How To Cope With Your Aldi Anxiety, According To A Psychologist

People like routine. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, our brains are wired for it. The more predictable an errand will be, the more relaxed we feel about it. Take grocery shopping, for example. If you shop at one of the mainstream supermarkets — Safeway, Kroger, Walmart — then you're in familiar territory. These retailers streamline our experience as much as possible by offering the brand names we're all familiar with, on well-organized shelves. They supply single-use bags and bag up our groceries for us. They allow us to leave our carts in corrals in the parking lot. An employee will grab them later.

Aldi is different. About 90% of what it offers is its own store brand, according to the FAQ page on the Aldi website. You need a quarter to release a cart from its locked stall. You need to bring or buy your own bag, and you're expected to bag your own groceries. People familiar with the typical grocery store experience may feel that Aldi is throwing up obstacles, even if they're intended to save the customer money. Because of the way our brains are wired, Aldi's system can lead to the documented phenomenon of Aldi anxiety. We asked Dr. Nicole Avena, a research neuroscientist, health psychologist, nutrition expert, and author of "Why Diets Fail," for advice on how to overcome our fears of shopping at Aldi.

Expert advice on how to approach Aldi's shopping carts

Walking into a grocery store that does things differently can be enough to cause anxiety, Dr. Nicole Avena said. "When we aren't sure of the variables we are dealing with, it can be overwhelming. For example, when you're unfamiliar with the products, or there are too many to choose from, you may find yourself facing 'decision paralysis.'" To Aldi's credit, it alleviates decision paralysis somewhat by offering fewer choices — around 1,400 products, compared to 40,000 at a regular store (via CNN).

But shoppers prone to anxiety might be frozen in their tracks from the start, when they try to grab their cart. "What if you don't have a quarter? Do you leave and go home? Asking a stranger for a quarter or a store clerk for help can be a difficult task, especially if you are introverted by nature," Dr. Avena said. "Even someone who doesn't necessarily suffer from anxiety may become stressed, if just trying to enter the grocery store with a cart becomes an impossible task, especially in an increasingly cashless society." This anxiety can be made even worse, Dr. Avena said, if you're in a hurry or have uncooperative children with you. One shopper, however, told CNN that Aldi is better than other chains in that situation. "I don't have time to navigate a huge grocery store with kids begging to get out and go home," the shopper said. "I can get in and out of an Aldi in no time. I'm not sifting through 50 different varieties of salsa."

Aldi's checkout stands can create more anxiety

You've overcome the hurdle of the locked shopping cart, and you've navigated all the unfamiliar store brands on Aldi's rather disorganized shelves. Now it's time to check out, and even if you remembered to bring your own bags, you need to do the bagging yourself — a task you've always left to the professional experts. Speaking of, Aldi employees are so speedy and efficient, they make the prospect of bagging while they're scanning your purchases extremely daunting for some people (via The New Daily).

Dr. Nicole Avena suggests brainstorming ways to cope with Aldi's checkout system ahead of time. "It may even work for you to go to the store more often and buy fewer items each time, so there is less to work with at checkout," Dr. Avena said. "Do you feel comfortable asking the checkout staff to slow down or pause while you load items into bags? Can you go shopping with a friend, partner, or family member so you can work as a team?"

Come to Aldi for a practice run before you shop

When it comes to dealing with grocery-shopping anxiety, and Aldi anxiety in particular, the key is advance preparation, Dr. Nicole Avena said. "The more variables you can plan for and control (while also keeping in mind that sometimes things may not go your way), you can feel more relaxed and confident."

Dr. Avena went on to suggest specific ways we can prepare ourselves for shopping at Aldi or any grocery store, really. "Make a list of things that you find stressful or anxiety-inducing about the grocery store," Dr. Avena said. "If crowds are triggering, can you go at an off-peak time? If you're anxious that other customers may judge what you put in your cart, can you shop online? If you're worried about forgetting important items, can you make a list?"

You might also want to do what professional athletes and concert pianists do before the big event: practice. As Dr. Avena put it, "You may even consider going to the store with no intention to buy anything. ... Give yourself a pressure-free trip to the store to get familiar with it and hopefully feel more comfortable for your first real shopping experience."

With enough practice, you, too, might become an Aldi regular. "I am willing to do the extra work because the prices are amazing," Diane Youngpeter of the Aldi Nerd blog told CNN. "There's a lot of Aldi nerds out there. I didn't realize that there were so many of us."