Shopping anxiety

I think I’ve made some more small steps towards progress in the last couple of days, though I’m not sure. Most of this post will probably be quite mundane, so my apologies if I bore anyone.

Going shopping is always a major trigger of my social anxiety, particularly if I’m alone. I went to a shopping centre on my own on Thursday with the goal of facing my anxiety in mind. I started with shops that I feel less anxious in and slowly worked up to the more difficult ones. I went into a sports shop to try and get myself a new pair of running shoes. I managed to stay in the shop for about 15 minutes and even try on 2 pairs of trainers despite being really anxious and just wanting to leave. However, I was so anxious that I couldn’t even decide whether I wanted the shoes or not. It was much the same in the 2 clothes shops that I managed to go into – I spent about 5 minutes in each before leaving empty-handed. Then I went into a book/ music shop for about 15 or 20 minutes. It probably sounds weird but even just taking a book off the shelf and trying to read it elicits great anxiety in me. No one was even anywhere near me, but my hands were shaking and I was feeling nauseous just the same. I couldn’t even take in what I was reading because of the anxiety. In that situation, I have thoughts like “What if someone sees the book that I’ve chosen and judges me negatively based on it?”, “What if they think I’m really weird?”, “What if they see my hands shaking and think I’m very strange?” I know that it’s completely illogical to be so afraid of such a minor thing, and I know that in reality, no one really cares or pays me that much attention. And, looking at those thoughts, I really can’t see why my anxiety is so high when in that situation. It probably does relate to being bullied to some extent…I’ll probably have to do a ‘Thought Record’* to figure it out. Anyway…I did manage to stay in the situation for a while despite considerable anxiety, before leaving empty-handed yet again. The whole experience was very pointless in terms of actually buying the things I’d wanted to buy but quite useful in terms of facing and trying to understand my anxiety. It was only once I was on the bus home – and considerably more calm- that I realised just how anxious I’d been at the shopping centre.

*I’ll talk more about these in future.

I came away feeling awful for what I’d seen as a big list of failures – not staying in certain shops for long enough, not making enough eye contact, not buying what I was supposed to because of my anxiety, not trying things on in the clothes shops, etc. This lead me to the same old negative thought spiral as I tried to fathom what it must be like to be able to do all of those things WITHOUT intense anxiety. My psychologist did help me to see that I’d actually achieved quite a lot though, even if I might not think so. I usually can’t see that I’ve made progress because I’m too busy focusing on what I didn’t manage to do. Often, I do need someone else to point out what I did manage to do before I get any sense of achievement.

Yesterday, I went to the supermarket (twice) and the post office. I honestly think that that’s the least anxious I have ever felt in a supermarket on my own. I did feel quite anxious while waiting in the queue at the checkout, but it still wasn’t too bad. My anxiety was relatively mild walking around the shop though. It was great.

I’ll have another chance to face my fears again tomorrow as my whole family is going shopping for holiday clothes. We’re going to a large and VERY busy shop so it’ll be quite a challenge. Bring it on!

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5 Responses to Shopping anxiety

  1. Morgan says:

    I just discovered your blog the other day and can say I’m looking forward to future posts and going back and reading older posts. I recently started seeing a counsellor about my social anxiety, which I couldn’t really say I had until last summer when my boyfriend showed me what it was. As soon as I saw, most of my life suddenly made sense. Prior to this I had just thought I was extemely shy, but reading what social anxiety was it was just like yeah that is definitely me!
    I can’t say that I get anxious when in a store, although I never know what to say when paying, whether at a grocery store or other retail store. I guess I think whatever small talk I come up with they have heard multiple times during their shift, so I usually don’t say much, just respond to anything they say. Returning something is another story. I haven’t had to return much, but I ususally try and get someone else to do it, as it causes me too much anxiety to do it myself. What I get anxious about in going to a store is getting to the store from my house. Driving causes me anxiety, so usually when we go out my boyfriend does the driving, although I don’t like the way he drives either, so I can’t really win.
    Anyways, from someone who suffers from social anxiety to another, I look forward to reading your posts.

  2. Gemma says:

    Thank you. 🙂 Is seeing the counsellor helping you? I was much the same when I found out about social anxiety disorder back when I was 14 – all the moments throughout my life when I’d felt sick or unable to do something social/ performance related suddenly made sense. The positive thing about finding out about social anxiety is knowing that you’re not alone. There are millions or other people who experience the same thing, and there are many online communities where you can speak openly about your anxiety without fear of being judged. I understand where you’re coming from with driving. I’m hoping to pass both of my tests by autumn but just the thought of being on the roads and having people pull up next to me at traffic lights and so on fills me with considerable dread.

  3. Morgan says:

    I’m not sure yet. The focus right now seems to be on getting better at making phone calls. I don’t like to make them and if I can book something or communicate via email I tend to do that. If it’s something I need to call about I usually leave the call until the last moment. My counsellor has suggested making calls like calling a store to ask their hours or if they have something in stock, but I have trouble doing that because it’s not a call I need to make. I guess I would rather wait until I need to make a call and then think (and maybe even write out) what I want to say, practice breathing beforehand, etc. I’m not sure which would be more beneficial for me.

  4. Gemma says:

    I think that breathing exercises are definitely a good idea beforehand if they help you. I’ve found that – if I have to phone somewhere – getting it out of the way as soon as possible helps. Putting it off ’til later usually just makes the anxiety about it worse. Doing it as soon as you can also means that you will have had less time to worry about it and build on your worries of everything that could possibly go ‘wrong’. I’ve gotten better at speaking on the phone over the past couple of years, though I still get very anxious at times. Generally, the more I do it, the easier it becomes. I also used to write out what I wanted to say, sometimes even making a script for myself, but I don’t do that any more. I’d say that it’s best to have an idea in your head of what you’d like to say, but try not to over-rehearse it, as I find that this makes the apprehension about making the phone call worse. Overcoming the avoidance of making phone calls is probably the most difficult part. If you don’t feel able to phone a shop just yet, maybe you could start off with more manageable things such as phoning someone close to you, and then gradually build up to more difficult things? Taking pride in any steps that you’ve taken in overcoming your anxiety, no matter how small they might seem – and even writing them all down somewhere – can also help to motivate you to keep going with it. Has your counsellor mentioned cognitive behavioural therapy? Doing ‘thought records’ can help you to re-evaluate your worries and beliefs about what might happen in the situations that you find difficult.

    I hope that it goes well for you. Good luck.

  5. I get shaky hands in shops too, I get anxious before going shopping because of it. Its so dumb and i feel judged. Glad someone can relate with me

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