The Anxious Person’s Guide to Making Grocery Shopping Therapeutic

updated May 1, 2019
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Grocery shopping used to be my least favorite chore. The crowded aisles, the crying children, the stress of figuring out what to buy and what it would cost. I would walk through the doors of my local grocery store less like a person shopping for food and more like an angry robot programmed to kill for (or cry over) the best broccoli heads.

I’d rush through the entire trip, glaring at anyone who dared to stand in the middle of an aisle looking at which brand of pasta to buy. But then I’d also wonder which brand of pasta to buy! Did everyone else know something I didn’t? Could my cart double as a battering ram if necessary? Could I hide in it if necessary? See? I was all over the place!

Hardly a surprise, I’d feel even more stressed and anxious when I left the store than when I arrived.

If this experience sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone. A hatred of grocery shopping isn’t uncommon, especially if you’re a millennial. (I am.) In my experience, the stress and anxiety that goes along with a rushed and unenjoyable grocery trip is what really makes grocery shopping a much disliked task.

Thankfully, there are quite a few things you can do to stop stressing over your trip to the store. Here are six ways I personally turned one of the worst parts of my week into one I look forward to.

1. Turn it into “you time.”

If you often find yourself grocery shopping with other people (your SO, husband, or kids), this might be adding to your stress. Instead of bringing the whole crew on your trip, make grocery shopping a designated time for you to be alone. And treat it as such. This is time for you to do your own thing. If you want to go down aisle five first, you can go down aisle five first. Even though you’re around the other customers in the store, shopping on your own can actually feel quiet and calming.

2. Plan ahead.

If you’re still winging your grocery trips each week, bless your soul. Having to decide what you need on the spot can be overwhelming in itself, let alone if you have to choose from 20 different jars of pasta sauce. Make a list before every trip and try to figure out the brands you like, so that way you can stick to them. I like to organize my grocery list by sections of the store in the order I like to visit them. I get to take my preferred route through the aisles without having to think too much about what I need.

3. Find something to look forward to each trip.

Plan to try out a new recipe each week and build part of your grocery list around that. Or pick up a vegetable you’ve never tried before. Find something that you can build into your grocery list so that you’re actually excited to get those groceries.

4. Make it your one chore for the day.

I used to have a habit of trying to knock out all of my weekend chores in a single day. Adding grocery shopping to an already-packed to-do list certainly doesn’t make the experience any less stressful. Recently, I’ve found that if I make grocery shopping my one chore for Saturday or Sunday (or Monday if it’s a really busy weekend), I’m much less stressed out about it and can relax as I go through the store.

If you force yourself to go shopping the same day that you also have to do laundry, vacuum, and take the dog to the vet, you’re never going to feel at ease. Give yourself permission to put grocery shopping off until you have a day without much else going on.

5. Go at a time when other people don’t.

I’ve learned the hard way that going grocery shopping at noon on Sundays is not ideal if you want to avoid being anxious. If possible, head to your grocery store either early in the morning or later in the evening. The bonus of adjusting your shopping time to either of these options is that the shelves are more likely to be fully stocked.

Once you find yourself feeling more relaxed during your morning/evening trips, try shopping during a more convenient-but-busier time of the day. You may find it less anxiety-inducing because you’re learning to like the general task more. Of course, you can totally stick to your early morning or late evening trips if you’d rather!

6. Treat yourself.

Reward your efforts by treating yourself to something you want each time you take your solo trip to the grocery store.

My personal rules for this are as follows:

  • I can only buy one thing (you have to keep it novel, after all).
  • I have to limit my purchase to something in the store (no hitting up Chipotle on the way home, but a coffee from the in-store cafe counts!).

In my experience, setting up this little instant-gratification system for myself is a great way to not only physically get me to the store, but also to help me look forward to going grocery shopping each week. A 2018 study conducted by Cornell researchers Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach even found that immediate rewards could increase a person’s intrinsic motivation to perform a task.

Woolley, assistant professor of marketing at Cornell University, told me via email that she believes rewarding yourself for going grocery shopping could, indeed, improve one’s attitude towards and motivation to go grocery shopping over time.

“I’d suggest that rather than wait until after the shopping trip, people buy themselves a snack or reward during the trip itself to most effectively boost their interest and enjoyment of shopping,” Woolley says. “So to motivate yourself to shop for groceries if it’s something you dread, you can buy a favorite coffee drink to have at the store. My research would suggest that doing so can actually make people enjoy grocery [shopping], and make them want to shop in the future even without the snack/reward.”

Woolley cautions one thing, though: “But I should note that immediate rewards are most effective for tasks that are not terribly unpleasant for people, so it would work best if you don’t love grocery shopping, but think it’s OK. We haven’t tested the effect [of immediate rewards] for things people really hate.”

7. Turn all of these tips into a routine.

Like changing any kind of behavior, it’s unlikely that these tips will work for you overnight. Realistically though, taking these habits and practices and turning them into a routine is the best way for you to find joy and relaxation in your shopping trips.

For example, here’s what my weekly grocery ritual looks like. Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, I make a list of all the foods and condiments we need, ingredients for recipes I want to make that week, and one or two healthy snacks.

Sunday evening, I generally head to the grocery story by myself, taking my time walking around the produce section and working my way through the store to dairy and the bakery. Before leaving, I might grab one of those bakery muffins if I really want it. After all, I did my chore for the day, so I earned it!

If grocery shopping is the bane of your existence, I feel you. But if I’ve learned anything in the past year or so, it’s that it is possible to turn a chore that stresses you out into something you actually look forward to. I do hope these tips make your next grocery shopping trip more enjoyable and therapeutic.

Have you tried any of these? Do you have any of your own tips? Discuss in the comments below!