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And that’s without a global pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak is sending shoppers to the store in doomsday-like droves. Packed aisles, noisy carts and decision-making overload ― which cause pit-in-the-stomach stress on an ordinary supermarket shop ― are now at an all-time high. A general misunderstanding of how the virus spreads doesn’t help.
Even without an outbreak, psychologists can attest: Supermarket anxiety is absolutely real — and many are struggling with it now more than ever.
According to Kevin Chapman, a clinical psychologist who specialises in anxiety-related disorders, supermarket anxiety is common. Like other forms of anxiety, it stems from the inability to control the experience.
“The essence of anxiety is thoughts of uncontrollability and unpredictability of a future event,” Chapman told HuffPost. Supermarkets are filled with uncertainty — think parking spots, crowds, food decisions, malfunctioning self-checkout scanners and unbearable cashier lines. That’s why they’re a hotbed of anxiety triggers, Chapman said.
Supermarket industry expert Phil Lempert also attributes in-store stress to the overwhelming number of options. “If we take a look at an average store, it has about 40,000 different products,” he told HuffPost. While anxiety is not a top concern among grocers, they do have their eye on it. “What we’re seeing now, for example, is retailers curating offerings. They may not have 100 bottles of olive oil. They may have 10 that are more relevant.”
Supermarket anxiety is on a severity continuum.
While having fewer options can help those who struggle with decisions, it’s only a fraction of the larger problem — a problem that Chapman said affects shoppers across a spectrum of stress. “Supermarket anxiety is on a continuum,” he said. “On one end you have the people who can’t wait to go to the...