Here’s How to Keep Your Cool in Those Crazy Black Friday Shopping Crowds

No need to hide from the crowds.

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Just thinking about the mobs of people flooding stores on Black Friday could be enough to give some shoppers a panic attack. Between elbowing through dense crowds and trying to hit as many stores as possible, it can be easy to let yourself get carried away by the stress of the day.

The basis of all stress is feeling out of control, and the year’s biggest shopping day is the “perfect cocktail,” for that, says Kathleen Hall, PhD, DMin, founder and CEO of Mindful Living Network and The Stress Institute. Squeezing all your shopping into a single day puts on pressure while you’re limited to a specific timeframe. And it’s counterintuitive, but strict time management actually kills productivity. “When we have a concrete window, there’s no flow and flux,” says Dr. Hall. Match that with the foot tapping you do while waiting for a cash register, and your stress hormones will go up. After all, standing in line triggers your body to produce the stress hormone cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, and sweat, says Dr. Hall.

On top of all that, you’re probably pressuring yourself to find the perfect deal and cross every gift off your list. “Expectations cause stress more than almost anything,” says Dr. Hall. “‘If I get there on time, I’ll save my family money — and if I don’t, I’m bad.’” If everything isn’t going as planned, you could start self-criticizing and feeling like a failure and that’s setting yourself up for the kind of stress that could make you sick.

Your best defense against Black Friday stress is to change your attitude about why you’re facing the crowds in the first place. “If you’re going out there like a military mission and it’s not fun and all about execution, your stress levels go up because you have these high expectations,” says Dr. Hall. Take your focus away from the items on your list, though, and you can re-frame your mindset as setting off on an adventure.

Grab some friends and enjoy the time together rather than pressuring yourself to find all the best deals. Make each other laugh, and pick out a great lunch spot to treat yourselves once the shopping is done. “Say, ‘This is going to be a playful day or an adventure. Heaven knows what we’ll see,’” says Dr. Hall. In line, when you might be feeling the most anxious, chat with your friends and make funny observations to lighten the mood.

Making a plan beforehand can also help you keep calm, because you’ll know what to expect. You’ll want to avoid these Black Friday deals that usually aren’t as good as they seem. Map out your route at each store to streamline the process, and download price check apps so you know which stores are worth your time. “It’s the best way to make a decision and know whether it’s worth it to go to another store,” says Dr. Hall.

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Once you’ve laid down your plan, set a timer to go off once an hour to keep you on track. No need to set a strict schedule, but the ping will alert you to think about wrapping up at one store if you’ve been there for a while. “It’s not for pressure—you’re still having fun and having an adventure,” says Dr. Hall. “We get distracted, especially with friends, and we get very stressed and upset if we stay in one store and don’t get to a lot of them.”

If you know yourself well enough to realize you’ll never be able to handle crowds pleasantly, don’t put yourself through that stress to save a few bucks. Save money by making handmade gifts or getting cheaper presents, which your loved ones will appreciate just as much as any extravagant gifts. (Related: Here are almost effortless ways to be more thrifty.)

“If you have a thing about crowds, don’t feel guilty about it,” says Dr. Hall. “If I don’t have a good stress response, I need to ask myself if it’s worth it, or if it’s worth staying home with my family and eating pumpkin pie.”

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