There’s an undeniable tension when you head to the supermarket at the moment. From the quiet queuing outside to seeing fellow customers wearing masks and gloves, nothing about buying food feels “normal” right now.
Added to the strange atmosphere is the fact supermarkets are perceived as “potential hotspots” for the virus to spread, says psychologist Chloe Paidoussis-Mitchell – so, understandably, it’s making some customers feel nervous about completing their essential errands.
We shouldn’t feel silly about these worries – after all, who could’ve predicted popping out for milk could lead to racing thoughts and sweaty palms six months ago?
“Feeling anxious about the virus in supermarkets is a normal human response to an abnormal situation,” Paidoussis-Mitchell told HuffPost UK. “It is important [for people] to remember they may not be able to control what happens outside of them, but they can control what happens inside of them.”
Paidoussis-Mitchell says our way of “internal coping” is more resilient if we acknowledge and nurture it. You can do this by thinking about the task at hand logically. “Going to the supermarket is a manageable risk,” she says.
Try to see those new measures – the tape on the ground and staggered queuing at the checkout – in a positive light. They are there to keep you safe. Reminding yourself of the processes you’ll take after the supermarket, such as washing your hands for 20 seconds, will also make you feel more in control.
“The virus is not a superhero baddie,” says Paidoussis-Mitchell. “We can determine safe boundaries and taking caution is our superpower.”
It can also be helpful to remember times in the past where you’ve felt relaxed and in control at the supermarket, says Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist and coach at calmer-you.com, as this may prevent negative thoughts from spiralling.
“Do a mental rehearsal of going to the supermarket and imagine yourself feeling calm, grounded and self-assured as you do your shopping,” she says. “Imagine this with all your senses: see yourself looking relaxed, feel it in your body, notice your body posture, the sounds and smells – and imagine it going well.”
If you feel panic rising as you approach the supermarket, both Paidoussis-Mitchell and Brotheridge recommend using positive affirmations. Try “I can’t control what happens outside of me, but I can control how I respond,” “I choose to hold on to my determined calm,” “all is well” or “I’ve got this.”
Practising controlled breathing will further reduce stress hormones being released at the perceived threat, explains Paidoussis-Mitchell.
Start by standing still. Then, fill your lungs fully by breathing through the mouth. Count to three whilst holding air in the lungs. Finally, breath out whilst counting to four. Repeat the exercise for a few minutes until you feel calmer.
While you’re walking through the aisles, counting to 60 may also help you maintain a sense of calm, without getting too side-tracked from your shopping list.
For some of us, our anxiety around heading to the supermarket may have a more profound effect. If you’ve experienced a panic attack in relation to getting your weekly shop, you’re not alone – social media is full of people sharing their experiences.
Panic attacks feel scary, but it may help to remind yourself they’re not dangerous, says Brotheridge. “It’s just adrenaline and the feelings soon pass,” she adds. “I love psychologist Claire Weeks’ advice to ‘float, don’t fight.’ Imagine being able to float with the feelings instead of fighting against them.”
Journalling every day is another way to nurture resilience and may lesson the frequency of attacks, says Paidoussis-Mitchell. “It’s a daily declutter of negative feelings and anxious thoughts will be less available to be triggered,” she says. “It’s also important at the end of each day to journal for gratitude, to bring positive experiences of the day to the forefront of our mind.”
These tips are designed to make panic and anxiety a little more manageable, but feeling nervous in the current climate is almost inevitable. So don’t waste energy judging yourself for it.
“Accept it and reframe it positively,” says Paidoussis-Mitchell. “The anxiety is only trying to keep you safe. Acknowledge it. Thank it and do what you can to reassure yourself internally. Normalizing anxiety and fear can help us take control over it, moderate it and process it.”
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Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.