My Favorite Self-Care Moment Happens When I’m in Line at the Grocery Store

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(Image credit: Rhianna Chan)

There are few things that make me feel more anxious than standing in a line. When my to-do list is growing increasingly long and my brain is growing increasingly jumbled as I try to come up with solutions to get it all done, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to stand perfectly still and cede my time to someone else’s control. Yes, I’m a millennial and yes, I understand that this difficulty with lines speaks to a larger problem of my generation regarding our expectations of immediate gratification. This self-awareness doesn’t change the facts, though.

Standing in line at the grocery store makes me feel incredibly anxious.

My breathing gets tight. I get sweaty (gross). I start tapping my foot. Sometimes, I even feel like I might tear up. For a long time, my solution to these feelings of anxiety was to simply grab my phone and start scrolling mindlessly through Facebook or Instagram. After all, isn’t that always the move when we’re not sure what to do with our hands?

In time, though, I realized that the scrolling — while a good way to ease my boredom — wasn’t actually doing much to help with my anxiety. If anything, it was making me more stressed out. At this point, it should hardly come as a shock that obsessively checking in on my Instagram feed often does a lot more to make me feel inadequate than it does to build me up emotionally.

In an effort to cut down on my grocery line anxiety, I started using that time differently. I began downloading personal development podcasts and saving them for those dicey moments. I focused on what my body was doing (and how it was feeling) while I stood there. I took advantage of that down time to reach out to loved ones via text. I utilized that time to review my schedule for the week and to make a plan to more effectively meal prep with the groceries I was about to buy. Eventually, these strategies started to pay off. There was less panicked breathing, sweating, and toe-tapping. And I only occasionally shed a tear!

My own methods have been effective for helping me minimize anxiety and find some peace in those stressful moments in the grocery line, but it doesn’t hurt to learn about proven techniques from the experts. Christi-an Slomka — a yoga instructor and the community manager for sleep and meditation app Calm — offered these tips for battling anxiety while waiting in line … without defaulting to mindless social media scrolling.

1. Practice breathing exercises.

Banish those anxious feelings with intentional breathing. “Focusing on your breath can guide you through [a moment of stillness and help bring you more ease,” Slomka says. “It’s like a reset button. Inhale peace and exhale stress.” Close your eyes, start taking deep breaths, and practice letting go of any thoughts or concerns. Then, follow your inhale from the start of the in-breath all the way to its end, then follow it back out until you’re finished with the exhale. As you find yourself nearing the end of the line, start bringing awareness back to your physical body slowly … so you can go pay for your groceries!

2. Listen deeply to music.

According to Slomka, when you really tune in to a song, it can become a meditation of its own. Paying attention to the lyrics and melodies may help you block out the chaos of the store around you. If this doesn’t quite do the trick, you might also consider listening to calming soundscapes, like rain falling or ocean waves (you can find these on your favorite music streaming service!). A natural soundtrack like this will provide a great mental escape.

3. Stretch.

It may feel awkward to engage in a full stretch session in plain sight of your fellow supermarket shoppers, but if you can block out those nerves, a little light stretching is a great way to beat anxiety. Try some neck or shoulder rolls or stretch your arms across your chest. These moves are small (read: less noticeable to those around you) yet impactful.

4. Try an app-led meditation.

Find a meditation app that works for you and fire it up next time you’re feeling anxious while standing in line. The app may instruct you to sit down for the meditation, but Slomka says it’s perfectly okay to ground yourself further into the floor while staying upright. “Feel your feet on the ground, take a deep breath, lengthen your spine, roll your shoulders onto your back, and float your head back over the shoulders,” she says.

Maybe it’s time we all stop making excuses about why we can’t have a mindfulness or meditation practice. After all — we’ve all gotta stand in line!

What do you do while you stand in line at the grocery store?

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