It does not seem normal, this surge of animal fear I feel buzzing around my ears as I push a cart down the beverage aisle of my grocery store. I spot a couple with a young child approaching me. They aren’t wearing masks, and the little girl is weaving about, arm outstretched. I freeze, then whip the buggy around and retreat, searching for open space.
The 30 minutes or so that I will spend here — darting around, Frogger-like, trying to avoid fellow shoppers, turning my head if I have to pass one, careful not to touch anything I don’t need to — will be riddled with such moments. I leave exhausted, a little shaky and feeling like there’s something wrong with me.
The coronavirus pandemic has dialed up anxiety all over the country, and it’s no wonder, given all that we’re facing: lost paychecks, the struggles of home-schooling, sick friends. Grocery stores — those rarest of public spaces that even the most scrupulously social-distancing people still have to enter if they can’t get a delivery slot — have turned into epicenters of fear and uncertainty. My experience, mental-health experts say, is common.
“Things go awry when multiple problems converge at once,” says Stephanie Preston, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “At the grocery store, first off, you’re anxious about being able to get the supplies you want. And then the idea of fighting over resources is extremely aversive, so you have internal conflict, and that’s anxiety-producing in turn.”
That’s a lot on its own. Under all these compounding factors pinging across our lizard brains is a near-crippling fear that has turned what used to be a mundane errand into a veritable visit to the Thunderdome: “What you’re really scared of is that you’re thinking, ‘What if I make one little mistake and I get sick or I get someone else sick?’ ” says therapist Jennie Steinberg, who owns Through the Woods Therapy Center in Los Angeles.
Read the full article at the Washington Post.