In my line of work I have talked to hundreds of anxiety sufferers over the years, and I have discovered that it is relatively common for people to feel anxious in large department stores, like Wal-Mart, Target, etc. Some even have panic attacks in these situations.
I also used to experience some anxiety in big retail stores and malls, though it has thankfully been many years since I had to deal with this.
A few people have mentioned to me that they believe their anxiety in large stores is being caused by the massive amount of fluorescent lights overhead. And in fact, there is some research which shows that fluorescent lighting can affect the nervous system.
There haven't been enough real studies done to say anything for certain here, but I think it's also interesting to note that many people who are recovering from Benzodiazepine dependency find that fluorescent lighting really ramps up their symptoms and causes anxiety. People dealing with withdrawal from these drugs are often quite sensitive, as their nervous system has been compromised and take time to heal; so things that would not ordinarily bother them can become a source of anxiety.
But if fluorescent lights cause anxiety in sensitive nervous systems, like those of people recovering from a benzo dependency, doesn't it also stand to reason that they would affect a certain percentage of society in general? After all, it seems obvious that some people are more sensitive to their environment than others.
So while it's hard to say for certain that fluorescent lights cause anxiety, it seems likely that they at least contribute to it in some people who may have more sensitive nervous systems. Until there are more thorough studies examining this phenomena, I would operate under the assumption that it is at least possible that fluorescent lighting is an anxiety trigger for some people.
But if that is the case, what can be done about it? Again, hard facts are few and far between on this subject as there has been so little research done. However, more than one anxiety sufferer has told me that wearing dark sunglasses inside large department stores actually made them feel less anxious. It seems like a bizarre idea, and you might even look a little strange wearing your sunglasses in the middle of a store, but it is such a simple (and cheap) solution that I feel it is definitely worth trying.
Personally, I haven't had any serious anxiety in stores like this in a very long time, so I've had no chance to test this one out for myself. But I've heard enough anecdotal evidence just talking to other anxiety sufferers to believe there may be something to it.
If you or someone you love suffers with feelings of anxiety in large apartment stores, try the dark sunglasses technique and see how it works (and email me and let me know). It could be a little thing that makes a big difference and reduces your anxiety enough to make shopping comfortable again.
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