Why is Grocery Shopping So Exhausting?


Am I the only one who dreads an epic grocery shopping event? Grocery store anxiety is a thing, people. This article breaks it down why it is so exhausting, and some tips to make it less stressful.

Grocery shopping is exhausting because it involves the physical demands of loading and unloading groceries, pushing a cart through the store, sensory overload of looking at products on shelves, the anticipation of checking out, anxiety with traveling to and from the store and navigating parking, and any financial concerns of being able to afford the grocery purchase. 

It isn't so surprising now, that you're beat after a big trip, is it? Let's address each concern and come up with solutions that can make it better. This is pretty much a lifelong event, so we should figure this out!

Are you energized for grocery shopping to begin with?

So many of us have to fight the crowds after work, when we are already drained to start with. The solution would seem easy, pick a more favorable time. With gas prices, I really don't have choice but to go shopping before I leave town.

Tell you what, when I go shopping on a day off, I feel like it's almost a vacation day. After work, I feel like I am in this great race. It's much more relaxed, but I'm not competing with the after work crowd when I do this.

Know when your peak energy levels are and go with it (if you schedule allows). This also means eating healthy and staying hydrated. Having a candy bar is not a bad idea to give you a boost of energy before shopping.

One more thing... where comfortable shoes. Sorry, that was my mom voice coming out. Comfortable shoes make a real difference. I've been able to pin down whole-body fatigue just to certain pairs of shoes in my collection. Shoes really make the difference.

Small child helping with grocery shopping.

Small child helping with grocery shopping.

Are there kids in tow while grocery shopping?

Bingo. You're probably running a 3-ring circus with kids in tow at the supermarket. Their energy and levels and nap times may be all out of sync. I remember when after marriage, dates turned into grocery shopping without kids.

If your partner can't watch the kids while you grocery shop, try a friend or family member. Maybe you could trade times with each other.

If there is no option but to take kids with you, first make sure you are shopping at an ideal time for the child's best behavior to shine. Help them to stay well-hydrated and fed (no food off the shelf while shopping, please). Bring some distractions. I see lots of parents handing their phones over to the kids, or the kids have their own small device, they seem to be pretty occupied.

Be super organized with your list to make the shopping trip as brief as possible.

Sensory overload - grocery stores are hard on the eyes!

What is the pun I am looking for... "a feast for the eyes?" LOL, you are in a grocery store, after all. Food kiosks, islands, displays, etc. are all designed to scream at you for attention (silently). There could be music piping over the load speaker, or specials being announced periodically (or "clean up in aisle 5 - don't forget that!).

In addition, bright colors are designed to draw attention to the product. I, for one, have felt the numbing zombie affect after pushing the cart through rows of colorful food products.

If you've ever been in a small "mom & pop" grocery store, I guarantee you things are slower paced there. When Hy-vee came to town, stacking fruits and vegetables was elevated to an art form. Everything was shiny and new. If you feel a little overloaded, consider shopping at a quieter, smaller grocery store.

Use curbside pickup

After Covid-19 put the whole world in lock down in 2020, grocery stores became creative. As a result, there are more opportunities for curbside pickup. There are all kinds of reasons why you should use it:

  • saves time
  • helps you control food budget
  • avoid in-store shopping anxiety
  • keep healthy and avoid possible high-transmission environments
Curbside grocery pickup removes some stress.

Curbside grocery pickup removes some stress.

The people I know who have tried curbside pickup really love it! I just had my first experience with it. My daughter-in-law called me to pick up an order she sent it for diapers in other things. All I had to do was zip up to the special parking and call the number and provide a name, and an associate came out with the order.

I think there was one substitute that had to be made. My daughter-in-law would have had to drive 30 minutes to get to the store and then shop with a baby. Although I pick up plenty of small items for their family, this allowed her to shop for what she wanted and needed, without imposing on me. What a sweetie!

Is the trip itself stressing you?

Maybe your anxiety has nothing to do with shopping, it's driving back and forth, and finding a parking spot. Here are some ideas to reduce that stress:

  • shop in off-peak hours
  • drive to a quieter part of town to grocery shop
  • shop at a smaller grocery store
  • buy groceries online
  • try curbside pickup

Organization can reduce shopping fatigue

Is this your shopping experience: frantically shuffling through coupons, endlessly searching for items that refuse to be found, floundering with a grocery store app? My eye is starting to twitch...

I wish I was better at coupon clipping, I typically go for generic versions and hope I guessed right that it was cheaper. I have gotten so frustrated with the one store's promotions, that I have abandoned using them. The shopper is supposed to wave their smartphone at a QR code, that will reveal the deals of the week.

Then it's the great treasure hunt, as the shopper has to go try to find the sale item that is not marked at all... at.. all. Are they trying to be funny? It's not. Twice I have asked floor people for help and they struggled, too.

If you like using clipped coupons (although everything is going digital) use some type of organizer. You might want to try one of those grocery store apps, and try more than one until you find the right fit for yourself.

To me, the sales weren't worth it and I happily cut the cord. Fortunately, my husband loves looking at grocery store ads (he inherited that from his mom). He tells me what to buy when I am in town and I do so. Not everyone has a person in their life like this, but they could.

I've gotten some pretty good deals overhearing some conversations at work. There really are people who view grocery deal shopping as a pleasurable hobby. Find those people and become friends with them.

Endlessly searching for items is a different issue. My best advice is to mentally take a note when you've finally located what you're looking for, and look around at what aisle and what similar items surround it. This is the same approach you use when parking your car so you can find it back!

The checkout is coming, take a deep breath!

Here's a shout out to the Iowa Fareway chain. They have the most polite and helpful people working for them. I never fear checking out because of lack of help. Walmart is a different issue. I now find myself scanning the registers for a breathing person at one.

When I shop, most times it is a FULL cart. It is absolutely ridiculous that I have to scan and bag the items myself. It is a two-person job when I come in with a full load like I do. If you know it is going to be a whopper of a trip, bring a helper. Elementary-age kids are great for this if you can't get another adult.

Tip, if your significant other is available, bring them along to help. They will remember to appreciate you more and realize what a feat of endurance you put forth in every shopping trip.

Are you worried about paying for the groceries?

Let's talk something more serious - money. Our dollar doesn't stretch like it used to. I don't know what your income situation is, but worrying about paying for groceries is energy and soul zapping.

Woman worried about having enough money to pay for groceries.

Woman worried about having enough money to pay for groceries.

If you have not learned about budgeting, learn now. Living within a budget is empowering. Think of how pleasant it would be to not have to worry about the final bill at the checkout counter. Besides budgeting, build these skills to stretch the food dollar:

  • identify the cheapest foods to eat
  • Identify food fillers that can stretch meals
  • buy foods that will stay fresh for a long time
  • refrain from buying expensive foods when others substitutes can do
  • watch out for foods that are low in nutrient density such as expensive snacks and pop, buy a balance of healthy food choices
  • avoid ready-to-eat meals and frozen meals
  • learn how to cook with basic pantry items

Make decisions wisely. The other day I was behind a young woman who didn't have enough money to pay for groceries. She had picked up some type of popular toy figure and she told the cashier "I just have to have it - it's for my collection!" She put the food back and kept the toy. Sad to say, she was not making the hard decisions an adult has to make.

couple unloading groceries

Couple unloading groceries.

Get ready to unload some groceries!

The real Olympic event is getting the groceries to the car, unloading from the cart, getting home, and then unloading a second time into the home. Then... loading onto your pantry and cabinet shelves at home.

Are you still wondering why you are so tired after grocery shopping? As if every other point in this article wasn't enough! I personally look at the whole ordeal as my chance for exercise. I'm not sure how many calories I'm burning while shopping. Raising children has forever set me to race through supermarkets - I can't seem to dial it back down. 

That must account for some type of weight loss. Try to get someone to help you unload the groceries. I have learned that buying candy and treats help. The so-called "unloading helpers" are really looking for the treat hiding in the bag. I've been a mom a long time, I know all the tricks.

In conclusion

Treat yourself after a big grocery shopping trip, you deserve it. Shopping during nonpeak store hours is the best advice to feel less stressed in the store. If it isn't possible, try it every now and then. I promise you, it will be a completely different experience.

All of these little tips add up. Don't underestimate the "fringe" things that leave you feeling emotionally drained, which leads to being physically drained. Use these strategies and tips to feel less drained when you get home!

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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