Freaking out on shopping trip

Updated: Feb 10

In this article, as a counsellor I answer the challenges you face.

What happens when you can't face going to shop?


I went to the supermarket on Friday and I freaked out! Now when I think about going out again, I can't get past the front door.

I'd had a terribly busy morning. My husband shouted at me because he said he needed to get his report finished that night and he needed peace and quiet. We've been married for over a decade now and I feel he's getting selfish. I used to be a librarian, so I know what quiet time is and I never get any myself anymore. I told him this and he shouted at me which made my child cry. Instead of getting under my husband's feet, I took myself and my child off to the supermarket.

My child doesn't like wearing his mask, he's 7, and he keeps ripping it off his face and throwing it on the floor. I can't keep buying new ones and end up using a whole pack just going out with him. When I tried to make him see why he needed to wear it, he screamed so loud and wouldn't listen to me, I even picked him up and tried to hug him (which is difficult because I'm pregnant with my second child), so because he kept screaming, I put him back on the floor and slapped the back of his legs.

It was only a light slap and I felt awful as I could have hurt him. But I didn't as it did the trick as I could wipe his eyes and speak with him. But you wouldn't believe the stares I got from people! They looked at me as though I was a monster!

My face burned, my heart pounded in my ears and I couldn't breathe properly. The manager and a couple of shop assistants surrounded us and I thought they were going to take my boy away and lock me up, so I dropped my basket, grabbed my child and ran from the shop. I felt so embarrassed.

I tried to go out on Saturday and yesterday, but when I think about going out, I take so long to get ready, keep picking things up and putting them down again and when I finally walk towards the door my hands go sweaty and I feel as though I'm going to have a heart attack. I can't breathe. I get all sweaty and I have to sit down on the bed away from everyone. Even my child.

I can't sleep, I keep tossing and turning and thinking someone's going to knock on the door in the middle of the night and say that there's a report that I've been abusing my child. I would NEVER do that. I love him so much. My husband said that I was mad and I should go and see a doctor. A friend took me to see the doctor who give me some sleeping pills. All the time I was there, I was just frightened he would Section me.

Please help me Kaye? I feel so trapped in this house with a man who doesn't love me. I was looking forward to this lockdown because I thought it would bring us closer together. But it's done the opposite. I hate it, and now I can't even go out even if I want to. I can't stand this anymore. Please help?



I was so, so sorry to get this email from Debbie. She was so desperate for help she was pleading with me. It was a cry for help from someone who had reached the end of her tether and was floundering with nothing and no one to cling onto. I could imagine the scenario and felt deeply for her.

The first thing to acknowledge is that this pandemic is a most unusual time in history to be living in.

We're not alone - the whole world is experiencing it.

Debbie is around 35 years of age so has been going to the shops for quite a number of years, so there is nothing bad about going to the shops. This is the first time she has felt panicked at going outside and, of course, she is confused and anxious about feeling this way.

Debbie's husband was working from home because of the lockdown, it was a Friday and his company needed the report done by that evening. When a partner works from home, they don't have their normal routine, they have to learn to focus and the admin that was easily at hand in the office isn't at home. Debbie's husband was under pressure from his boss to get the report done and if he felt threatened by loss of work, he would be unable to respond in the way Debbie needed. His response would appear curt and unpleasant. I'm not excusing his behaviour, but most male brains tend to communicate in this way: short sentences with few one-sylabul words.

This was a natural response to an unnatural situation. Her little boy wasn't used to having something covering his face. It takes a while for anyone to get used to things like this and children are no exception.

The slapping of children is not outlawed in our society yet, but from the media you would think this is law now. This can naturally create panic in mothers who have energetic children.

Debbie described a number of emotional stressors she had experienced:

  • feeling unappreciated by her husband

  • feeling threatened by other shoppers/store assistants

  • face burning up

  • heart pounding in her ears and

  • difficulty breathing

  • lack of sleep

  • repetitve exercises (keep picking things up and putting them down again)

  • sweaty palms and an inability to walk towards the door

From these brief points, it seems that Debbie was having a panic attack brought on by anxiety because of a build-up of stressful events. Anxiety can be the precursor to a lot of behaviour issues we cannot control and it appears that OCD could become one of them. The chief reason is that Debbie's brain is taking control of the situation. It's that freeze, fight or flight syndrome in action. The alarm system in her brain is pattern-matching back to the event in the shop and her mind is reliving that experience. When she walks towards her door, her mind says

"We're going outside again! You remember what happened last time!"

Panic attacks can be very scary. People can get a panic attack just by the thought of having a panic attack. Debbie's brain is working on overdrive trying to tell her it's 'dangerous' outside. This brings on a fear of the outside space, typically known as agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is the body's way of protecting itself from any perceived dangers 'out there' by keeping you in a space where it believes it will be safe.

Debbie's repetitive behaviour patterns (picking things up and putting them down again) are a method her mind has dreamt up to reasure itself that everything is ok and that she can check it again if she wishes, just to make sure, again. While Debbie is aware of herself doing this, the behaviour could encourage her to stay and check all day if she needs to. In her case, she knows she's doing it so that she can avoid the inevitable - and go outside.

Debbie managed to go to her doctor, and was given some pills to help her sleep. Sleeping pills on their own, don't provide much benefit because though they help you sleep, they only induce a lower quality sleep. And, after three or four nights of having them, your body 'acclimatises' to them, so we soon get used to them and have to keep increasing the dosage.

Debbie's family is living in an extremely unsual situation and, as a result, whole family is stressed by the changes that are needed. Because of Debbie's panic attack in the shop, her mind and emotions have been hit hard and they are struggling to cope with the new information. Debbie's usual calm patient self has changed as a result of being emotionally stressed and is struggling to cope and to adapt to the frightening scenarios that are being worked out in her mind.

When Debbie completed the Emotional Needs form on my website, it showed me that she was missing a number of needs that would have gone a long way to making her feel better, namely:

  • She didn't feel a sense of safety in her current lifestyle. At the moment, she feels as though she's going to be hospitalised and locked up in a padded room.

  • Debbie feels a loss of control over the life she had before and that everyone is out to get her because some seemingly bad decisions she has made.

  • Being pregnant (Debbie didn't say which trimester), sets off all sorts of alarm bells inside with hormones changing her body, instincts kick-in for her new baby, so she also needs to feel that sense of security.

  • Though Debbie has been married for over a decade, she feels her husband is becoming selfish which can trigger a sense of heightened worry, which then acts out in her dreams giving her sleepless nights. This is possibly why she is feeling an impending sense of loss of security from a valuable intimate relationship by him eventually leaving her.

Debbie has proved to be a good wife - ten years of marriage is not to be sniffed at. It takes a commitment, patience, determination and negotiation skills to make a marriage work and being married for over a decade, with most of that life being shared with a 7-year old little boy who she loves, proves she has those skills that are needed to make it work.

She also said she used to be a librarian, so her ability to learn, analyse and plan is excellent and all this needs organisational and cataloguing skills too. Working in a library requires patience, negotiating and communicating skills when dealing with customers as well. As a 'book-ish' person, she also has the ability to immerse herself into other worlds and imagine other lifestyles that have been created in those books.

My initial recommendations

  • 7/11 breathing technique. This is a quick and easy thing to do wherever you are and whatever place you are in. What you need to do is breathe in quickly (to the count of 7) and breathe out very slowly (to the count of 11 or more). As you do, push out your tummy when you breathe in and pull your tummy in when you breathe out. This fills up the lungs with fresh air, then clears any stale air out.

  • Create a private space. Each family member needs to know they have enough privacy. Debbie's husband needs to know he can go somewhere to get his work done. Debbie needs to know she has a place she can go without being disturbed, so she can build her confidence back up. Negotiation and agreement is needed in this instance and, using Debbie's planning skills, a family diary on the wall might be the thing they could put into practice. Ensuring that each family member has some time to themselves and a place to go to do and be the things they need.

  • Worrying less = more quality sleep. There are two types of sleep - Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. SWS is the time your body has to build up the sugars for energy needed the next day. REM sleep is your mind's way of releasing the worries experienced throughout the day. You need more SWS than REM sleep. However, if you are worrying all day, your brain will need more REM sleep. This means you will wake up tired. Debbie needs to work out a way to worry less.

  • Sleep hygiene. Another way to help you get more quality sleep is to prepare yourself for sleep. There's a list in my book Anxiety Pangs, which you can download for FREE simply by subscribing to my newsletter.

Further therapy

Debbie booked a therapy session with me and I took her through a relaxation exercise and used the rewind techique. There, we rehearsed her feeling confident and strong to face situations like this again.

Anxiety is a stressful thing to have hanging around. Worrying and thinking of bad things doesn't do the body, mind or emotions any good. Fortunately, there are ways to help heal from these situations we find ourselves succumbing to.

If you should need my assistance, simply fill in the form on the Contact page and I'll get in touch with you.


Kaye Bewley MA

PLEASE NOTE: Names, dates and places have been changed to protect the client.

Author’s Bio:

Kaye is a certified psychotherapist as well as an author and publisher. She also writes for various blogs about, well, writing, publishing, travelling and health care.

Feel free to visit her site, where you can sign-up to follow her on her various social media platforms.

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