“It’s okay to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave”
Over the past few weeks I’ve been out shopping a number of times.
The first trip was to buy Christmas presents, another time looking for something for myself and again two days ago with a friend who wanted to go round the post Christmas sales.
A few years ago this would have been a very unenjoyable experience. I’d probably have made my excuses not to go and would have either bought the items online or if it was something for me, decided I didn’t really need it.
Anything to avoid the anxiety and worry of a panic attack induced by these busy and crowded places.
I used to hate shopping centres, I’d start feeling panicked just walking round a half empty supermarket. I’d leave feeling like a nervous wreck and fed up with the fact that what used to be a normal everyday experience was now making me feel like a mess.
I started making my excuses not to go, did more and more shopping online and when I did go shopping would start thinking about how I would feel hours before I went. Of course, when I got there that is then exactly how I felt.
On these recent shopping trips however, not only did I feel calm and relaxed but I actually enjoyed strolling around and watching all the people go busily about their day.
It wasn’t until a few hours later once I’d returned home did I realise that I hadn’t even worried about going there beforehand.
So today I want to talk about how you can overcome your anxiety and fear of these busy places.
Crowded shopping centres can feel like a real nightmare for many and it can quickly spike your feelings of anxiety and panic. For most this is caused by the feelings of agoraphobia and social anxiety.
It’s easy to start feeling very overwhelmed in these places and fear having a panic attack in full view of everyone.
This can ruin any shopping trip you have planned and often leave you feeling like you’re better off staying at home.
This is an avoidance technique and although online shopping is so easy to do nowadays, it is just making it even easier for you to avoid these situations.
This may help you keep your anxiety and panic in check that day, but in the long run it is likely to make it worse the next time you have to go into town.
It is only reinforcing in your mind that you are going to feel panicked and anxious.
As with most things related to anxiety and panic it comes down to a choice:
Shy away, stay away and keep reinforcing the fact that these places make you feel bad.
Get out there, keep doing it and show yourself that there is really nothing to fear in a busy and crowded place.
I chose the latter.
When I wrote down the pros and cons of each choice the decision was easy. I wasn’t going to let the way I felt stop me from doing something, instead I was going to expose its lies and even enjoy it.
To begin with I’d go with friends or family as having someone else around would help, but that wasn’t enough. Next I went alone, to show myself I needed no help, I could do this on my own.
The more I went the better it got and now I don’t even think about it before I head out shopping.
I still get times when I can feel the anxiety rising a little, but it does’t bother me. Now when I feel it I challenge it, ‘come on, do your worst’! I invite it on and then often end up with a big grin on my face because as soon as I do that and just allow it to be there, it quickly fades.
I’ve won, it’s lost and when it tries to claw back some ground it fails because I do not believe what it is trying to tell me.
You must not give in, you must not allow the way you feel to stop you doing things. Instead you have to do it anyway, knowing that it cannot hurt you and by continuing to do it, you will show yourself you do not have to feel this way.
To do this right you must combine the learning of both new automatic thought and behavioural habits.
As you do these together they support one another and help you overcome your fears of these crowded places.
Here are my top 6 tips for a more relaxed shopping experience:
- Get your thoughts in check first – before you even venture out to the shops understand what is causing you to feel the way you do. Believe one hundred percent that the only way to feel better is to expose yourself to it, to show yourself that it cannot hurt you. Learn to untwist your unrealistic negative thinking about the situation and to get in the right positive mental mindset before you walk out the door.
- Start small and build on your success – don’t attempt the busiest place you know straight away. Instead start with smaller shopping centres, during quieter times and then slowly increase your exposure. You must keep doing it, do not allow more than a few days to go by before your next exposure; leave it too long and the previous success will have had time to evaporate from your mind.
- Keep good posture – never underestimate how the way you walk, stand and carry yourself in how you feel. This should start before you even leave the house, just sitting or standing with your back straight, shoulders back and head held high for 2 minutes can have an effect on how you feel. You can watch a great video on the science behind this here. Once at the shops keep this good posture, especially keeping your head up, never slouch and walk around looking at your feet.
- Walk slowly but purposefully – if you find yourself rushing around so you can get out of there as soon as possible then it’s no wonder you start to feel anxious and panicked. Slow down your pace and actions, take your time to feel present in the moment and to take in your surroundings. Know what it is you are shopping for and where you need to go, be purposeful in your actions as you move about.
- Make eye contact with people – once you start to feel more comfortable it is then important to start making eye contact with people. If you try and avoid eye contact with everyone or look away immediately you are subconsciously telling your self esteem that you are not as good as these people. By having to look away you’re showing yourself that these people are better or more powerful than you and this will only make you feel weak and anxious.
- Smile and say hello – finally once you are able to make more eye contact it is time to communicate. It can be as subtle as a small smile, or as bold as a big grin and saying hello. You’ll be amazed how many people respond in kind and how good that can make you feel. Most people today are so cut off from their communities and other people, they go about their lives with a protective barrier around them. Never forget how important human interaction is, even if it’s just an acknowledgement of their presence.
Points 1-4 are the ones which you must get right first. These will give you the biggest improvements and as you progress you can then incorporate points 5 and 6.
Do this enough times and you WILL stop feeling anxious when you’re in a busy shop or supermarket. Eventually you’ll have enough calm and relaxed experiences that you will even forget to worry about it before you go out.
It’s not instant, but it works.
It works because you’ve retrained your mind to not respond to these situations in an anxious and panicked way.
Now it’s time to make your choice:
Keep avoiding these situations and feel anxious and panicked when you have no choice but to face them.
Make yourself face them over and over again until you’ve shown yourself you have nothing to fear.
The truth is, once you understand and truly believe that all anxiety and panic is a lie and that it cannot hurt you then it is not that difficult to do.
I did it, and I’m no different to you, all it took was a commitment.
The alternative was to go on feeling the way I did and to slowly withdraw myself from these situations as much as possible. Eventually you end up withdrawing from life completely.
I’m not going to be that person and nor should you.
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