be, and allow yourself the freedom to do so! Your peace of mind and quality of life are extremely important, and living an anti-anxiety lifestyle means paying attention to those things and preserving them. If a market is a half an hour away but you love it, then make a point of stocking up when you are there, and make the trip every two weeks.

Cutting down on the anxiety in your life requires more than a change in diet and exercise routines. It's not a quick fix and it's not a simple solution...but nothing worth doing really is! Living a life as free from anxiety as possible requires thought on your part, and preparation. But the rewards are really very worthwhile. Going into the grocer-shopping process with a plan, a list, and a snack will eliminate that panic and limit the over stimulation, and going to places where you feel comfortable will ease the shopping experience and, with any luck, make it quite positive. By reinforcing the positivity of the experience and, at the same time, purchasing the items that you really need, shopping can become a part of your routine instead of a dreaded punishment.

-The Calm Cook

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