Social Anxiety and Shopping :: The Time We Both Had a Meltdown at Walmart

I hate going shopping by myself. Sure, I love picking out groceries and buying clothes, but the act of getting out of my car and walking into the store by myself terrifies me. Palms sweating, arms tingling kind of terror. Walking into a store with my husband, friend, family member? Totally fine. Relaxed, even. Ready for an hour of strolling through the aisles picking out cereal or deciding on a new toothpaste. Scrolling through clothes on the internet while I’m at home in my pajamas? A breeze. It’s not the act of spending money that sends me into a panic, but the act of walking into a store by myself. Actual thoughts racing through my head when shopping alone: “What if I see someone I know and I have to talk to them?” “What if someone is judging me when I put that package of cookies into my cart?” “Did I grab my wallet? What if I forgot my wallet and I have to leave my cart and everyone sees me?”

When I had my son, I thought, “Cool, I’ll have a shopping buddy now.”

My husband is out of town at least one weekend a month, and it would be nice to go out while he’s gone and get our grocery shopping done before the week starts. And for a while, it was like I had my very own shopping buddy. I could strap him in the cart and we would walk through every aisle looking at things we didn’t need. I could even talk to him – even though he didn’t understand or respond. Before my shopping buddy, when I would go shopping by myself, I would sometimes call or pretend to call someone just so I could have an excuse not to talk to anyone at the store. I know this sounds crazy, and I promise I really am a friendly person – I can give you references! But please don’t talk to me at the store. 

Then, my baby did what every baby does – he turned into a toddler.

Sure, toddlers are more fun to talk to and play with and take to places like the zoo or the park. But toddlers are not fun to take to the grocery store. My husband was out of town for the second weekend that month, we had already spent an entire day at grandma and grandpa’s house, and I knew we needed to stock up on food for the week. So, I decided to face my fears, and we headed to Walmart.

Oh, how I wish this was a story with a happy ending. But, I was the mom with the toddler who was standing up in the cart, who was eating string cheese out of an opened package I hadn’t paid for yet, who was throwing things out of the cart or stepping on the crackers. I was the mom who put blinders on and avoided eye contact with everyone in the store like it was my job. I was the mom who paid for my opened bag of string cheese and squashed crackers and ran to my car so I could sit in the comfort of my car and cry my eyes out while my sweet boy did the same in the backseat. I realized too late that it was a tad ambitious to try and conquer my social anxiety with a toddler who had refused his nap that day as my shopping partner.

So, while I don’t have any tips for going shopping with a toddler, I have learned some tips for shopping alone with social anxiety.

  1. You just got to do it. It’s scary, but every time I go shopping by myself I do a little better.
  2. Avoid weekends and busy times. The less people, the less I worry about talking to anyone and the faster I can get my shopping done.
  3. Make a list. When I know exactly what I need at the store, I can get in and out quicker than aimlessly walking around and likely leaving without something I actually needed.
  4. Go ahead and get the ice cream – and literally no one is judging you when you do. Oh, this one does help when you have a toddler. 

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