Shopping With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Get More Done With Less Pain and Exhaustion

Ugh, shopping. When you're healthy, it can be tiring. When you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, it can be a grueling, exhausting, overwhelming, pain-revving experience that lands us in bed for days.

It's tough to avoid shopping altogether, though. Whether you need groceries, holiday or birthday gifts, clothing, or something else, it seems like there's always some kind of shopping trip around the corner.

While each type of shopping comes with its own potential pitfalls for those of us with these conditions, they have a lot in common that we can learn to manage. It probably won't make shopping trips problem-free, but it can help lessen their impact on you.

Better Lists for All Kinds of Shopping

A hand holds a grocery list. Produce is in the background.

James Braund / Getty Images

Grocery Lists

Most of us know we need a grocery list or we'll get everything we went for. But just making a list isn't enough.

First, you want a list to be as complete as possible without having to inventory everything in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. It helps to keep a list on the fridge so you can add to it as you realize you need something.

Because we can become tired, forgetful, and overwhelmed, it's a good idea to organize your list. If you know the store well enough or have a map of the layout, you can put things in order of where they'll be. If not, try grouping things like produce, meat, dairy, frozen, and pre-packaged foods.

Who among us hasn't made out a beautiful, long list… only to leave it at home on the table? The moment your list is made, put it in your purse or wallet. You might also want to take a picture (or several) on your phone, in case the list gets lost somewhere between home and the store. Even better, use one of the many free apps available for creating and sharing digital lists on your phone.

Holiday Lists

But lists aren't just for grocery shopping! If you're holiday shopping, make sure to have a list of everyone you need to buy for. When you buy a gift, write down what it is so you don't forget who've you've bought for.

Your holiday list should also include clothing sizes and any other information that can help you, such as favorite fragrances, allergies, favorite sports teams, etc.

Places to Go Lists

If you need to put a check in the bank, mail a package, pick up your prescriptions, and go to the grocery store, be sure you have a list of all those things. It helps to plan a route and put all of your stops in order.

Google Maps can help you with this--look for the "add a stop feature" and let it guide you from place to place.

Going Electronic

Smartphones and tablets are the way to go when it comes to lists and notes to yourself. You're also less likely to forget it at home since it's something most of us carry all the time.

Shopping From Home

Often, the best way to go shopping is by not going anywhere.

A lot of grocery and big-box stores offer home delivery for a modest charge. You just submit your list and they show up with it at your house.

If you're not sure about whether a delivery fee is worth it, compare it to what the gas would cost if you drove there and back, on top of the physical price you pay.

When it comes to gift-giving, sometimes buying online is hard because you can't just wander through until you see something that would work. This is when gift suggestions from the people you're buying for can really help.

You definitely want to order gifts early, especially during the busy holiday season. Just because the website says it'll be there in two or three days doesn't mean it really will. Make sure you're ordering a few weeks ahead of the deadline and pay attention to shipping estimates.

Clothing is notoriously hard to buy online. It can increase your odds of success if you stick to stores where you've shopped before because you're already familiar with their brands and sizing.

Pick Your Time

Many of us with these illnesses have times of the day, week, or month that are better than others. Whenever possible, try to schedule shopping trips for your better times.

Also, watch the time of day and month. If you tend to get overwhelmed in crowds, you don't want to be in a grocery store right after 5 p.m. or on the first of the month, when everyone's there.

Shopping on Black Friday, Christmas Eve, or December 26 is not recommended!

Plan Rest

If you're heading out for a major shopping trip, make a plan for how and when you're going to rest. It'll keep you from getting worn out too fast.

For example, say you need to go to several places. After the second one, maybe you could stop at a coffee shop for half an hour. Or maybe you can sit in a dressing room and read for a while, or lie down in your back seat and just relax.

Driving demands both physical and mental energy, so don't count it as rest!

Invite a Friend

Whenever possible, take someone to the store with you. Under the best-case scenario, they can:

  • Drive
  • Help you stay focused
  • Do the heavy lifting
  • Stand in line while you sit and rest, or head back to the car
  • Help unload at home

You may also be able to split up, so neither of you has to walk through the entire store.

Use Mobility Aids

Stores have motorized carts for a good reason—people like us, for whom shopping can cause pain and exhaustion. Don't feel like you're not "disabled enough" to use them!

It's hard to use a cane or walker while shopping, but if you don't have to carry bags or push a cart, take it with you even if you don't think you'll need it that day. Better safe than sorry.

That applies even if you're using a motorized cart or wheelchair—most stores aren't set up for easy shopping from a chair, so be prepared to stand up frequently and possibly walk short distances.

You may also want to consider a lightweight, portable rolling cart for a trip to the mall, so you don't have to carry all those bags.

Little Things That Help

Keeping a few little things in mind may make the difference between a successful shopping trip and a really bad day.

  • Dress comfortably. You don't need waistband pain sidelining you early. Comfortable shoes should be a given.
  • Stick to stores you know well whenever possible. It cuts down on confusion and extra wandering.
  • A good parking spot isn't always the one near the door. It can be just as important to have one close to the cart return. Consider a handicapped license plate or placard.
  • Test your cart. Make sure you didn't get one with a defective wheel or a squeak that'll aggravate symptoms.
  • Start with the most important store or area of the store in case you have to leave early.
  • If you start feeling panicky or overwhelmed, stop and take some deep breaths.
  • Know where you can take a break, whether it's in a restroom or dressing room, on a bench, in a cafe, or in the furniture section.
  • Wearing ear plugs or ear buds to cut down the noise can help stave off sensory overload and noise sensitivity. A soothing playlist can really help, as well.
  • Ask the cashier not to make your bags too heavy. And yes, you'd like help to your car!

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

Always remember the basics of pacing when you're doing any physical activity. Listen to your body's cues and know when you need to stop, or when it's not the right day for shopping. Sometimes, it's better to put it off than to have it put you in bed for a week.

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By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.