If you’re anything like me, when you’re in a crowded store there are one of three things that goes through your mind:
- What the fuck is wrong with you people, personal space!
- Okay, how many of you are telepathically communicating with each other to plan my demise? (You ask them all telepathically, of course).
- Too many, too many, too many, run, run, leave, leave, panic, panic–wait! There’s chocolate–okay, run, run, run.
Or maybe you think all three and have a hell of a time shopping. I can essentially go into two stores by myself: Walgreens and Rite Aid. When those two stores are crowded, I sit in my car for a good twenty minutes until I feel safe entering the establishment.
But when you can’t wait twenty or thirty minutes in your car with your kitten comforting you, and you have to take a deep breath and dive neck deep into the hell that is a sea of human nematodes, here are six things that help me.
- If you feel like people are planning your demise, or if the clerks are conspiring to get you kicked out, do as I do and put some ear phones in. If you hear the clerks conspiring to get you kicked out, I suggest even more you put some ear phones in. It’s a good distraction and you can blend in pretty well. If you start talking to yourself, it looks like you’re on the phone. What a wonderful age we live in, right? Conversely, if you are not someone who talks to yourself regularly and you walk around with those bluetooth things in your ears talking to the air, you look ridiculous, you really, really do.
- If people are crowding around you, remember you have the right to leave the aisle. I feel sometimes our anxiety can paralyze us and we’re stuck between two people on our right and two people on our left with thoughts circulating about how close they are, about if they’re watching us pick out an item, about how they’re judging the item we pick up, or maybe just that there is another person next to us and we’re trapped so we have to pick something before we can leave. These are all thoughts I experience as well. It’s a good idea to just squeeze on past and come back to the aisle later. It’s not going anywhere.
- If you then think those people are following you around the store just to crowd you, or to track you, as I often have felt, try and remember that everyone came in this store for something. Chances are, you will run across someone looking for the same thing you are. It may be that they are following you: just not on purpose.
- You do have the freedom to punch someone. I don’t suggest doing it, in fact I recommend you don’t. But remembering that may give you some security.
- Talk to yourself. In your head this time. Too often we let ourselves be victimized by this beast called anxiety and it starts running the show. It controls our thoughts, our actions, our emotions. It’s up to you to take back at least a sliver of control: remind yourself it’s okay. Sing along to lyrics in your head. Focus on a list you may have made. The point isn’t to dissociate from the situation like I pretty much always do, but to be able to maintain a level of composure while being present. Remind yourself what you’re feeling is anxiety, or paranoia, or panic, whichever it is you come across, and recognize it and know that it’s there. Try not to push it away. The harder you push, the stronger it gets, have you noticed?
- Remember it will end. Remember that when you get out of that store and away from those people you will have a moment to breathe again and you can count it as a victory. Even if you don’t make it, even if you have to run out without buying anything, you went in and tried and that takes courage. There’s no failure here, only small victories, small accomplishments.
Too often we beat ourselves down for what we don’t do, what we feel we’ve failed at, and don’t nearly give ourselves enough credit for the things we do accomplish, even the small things–I’m guilty of this myself. One thing our minds are very talented at in the midst of something like anxiety is telling us how wrong we’ve managed to do everything. Not even the one thing we tried to do, but it becomes a generalization of everything.
Our brains are very good at hyperboles. And that’s okay, we just have to recognize them and have an action plan when they pop up.