The Supermarket Has Become a Source of Anxiety for Many Shoppers — Here's How to Handle It
Food shortages, social distancing, face masks — a trip to the grocery store isn't what it was before. We asked experts for tips on reducing worry and successfully navigating a tricky supermarket.
The supermarket is a place of necessity — you must visit it to keep your family fed, at least to some extent. It can also be a place of refuge — some of us enjoy perusing the aisles in search of new ingredients, fun products, or forgotten favorites. But since COVID-19 began restricting everyday life and activities over a month ago, the grocery store has become a place of potential interaction and contamination, and with that, it brings anxiety, unease, and even fear.
Dr. Dayna Lee-Baggley, a registered psychologist and the director of the Behavior Change Research Institute for Nova Scotia Health Authority, affirms that our current fears about shopping at the supermarket are understandable. She explains that the part of our brain directing us towards some of the more seemingly illogical activities we've seen — think stockpiling toilet paper — is being directed by our "caveman brain." This part of the brain controls emotions, memories, and learning. According to Baggley, this part was "built in caveman times and is excellent for survival. And because of COVID-19, our caveman minds are on fire. They are perceiving threats and so they are screaming and yelling at us."
The most recently evolved part of the brain, our frontal lobe controls behavior, willpower, and self-control. It can be equated, in some senses, to a battery. It can be drained of energy and capability, and it may need to be charged from time to time. Baggley affirmed that the novelty and rapidly changing nature of the crisis has us "spending" the energy of our frontal lobe rapidly. This leave us guided by our caveman brain, potentially making more survival-based decisions.
"There's so much change that we've had to adapt to so quickly, and our frontal lobes are being taxed and there's not a lot left there," she says. "When your caveman brain is in charge, it doesn't always give you good advice," she says. If you've recently eaten a pint of ice cream for dinner or arrived home from a shopping trip with a mysteriously large quantity of frozen fries, perhaps after listening to a troubling news report, blame it on your caveman brain.
Buy Food Without Worry
What is the best means of keeping your frontal lobe charged and your caveman brain in check? Check in on your mental wellbeing daily, and if possible, check in on friends and colleagues, too. Baggley has a system in place with a group of friends and colleagues, sharing that she "had to make a list of things that I do to charge my battery because my frontal lobe is so tired. So for me, those are things like sleep, exercise, connecting with other people, eating good food; those are things that typically recharge your battery."
Attempt challenging tasks in the morning, as we typically have more charged frontal lobes earlier in the day, according to Baggley. Try making a routine of grocery shopping in order to lessen the load on your frontal lobe. Taking some of the decision making out of the process, whether that be for shopping or meal prepping, can help us make better decisions.
Stay Flexible with Your Shopping List
Once you've calmed your nerves and steeled yourself for the store, try to shop with an open mind. Reports of shelves emptied of certain items, like meat and frozen goods, have left shoppers throwing out plans and leaving shops with half completed lists.
Karlene Karst, nutritionist and author of the cookbook, The Kitchen Is for Dancing, shared that she always has a few back-up ideas in mind while shopping these days, including rice, pasta dishes, curries, and soups, which are comforting and easy to whip up. While many, including Karst, are recommending keeping pantry staples like canned goods, potatoes, pastas, and frozen vegetables on hand, when possible, this new diet can feel a little bland. To bring a bit more fun and excitement back to your meals, Karst recommends making one evening a week special by adding lights, candles, or setting the table.
She told Allrecipes,"Maybe once a week, still keep it simple, and don't try to make five or six dishes with it, but try to set a theme that is fun." She continued, "Music is always a big part of my family's happiness in the kitchen. So you can tailor your music list to what you're cooking that night."
Indeed, creating a holistic experience, or even just setting time aside to sit down and focus on being grateful for the smells, flavors, and textures of the plate in front of you, rather than mindlessly chowing through your plate in front of a screen, could be another way to make a meal special.
In these truly uncertain times, a family meal could be the salve that holds us together for another day, the oasis in a world of hectic grocery trips, uncertain futures, and troubling headlines. As Karst adds, "Now I think we just need what fills your soul."