Do you panic in supermarket queues? Or maybe at the bank, or the post office?
If so, you're certainly not alone. Here's what so many of my clients tell me.
I feel trapped in the queue
I feel like people are looking at me - they can see I'm panicking
I can't breathe
My palms get sweaty
My hands shake when I am paying for my goods
There are times when I've just walked out of the shop
I want to walk out, but then I think people would stare and I'd be so embarrassed
I spend ages hanging around, waiting for the queue to get shorter
I dread going to the shops!
Many people experience panic in busy places, such as the supermarket, the bank or high street shops. Being stuck in a queue can make it feel even worse. These panic symptoms come under the umbrella of Agoraphobia.
The word Agoraphobia literally means "fear of the marketplace”. It’s based on the Greek word 'Agora'(market)– so you’re certainly not alone – people have been suffering from this for thousands of years!
How to Stop Panic in the Supermarket Queue
When I help my clients overcome anxiety, I work on three levels:
1. Mastering Thoughts
It's true that you get what you think about. When panic starts..... if you keep focusing on it, it will get worse. Learning to master your thoughts, instead of them being in control of you, is a big part of overcoming panic.
2. Mastering Emotions
I also teach my clients techniques such as Emotional Freedom Techniques EFT Tapping which calms the activity of the Amygdala (the part of your brain that controls fight, flight and freeze, i.e panic) This is another key factor in overcoming panic in the supermarket and other busy places.
3. Clearing Limiting Beliefs
Understanding the subconscious limiting-belief systems that are causing the thoughts and behaviours that first created your anxiety, means you can start viewing the world through a new, and much calmer lens.
To cover all three of these levels in depth, is beyond the scope of this single blog post.
However we can make a good start on mastering your thoughts. I'm going to give you some simple, fast-acting, tips that can help you get control of those, distressing, panicky thoughts, that can runaway with you when you're in a queue.
Then, I'll show you a quick way to uncover the beliefs that may well have caused your anxiety in the first place.
I'm not going to tell you to, 'just stop having panicky thoughts' - you probably already know that trying to push away negative thoughts doesn't work for you. You need a way to master your thoughts; rather than trying to resist them. here's how...
How to Master Your Panicky Thoughts at the Supermaket
The quickest and most effective thing you can do for yourself is get good at distraction thinking.
In one sense, this may seem almost too simple a technique - and yet you may also be thinking:
"I can’t just distract my thinking because the panic overwhelms me! … doesn’t she understand how awful it is!"
Well, yes, I do understand . There was a time in my life when I hated going to the supermarket, because the panic was so bad. Let me share a story with you:
One Summer evening, many years ago, it was warm and I was wearing sandals. I simply had to go to the supermarket that evening because I’d run out of food. I grabbed a shopping trolley, determined to get the experience over and done with as soon as possible.
Moments later, realising my trolley had a wonky wheel, I struggled to steer it down the aisle, and I ran over my toe.
For the next ten minutes, I limped around the supermarket, worrying that perhaps I had broken my toe. Looking down I could see it was turning black. I had thoughts of 'should I go to the hospital? not go to the hospital? – what to do?'
Then, I became aware that I hadn't felt panicky about being in the supermarket, or even the queue. My focus had been all about my painful toe.
This event happened years before I qualified as a psychologist - but that one experience taught me just how powerful it can be to pull the mind onto a different subject.
This is why distraction techniques really can do wonders when practiced in the right way.
I’m not suggesting you inflict pain on yourself to distract yourself from shopping panic! However, there are some effective distraction techniques that you can begin to cultivate, that make all the difference.
After my toe episode I started doing these. Many of my clients have benefited greatly from them too.
Here are some Distraction Techniques to overcome panic in supermarkets
you need something that will distract you enough to get away from panic - but not so complicated that you'll come back round to negative panicky thoughts.
The following work really well.
1. Do a distracting maths puzzle in your head. Make it something that's not too difficult, or too easy - for example - what is 7 x 34?
2. Spell a friend's name backwards..... then figure out what words can be taken from that name - eg Mary Smith could be mat hat, maths, try, smarty and so on
Count Your Gratitudes
Make a mental list of everything you're grateful for. There are the big things, such as family and home, but there are also the things you probably (like everyone else) take for granted. These may be things such as your eyesight, your ability to walk, the money you're going to make your purchases with in the supermarket, and so on
Not only is this a great distraction technique, but focusing on the positive aspects of your life will lift your mood immediately –it’s a great shortcut to happiness!
Use the time to make plans, whether that’s planning the evening meal, or something bigger like filling out an application for a job, or goals for the week.
We’re often we’re so busy dashing from one thing to another that we don’t spend enough time planning things out. Planning will distract you when you're stuck in a queue. It will also help you make a success of the things you want to do in life – so use queue time, as plan time!
Get into the Habit
Don't wait until you're in a queue and feeling anxious to start practicing these techniques. Get into the habit of doing these on a daily basis. The more you get used to doing them, the easier it will be for you to switch to them in anxious situations.
Do this practice each day when you have some spare time, and in an environment where you're safe to be distracted for a few minutes - i.e not when driving, or crossing the road etc.
Then, the next time you're in a queue and that panicky feeling begins, you'll find it easy to distract your thoughts. You'll be amazed at how powerful this can be in stopping panic in it's tracks.
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