Tarzan Meets Buddha at the Anxiety Store

Going into a large store is pretty much like entering a wild jungle for a person afflicted with agoraphobia. Someone whose alarm system is set on high avoids as much as possible things that can trip the alarm, but very few people can avoid The Store completely.  I have some inside-the-store survival tips below, and plenty of personal experience to share about a day in the life of an agoraphobe, or “Tarzan Meets Buddha Swinging from Aisle to Aisle in the Jungle Store.”

Here’s what happens on the big day; you are totally out of food – even pickles – and whatever else, and you have no choice. The store becomes now a Beast that is carefully guarding something you need and will extract whatever price it can from you before it yields the goods and lets you pass back outside to quasi safety. I’m guessing you prepare as you would for a safari, gathering such survival gear as meds, talismans, a half pint of Wild Turkey, the phone, a paper bag, water bottle and others.

You begin the journey of a thousand miles by, first, obsessing over every possible detail before you slowly push open the door and take hopefully a deep breath before that first step.  Tension builds as you begin the transport part of the saga. You travel an uncomfortable distance and then leave the safety of your conveyance and travel further in even greater discomfort before you arrive at the climax of your story.

Here you are. And there it is. The Beast, the evil, foreboding entity has what you need and you cannot get it without entering through the glass-toothed mouth (unless you know another entrance) and rushing through its innards to get your necessities. Like Tarzan, you leap and bound and expedite the journey at breakneck speed until you grab what you need, But now what? You learn it is much easier to get into The Beast than it is to get out. It doesn’t want you to get out. Prey is all around. Walls suddenly appear where before had been a patch of daylight. You suddenly fear the worst – being trapped and lost in the mandibles of the Beast that you need more than it needs you. What an ignoble dilemma. The thing that is trying to kill you is scarcely aware of all the drama.

Remember the look on Shelley Duvall‘s face as she was lost in the maze, running desperately from the monster Jack Nicholson brilliantly became in “The Shining?” She convinced me that she thought she was going to die, which is how you feel when you’re trapped deep within a store.  You’re probably a very good actor, though, and no one notices your desperate efforts to escape. I ran from many a store over the years, feeling extreme terror, but I’m sure I never did anything that would make someone take a second look. I don’t want you to ever get that desperate, store-trapped feeling again, so here’s my big advice:

   Become a slow shopper.

I know, I know, it sounds completely counterintuitive. I always did my shopping at top speed, organizing where and when I’d go so I could get the dreaded deed over quickly as possible and get back to my safety place. Now I know that doing the opposite would have made shopping much more comfortable. I have learned  the value of “mindful” thinking and practice in overcoming panic disorder and am convinced that the way to re-train your amygdala and calm your alarm system is to live in the present as much as possible.

To wit: become a mindful shopper. As soon as you enter, start looking at and reading signs that might be revealing sales or locations and take careful notice of everything you pass enroute to your destination. Say hello to clerks and take note of their appearances.  Closely observe all products and compare one brand to another. Touch stuff and turn it around as you look at it. Read the ingredients or contents and think about where it originated and how it might have gotten here in front of you. Compare prices. Talk to other shoppers. Make your trip a thorough, helpful experience, so you can find a certain safety in big stores. Instead of focusing on the vastness of the space, focus on details within the space. Look carefully at displays and think how you might improve them, for example.

I’ve written blogs about the use of mindfulness as a calming device while traveling; pretty much the same advice holds for the difficulty in many endeavors and activities, including shopping and beekeeping. Be here now and you won’t get stung.

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