Here is the scene: I was food shopping on Friday the 13th. As I waited for a shopping cart to become free, a man who was anxiously pacing up and down between checkouts and shoppers packaging their orders caught my attention. I thought I overheard him say “I’m thinking of closing the store.” I strained to hear more. It quickly became clear he was the store manager and he was close to panic.
Until then, I was focused on not showing annoyance at how long it was taking for the elderly woman in blue to pay for and package her purchases. I was afraid she would change her mind about handing over her cart to me inside the store. Everyone else I asked wanted to hold on to their carts. One woman I approached angrily advised me to “wait outside!!!”. That’s what she had done! I considered it, until, a look at the long line-up of people waiting at the entrance to come in convinced me it was in my best interest to wait. Twenty minutes later I had my cart.
Now, the manager’s cell phone call startled me into a litany of worries. Would the store close before I purchased what was needed? Would I be able to find what was needed? What were the health risks of shopping in this crowd? Round and round the questions swirled in my head until my conscious mind called on my stress management training and yelled STOP!
From The Inner Game of Stress, a very helpful book written by renowned sports psychologist W. Timothy Gallwey in collaboration with two medical doctors, I’ve learned that:
“STOP is a surprisingly simple tool, and it means exactly what it says: Stop the unconscious momentum and make the shift to being conscious. This tool is comprised of four parts:
Step back. Put some distance between you and the situation.
Think. What is the truth about what is happening? What are your priorities… options… obstacles?
Organize your thinking. What is your plan of action?
Proceed. Move forward, with increased clarity and understanding.”
Unless I gained control, the risk at this stage is that, without conscious awareness, I could catch the fear of the manager and others in the crowd and behave accordingly. It has been well established in the scientific community that emotions are contagious. How susceptible we are to Emotional Contagion is a matter of awareness and training. I recognize I am not completely immune.
This is not a judgement of the manager or other shoppers who might have felt overwhelmed by the situation. Line-ups for check out extended to the end of every aisle in the store. Shelves were empty. Tempers were short. People were worried about their health. Parents worried about how they would feed their families.
Using the STOP technique, I began to focus on what was under my control. I comforted myself with positive, rational thinking. I’ve become even more determined to prioritize my health. While I recognize there are valid reasons for alarm, I choose to focus on my health and well-being as the best overall strategy for increasing my chances of immunity or recovery.
There’s a long list, but the essentials of stress management that I am implementing are to eat well (lots of fruits and veggies), get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep, connect with myself via journaling, to meditate and, especially, to breathe (there are many online programs to assist, for example this 5-minute meditation) and the practice of gratitude.
I am grateful! Framed as an occasion to experiment with stress management tools and techniques, I was able to control my breathing, stay calm, reframe my shopping into a series of challenges, and enjoy the experience.
Plus, the ‘foodie’ in me has been delighted by some new-to-me delicacies. I tried pastas made out of edamame and black beans (high protein, high fibre), Shirataki (spaghetti) made with oat fibre, frozen vegetables in special blends (they make stir fries and curry sooo easy), like Thai red curry paste and other spices. And, my latest addiction, Mae Ploy Green Curry Paste (purchased at an ethnic food market near me).
That leaves one last shopping challenge: Does anyone know where I can buy some toilet paper?
Note: this article was contributed by Shirley Berry and contains opinions of the contributor.