While shopping can be a form of retail therapy for some, it can also be a stressful, triggering experience for people living with anxiety.
From large stores to loud music to huge crowds, many shoppers can feel overstimulated — myself included.
So what's the best way to shop when you have anxiety? We spoke to Dr. Paul Saks and Dr. Mitchell Saskin, who are both clinical psychologists at Columbia University, Dr. Saks and Dr. Saskin, and got advice about how to handle the stress that shopping can cause.
1. Have a plan before you go shopping.
Whether that means making a list of items you'd like to purchase or knowing the layout of the store, knowing as many variables in advance will help.
Dr. Saks also recommends having a calm down plan in place — just in case. "Whether it's a breathing exercise, or a friend that you could call."
3. Discover the source of your anxiety.
Anxiety is not all about shopping. "If someone is experiencing this kind of anxiety, usually there's something about themselves and their lives that they're not comfortable about or anxious about, and it's manifesting in this way," Dr. Saks said. Talking with a professional and developing breathing techniques to manage your anxiety is a step in the right direction.
4. Shopping in a smaller and quieter environment can help.
Giant stores may not be the best idea if your anxiety is made worse by large crowds — so consider going to small boutiques instead. "Generally if it's a smaller place and [does] not have a lot of people around, again it feels like a more controlled environment," Dr. Saskin told us.
5. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Sometimes asking for help from an employee can be stressful, however don't let that deter you. "Employees are there to help you, not to judge you. Remember that you're the customer," Dr. Saks said. "If they have a problem, the problem is with them and not with you."
6. Face your fears.
Many people with anxiety avoid places where they've become anxious in the past — and if you suffer from panic attacks, the association can be even stronger.
"The danger with panic attacks is if you go home, then the fear of the panic attack becomes attached to being in certain situations," Dr. Saks said. "Avoidance is the worst thing that you can do. That sets up a situation where you are afraid of being in that place again."
7. Most importantly, your anxiety doesn't have to control you.
Accepting the fact that there will always be elements that are outside of your control will help overall. "There's lots of things in the world that we can't control," says Dr. Saks. "I think that if you start to eliminate things, whether it be shopping or going to events where there's lots of people you're really limiting your life."