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  • Writer's pictureKristin Cole

Navigating Grocery Shopping as an HSP

As a highly sensitive person, I've consistently found the grocery store to be a highly charged environment for my nervous system. The irony here is that I've cooked for a living and have had to visit grocers and markets several times a week for the past 15 years. Plus, strolling through the aisles and discovering products, sampling new flavors (back when samples were a fun part of that experience), and reading or hearing the stories behind the ingredients have always lit me up.

I know for many, food shopping is not as pleasurable of an activity but rather, a household necessity. Therefore, what are some practical ways to manage the potential overwhelm so that it doesn't knock us off our feet completely?

Much has shifted over the past two years in the grocery world now that online delivery is as easy as in-person shopping and stores are flooded with grocery pickers who move around methodically collecting food for said orders.

If you feel drawn to shopping online from the many delivery options that now exist (Thrive Market, Imperfect Foods or any large grocery chain for example) or even a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network, I highly encourage it for us HSPs. There's always the resource debate to consider: shipping and boxes versus car fuel and short trips in the car? We'll leave that for another time!

The following tips are directed towards those of us who still want to personally pick out our groceries and engage with the senses while at a store or farmers market.

1. Ask if your store has low sensory shopping hours.

This concept is amazing to me and something I've not experienced in my local area. However, in a recent post within our HSP community, some members from the UK, Canada and Australia mentioned a zen-like experience while shopping at their store when it was less crowded and customers moved through the space slowly and mindfully. With dimmed lights, no music or announcements and all restocking put on hold, it sounds like an absolute dream version of grocery shopping! Wouldn't you agree?

2. Shop during off hours.

I love to shop bright and early when a store is just opening up and the energy is one of waking slowly. There are very few shoppers to contend with and some quiet stockers who are piling fresh produce for me to pick out. For a guaranteed low activity time, I often go on a Sunday morning as most people in my area are at church. Experiment for yourself with low-traffic hours that also align with adequate and fresh stock of produce - perhaps it's a weekday at 10am or 2pm or very late in the evening?

3. Visit your weekday farmers markets versus the busier weekend ones.

For me, a set up with less vendors makes the process easier on my senses in terms of decision making and navigating crowds. Do the initial work of walking around on a designated day (when your energy tank is full), checking out quality and pricing from variety of vendors and honing in on your favorites so you can go directly to their booth in the future. Having worked at a Saturday farmers market, I could often sense the overwhelm of new shoppers who were endlessly looping. But there were also the decisive ones who would come to my booth every Saturday at 8am sharp and efficiently move along to the next vendor on their list.

4. Support a small, local business like a coop.

These stores have much less inventory which makes for a more streamlined experience. Plus, the aisles tend to be narrower, the carts smaller sized, and the lighting not so jarring. I've even heard lovely classical music playing overhead. What I love is that a curated selection of products means they have already been vetted for and there is less chance of decision fatigue. In this case, you may only be deciding between three options versus 20. It can really be that drastic! And speaking from personal experience, a coop can be very open to bringing in the exact products that you wish to purchase so as not to lose you as a valuable customer. So always ask.

5. Take advantage of the bulk foods area.

If your store offers a bulk area, I encourage you to explore the myriad of exciting products that you can buy directly from the bin, free of plastic wrapping. This means a cheaper price tag and greener footprint. And do aim to bring your own bags or jars if you remember. The best part for HSPs is the lack of labels and marketing campaigns blaring at you and your kids. You'll usually encounter a simple label listing the single or very few ingredients (trail mix, dried soups, tea blends) - never any confusing nutritional info.

5. Come prepared with a list (either written or app version) and a full belly.

You'll have a much better experience if you arrive armed with your menu ideas for the week. Of course there will be products that jump out at you or sale items that could be a better swap. I always leave room for this kind of flexible thinking, especially opportunities to buy produce or meat/dairy products approaching their expiration date. I use an app called AnyList that can be accessed by other family members and edited in real time. By putting in a bit of work ahead of time, I successfully organized the categories of the app in a way that mimics how I move through the store. Talk about extra efficient. And please, never shop hungry or hangry as that will force your brain to attend to more primal needs versus good decision making.

6. Lessen interactions by using self check-out and wearing headphones with gentle tunes.

This way, you'll avoid additional external distractions in an already highly stimulating place. I like to check out myself at my own speed, knowing that I'll place my groceries gently into the bag (others are often not so mindful of this). Playing your own music can help keep you in a more comforted bubble as you move around too.

7. Be gentle, take some downtime and enjoy a treat that you picked out while shopping.

Know that you accomplished a huge task in keeping yourself and your family nourished. Now take some time to rest or pause before moving on in your day and savor a delicious treat. I will buy a snack depending on my craving: usually a pack of dark chocolate coconut keto cups or a crisp, juicy apple!


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