Navigating the grocery store with PTSD

Grocery store sign

Grocery store sign (Photo credit: Plan for Opportunity)


I think the grocery store can be a confusing place for anybody.  But, for someone with PTSD it can be the next best thing to a nightmare.  I went into Publix today and was almost immediately overwhelmed by sensory overload.  The noise, bright lights, colors and movement just causes this overwhelming confusion.  I don’t know how else to put it so that an average person would understand.


Here’s an example that may help.  Imagine walking into the store and the lights are all strobe lights.  It’s crowded and every person is yelling to be heard.  Add in people walking towards you from every direction and trying to keep track of them all.  Top it off with some background music and you have my basic experience in a grocery store.


I have learned a few things to help me navigate it like I used to though, at least sort of like I used to.


1. Breathe deep before going in.  Relax yourself.


2. Take a list.  If I’m going by myself I no longer try to shop from memory.  I write a list or put it on my phone.  I then check off the items as I pick them up.  Otherwise, I end up checking the cart every minute or so to see if I have everything.


3. If it gets too overwhelming, step off to the side out of the way, breath, and regain your bearing.  You’ll think you look stupid, but if your store is anything like mine people wouldn’t notice if I stood on the apple rack and started stripping.


4. Try listening to headphones as you shop.  I normally wouldn’t suggest this because I feel it could be a safety issue, but if it keeps your brain on task, then go for it.  Personally, I have avoided the headphones up until now because I didn’t want to look rude.  But, referencing #3, I think I’m assuming people even know I’m there.


5. Stick to the list and move in an orderly fashion.  Don’t let your path through the store vary too much.  The more you do it, the better you will get at navigating the riot conditions.


6. Test yourself.  Every once in a while test yourself at the store.  Try not looking at the list as long as you can.  Leave the music off. Etc.  Notice I said test, not punish.  If it’s not working without headphones for example, then put them back on.  No harm, no foul.


7. Go to the store earlier or later in the day.  I often make the mistake of going at the height of madness.  i.e. late afternoon.  Going at the off times can help minimize the distractions.


I hope this helps some of you.  I’m still learning so if you have something that works for you, comment and let me know.



One comment on “Navigating the grocery store with PTSD

  1. I like the headphones. I like how people will leave you alone if you’re wearing them, even if they’re not plugged into anything. I’ve found that when I have headphones on, my shopping cart in seriously protective mode, and my shopping partner (hubs or one of my ptsd buds) I can usually manage the store as long as it’s during a less active time of day/night. When I get overwhelmed, I just leave and come back later. 🙂

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