Black Friday is an exciting time for the seasoned shopper who scopes out the best deals and saves hundreds of dollars. But it's also a stressful time that might be best avoided for anxiety-stricken shoppers.
Follow these tips to better handle the stressful shopping day and then check out our survival guide to make your Black Friday planning easier.
Long lines, big crowds and the mass chaos that is Black Friday can be unbearable if you're an anxious person or if you don't know what to expect. If you dare to brave the day, but find yourself becoming overwhelmed and on the verge of a breakdown, take the advice of Ruth Kuchinsky-Smith, our Scholasticity columnist (who is a psychologist in the Philadelphia school system and teaches courses in education and psychology at Holy Family University).
Stress is caused by four things: conflict, frustration, change and pressure, according to Kuchinsky-Smith. The same things also cause anxiety and panic attacks.
"Anxiety is the loading factor for a panic attack, that is, whatever you are going through, in terms of stress, results in feelings of anxiety. But those feelings of anxiety are the result of an individual's perception of a given situation," she explained.
"Back in caveman days, our body was built to respond in two ways to a threat: fight or flight. Adrenaline builds in our body to allow us to flee or to fight. Today, that doesn't happen and the built up adrenaline causes the emotion that results in a physiological response—panic. Ultimately, the panic attack, manifests itself in physiologic responses—such as heart palpitations, narrowed field of vision, shallow breathing or that 'closed-in feeling.' That, in turn, influences our behavior to either get out of a situation or remain there."
Holidays can already be stressful without the shopping experiences. The pace of our lives quicken during the holidays, Kuchinsky-Smith said, and then you have the "added pressure of having to purchase gifts, decorate and spend beyond our means, especially in the current economy. Add to that the unrealistic expectations of the 'perfect' gift, the 'perfect' holiday, the 'perfect' relationships.... People want to rise above the mediocrity of every day and hit the grand slam."
So, long lines and time crunch of getting everything done before the big day aren't really the primary stress drivers, according to Kuchinsky-Smith, but they add another layer of stress to the mix.
If you're going to participate in Black Friday and holiday shopping in general, it's good to have a plan on how to deal with added stress.
Breathing techniques are one example of how to cope with stressful situations, like Black Friday shopping, Kuchinsky-Smith said.
"If you're standing in line and feel overwhelmed, you must limit the amount of sensory information going into your system. Close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing—listen to it," she said. "This will block out the sounds of people, the carols playing overhead and the general mayhem. One way to achieve this is to plug both ears with your fingers and breath deeply. You should be able to hear your breath better."
If you're with someone who is on the verge of a panic attack, Kuchinsky-Smith suggests talking to him or her in a calm voice and suggest the breathing exercise above.
"If they feel comfortable, take their packages and simply tell them that you'll keep a hold of them while they do this," she said.
Of course, if you're prone to anxiety and panic, it's probably a good idea to avoid the crowds on Black Friday.
"You shouldn't put yourself in a situation like that," Kuchinsky-Smith said. "However, if you insist on shopping on Black Friday, consider this. Make this day lighter and easier by first planning to visit a local place for lunch. Pick your lunch spot first. Then look around the area surrounding that place—go to Google maps or something similar—and see what shops are available. That way, you may find something interesting that someone is selling, and you support a local business."
If you take that suggestion, you can save the added stress of finding parking and only park once, then walk to the shops you've discovered and make certain you can grab a fair healthy lunch and not just junk food, she explained.
"Nutrition is an integral part of stress reduction. Fast food will make the stress worse."
You may have never had a panic attack before, but it is quite possible to have one at any time, so it is good to be prepared.
"Some people are more prone to panic attacks than others because it is an individual response to stress," Kuchinsky-Smith said. "However, no one is immune. And if your current psychological health is maxed out, you could be a victim of your first panic attack. Remember, panic attacks are unpredictable and based on a skewed perception of reality."
If you'd rather play it safe and take a more relaxing route to holiday shopping, Kuchinsky-Smith suggests shopping online. Most of the retailers below are also offering online deals on Black Friday. Then, of course, there is always Cyber Monday—the biggest online shopping day of the year, which takes place on Nov. 28.