Handling grocery shopping when depressed
June 23, 2022 9:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently in a depressive episode, and can't find the energy to go to the store. I would order food online, but that whole process makes me so anxious I freeze and don't go through with it. How should I get groceries?

I have a therapist, am in treatment and am not in any danger in case anyone's concerned. I'm not going to starve to death, just struggling with energy levels and have little appetite this week. Going to the store feels impossibly hard right now, but so does ordering food online because it makes me severely anxious.

Usually, I'm able to push myself to go shopping anyway, but this week it is just is not happening, and I'm lost because all my usual tricks (promising myself tasty treats, listening to fave podcasts while there, reminding myself how much better I'll physically feel once I have food in the fridge again, breaking it down into tiny little steps) aren't working. Everything online says to order food or takeout when you're too depressed to go shopping, but that feels even harder than grocery shopping, since the (very mild, I know, but still) social interaction gives me anxiety attacks and dear god I don't want to deal with that right now.

I thought about asking a friend to bring me basic stuff like milk, cereal, fruit, frozen meals, etc and I'd pay them back; but I've never asked for anything like that and I'm scared it's asking for too much. Still, maybe it's the only option right now? If so, how do I ask? I feel so much shame about this and would hate to be a burden. My family/parents/etc live far away, so I can't ask them, and my social circle is very small here (there's only one friend I might feel okay asking this of, and they're in exams season right now, so it's scary to ask them because they genuinely just might not have the time or energy to help out, either, which I'd totally understand.)

So... Any ideas on how to get some food into my house, or ideas on how to convince myself to go to the store? If not, how do I ask the people around me for help without pressuring them? Sorry this is kind of an intense question. Again, I won't starve or anything since these episodes only last a week or two at most, and I do have some snacks I can get by on (crackers, cookies, instant noodles, back-of-the-pantry stuff basically), but it isn't an ideal situation, and I know not eating as much as I should is making my fatigue and brain fog even worse.

Thanks so much in advance!
posted by runnerfive to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ask your family to order online for you and have it delivered?

Go to the store with the intention of only getting one or two meals. Get two frozen dinners. Keep it short and simple. Getting a whole list can be overwhelming.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:21 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]

Can you share what social interaction you'll need to have if you order groceries for delivery? If you are in the US and have access to Instacart, you can 1. Ask the delivery person to leave the food anywhere (even on the sidewalk) and 2. tell the person shopping for you (in the notes section when you make the deliver) that you are not available and for them to just choose an alternative option if they have questions (or refund you). Both should work for no-contact/no-interaction as long as you don't order alcohol.
posted by Toddles at 9:27 AM on June 23 [14 favorites]

I'm sorry you are feeling this way. I would also suggest just focusing on getting a few basics, which may be less overwhelming. I don't know what those are for you but for me those would be some easy fresh produce (apples, cucumbers, zucchini), peanut butter and hummus, bread, yogurt, cheese, and a few frozen meals. That can cover a few meals for me and keep me from having to spend long in the store. Can you perhaps think of the 5-8 items that could hold you for a bit?
posted by fies at 9:34 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]

I find having a written shopping list helps me focus my energy and push through even when I don't feel like it. Also, since the pandemic, I've made it a habit to stock up on non-perishable items so I don't have as much pressure to shop. I hope this helps.
posted by SPrintF at 9:36 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]

+1 on the advice above, to ask a friend for help, and also minimize social contact.

To minimize the mental load of picking your food: If you have access to them, my local Amazon (through Whole Foods), Walmart and Target have grocery delivery. They have curated lists at the top like "Grocery Essentials" or "Prepared Meals". My Shoprite has a "Shop from the Circular" feature which makes picking things easy.
posted by jennypower at 9:36 AM on June 23

This is one of those times I wish there was some type of "Help An Internet Friend" service available. If I lived near you, I drop everything and do you this favor in a heartbeat. I've been in your shoes: feeling isolated and so depressed, even the simple chores seem monumentally hard.

I really think you should contact your friend. This is exactly what friends do for each other. It is not too much to ask. In fact, I think your friend would be very sad to learn that you were in a bad way and needed help, but did not contact them. Make your list, text your friend, and Venmo/PayPal/CashApp them the money in advance if they say yes. If your order turns out to be a bit more, send the the extra money after.

You need to eat. You can do this! ((Hugs if you want them))

Edited to add: If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, MeMail me and I'll do this for you. I have a few free hours this morning.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:42 AM on June 23 [29 favorites]

It's totally fine to ask your friend to either shop for you personally or to help you with making and managing an online order. This is not overstepping - if your friend isn't up for it they can say so, but most people are happy to help a friend who's struggling with something.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:44 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, to clarify about the online shopping thing—unfortunately I don't have Instacart or similar apps where I live (non-US, small town), and from previous experience ordering groceries here I'd have to buzz them into the building (which is one of the elements that makes me anxious) and then they might be able to leave the groceries outside my apartment door, though usually they'll bring them into the kitchen. So all that feels too scary right now. I'll look into it a bit more, though, just in case I get lucky and policies have changed.
posted by runnerfive at 9:48 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]

Definitely ask friends or family for help. About 18 months ago I had to ask someone who I’d met through a shared hobby but knew not-very-well, who lived nearby, if she might be able to drop me off a loaf of bread because I was unwell and living off toast and had run out. I was practically prostrating myself with gratitude and she was obviously totally fine with it.

Afterwards, I reflected on how good I would have felt about myself if a neighbour had asked that of me and I’d been able to help and realised it was really nothing - in fact it had probably made her feel good. It also gave me a good feeling to recognise in a tangible way that there were people around me in the city who wanted to help if I would only ask.

I hope you feel a bit better soon.
posted by penguin pie at 9:48 AM on June 23 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry you're having to go through this. If I were your friend, I'd be so happy to be able to help you in this way! You should ask!
posted by praemunire at 10:00 AM on June 23

I would LOVE to be asked for help in the form of a specific, mundane task. "Hey, I'm really struggling with my depression right now. Could you help me with a grocery run? Ordering online is overwhelming and I can't get myself out to the store, but I have a list ready to go and can pay you back." So you're telling me all I have to do is buy some groceries and drop them off at your place... and I will have meaningfully contributed to your well-being??? I don't have to find the right words to say, or magically fix your brain chemistry, I can help take care of you just by bringing over some food--and I don't even need to cook it? I would be happy to do this for a friend. Frankly, I'd be happy to do this for a neighbor or acquaintance.
posted by theotherdurassister at 10:15 AM on June 23 [33 favorites]

If you want to make the task simpler for your friend, you could just ask if you could order groceries and have them delivered to your friend's home instead of yours and then your friend could bring them to you.
posted by Redstart at 10:16 AM on June 23 [7 favorites]

Do you have to sign for the delivered groceries? In the recent days of quarantine I’ve found people willing to honor a request attached to the order to drop things outside and leave. That would still involve you leaving your apartment but the social contact can be avoided.

My problem with ordering online is that about a third of the time the shopper really really really wants to connect with me and ask questions and tell me that their shoelace is untied and whatever. Given they want to do that in a language I barely speak it drives my social anxiety straight off the charts. For the most part I just ignore them.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:21 AM on June 23

Depending on the stores near you, and if you have a car, you may be able to order online and select pickup, where you drive to the store and either have a spot in a parking lot where all you to is open your trunk and confirm your purchase and they stick it in your car for you, extremely minimal interaction. Or without a car you may be able to go in the store and pick up your order without dealing with checkout or paying, just confirming your order. Maybe if you order and pay ahead, you will feel obligated to get it?

Could you possibly ask someone in your building if they would take a grocery delivery for you? Say you are unsure when you will be home but really need the groceries. Then either pick up the order from their place or ask them to drop them by your door “before they go to bed” so you don’t keep them up with your uncertain schedule.
posted by Mizu at 10:23 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]

Yup, I'd also be game for helping out a friend with something like this.

Hang in there - you'll feel better soon.
posted by osmond_nash at 10:37 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]

If it exists in your small town, I find that it's much less stressful to shop with self-checkouts.

Lots of places will do contactless delivery but this would be tough in an apartment. Maybe you could manage the buzzer part if they agree to leave the food at your door with no contact? You could tell them you're sick if you feel like you need to give a reason (though you don't) and they would just think it's a covid thing.

You could also try to increase the amount of food you keep on hand for future episodes, if your apartment size allows. We routinely grocery shop every 2 weeks now but this requires lots of fridge, pantry and freezer space that you might not have.
posted by randomnity at 10:45 AM on June 23

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your answers, everyone! Your kindness and well wishes are really so appreciated. In the end I got the courage to ask my friend and she was super chill and nice about it; said she was gonna be out and about anyway so she didn't mind stopping by to drop off a couple essentials. I gave her a short list and I'll pay her back, and my god, what a relief to not have to force through this for once and get some support. Who knew asking for help actually helps sometimes? Anyway, thanks again. I'll keep your delivery/grocery pick-up shopping ideas in mind for the future too, to maybe make shopping less stressful in general. Hoping I'll feel better soon!
posted by runnerfive at 10:56 AM on June 23 [55 favorites]

Could you have a friend come over when the groceries are scheduled to be delivered and ask them to handle the drop-off? If you can see how they do it, maybe it might help you alleviate some anxiety over any perceived ambiguity/awkwardness surrounding that social interaction, then you would probably feel more prepared to handle it on your own if you find yourself in another low point.
posted by wakannai at 1:38 PM on June 23

Another idea for the future... Are you a member of any online neighborhood groups? (Facebook or Nextdoor or similar)

I'm involved in my local Buy Nothing group and an offshoot from that. They're small enough and full of kind people. If someone is feeling ill or unable to get to the store, they'll put out an ask for a few groceries, and very often others who are going shopping anyway will be happy to grab a few items for them. Payment can be venmo'd, and you could ask that they leave the bag outside your building and text you after they do so.
posted by hydra77 at 2:49 PM on June 23

Holy shit, asking for help is such a boss-level achievement - it seems so simple, but it is one of the hardest things for many people to do. Bravo!
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 3:13 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]

Possibly, a store that's smaller than the usual grocery store would be less intimidating.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:03 AM on June 24

You did it! Hooray!

If this happens again, here are some ideas that might help:

1. Having a master grocery list. I do this to reduce mental load. I keep a sheet in my kitchen of items I typically buy, divided by store section, and cross things off/add as needed. This also gets me through the store much faster as well, which helps when I feel ill.

2. Some stores allow you to set up a pickup order, then you can send someone else on your behalf.

For me, that's Target. So I can order diapers or groceries or whatever, and in the app I can say my husband/neighbor/whoever will pick up for me, here's their phone number, they drive a green sedan or whatever. Then my pickup person just shows the Target person a code on their phone, and they load up the car. Easy peasy.

Anyways I'm so glad you got help!
posted by champers at 9:16 AM on June 24

I totally get this. I don't like doing either store or delivery. What winded up working for me was curbside pickup. Somehow, it seems to be the most distant from having to have human interaction, and you do not need to get out of your car seat. First time was stressful, but it was so much easier all times after that. It made a difference.
posted by Vaike at 9:58 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]

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