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‘Tis the season to spread good cheer, and to go to crowded shops! For people with dizziness or balance impairment, navigating busy stores can be overwhelming. There are strategies that you can use to lessen the stress and anxiety of the holiday shopping season.

Why is it difficult for people with dizziness to go into stores? Most stores are designed to be bright and visually busy. Items line the shelves, the floor is often patterned or shiny/reflective, and the lighting is generally fluorescent. All of these factors can lead to overwhelming visual input for someone struggling with visual-vestibular dysfunction and can increase and prolong symptoms. It’s important for those suffering with dizziness to pace themselves. Use the following tips to keep your outings from ruining your day:

  • Only plan on going in one or two shops per day. Don’t make a day of shopping store-to-store, instead pace yourself over several days or weeks. It’s even better if you can go to familiar shops rather than somewhere you’ve never been before.
  • Plan out your route through the store, don’t just meander. If you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, have an idea (a toy? A shirt? A culinary treat?), go to that section, and only browse that category.
  • Practice grounding techniques. Focus on a fixed point about halfway down the aisle and walk towards it, then choose a fixed point at the end of the aisle and walk towards that. Continue to focus on fixed points as you walk through the store instead of letting your eyes wander.

Why is it difficult for people who struggle with balance to go into stores? There are often several obstacles in the way of getting into and through stores. Many stores require ascending and descending a few steps to get in and out, which can be difficult. Once inside, stores can be busy and crowded, meaning that sometimes people can bump into each other, or you might be required to navigate through tight spaces.  Here are some ideas to increase your stability and decrease risk of falling:

  • If you must go up or down stairs, always hold on to at least one handrail. This is doubly important if you’re carrying bags because they will alter your center of gravity and make balancing even harder. It might be easier to use the ramp if there is one available.
  • Take a cart with you. Holding onto a shopping cart is a good way to gain some stability, so even if you think you’ll only need an item or two, take a cart with you through the store!
  • Ask a store clerk to help you load things into your car. This won’t always be an option, but it will be available more than you expect! Simply ask the cashier if there is someone who can help you load your purchases into your car to cut down on the amount you will have to carry across an unfamiliar parking lot.
  • Take your time and take rest breaks. Don’t feel pressured to rush, having to balance in unfamiliar environments will be more tiring than you expect it to be. Sit down and have a hot cocoa between shops, or sit in your car and regroup before driving home. When going down crowded aisles, wait for people to move out of the way instead of squeezing by them if there isn’t a lot of space.

Although it’s not always possible, try to go to the store at off-hours. This will cut down on how many people you will be surrounded by and therefore will decrease stimulus and risk of people bumping into you.

If your dizziness or imbalance has you feeling anxious about venturing out into the wilds of holiday shopping, come in to 360 Balance & Dizziness. We’ll help you improve your balance, decrease your dizziness, and provide more specific holiday shopping strategies to make your season as stress free as possible!