Tips & Techniques

Shopping With a Vestibular Disorder

Dana Tress 
December 4, 2023
Shopping With a Vestibular Disorder

The holidays can be a fun and festive time of year.  For those with chronic vestibular disorders, however, the holiday season can add additional stress and symptom triggers that can often worsen dizziness symptoms.  One common holiday tradition is exchanging gifts with loved ones, colleagues, and other important individuals in life.  However, the stores can be a difficult place to go with a chronic vestibular problem normally.  The additional merchandise, crowds, and visual distractions can make holiday shopping even more of a challenge.  But, with a little bit of planning and creativity, shopping during the holiday season can be a better experience!

The following tips for managing holiday shopping are a combination of advice from vestibular clients as well as additional thoughts as a vestibular physical therapist:

  1. Shop online.  Fortunately, it is much easier to stay at home, grab your phone, tablet or computer, and get all of your shopping done while in a familiar environment without the additional distractions found in busy retail stores.  This method of shopping can come with its own problems, as screen use can trigger vestibular symptoms as well.  Therefore, it is important to not spend too many hours enjoying the online shopping experience.  Be sure to follow standard screen-time practices such as using blue-light filtering glasses, giving your eyes a break every 20 minutes (at the minimum), and maintaining good posture while working on your device.
  2. Go to the stores early if you can.  There tends to be less crowds, which decreases the amount of visual distractions and noise in the store, making it easier to manage.
  3. Plan ahead and start shopping early.  Get those lists put together early and start shopping before the holiday season begins.  While you might miss out on some of the sales that happen this time of year, planning ahead will reduce your stress levels because you are not pressured to get all of your shopping finished in a small amount of time.  You can break up shopping into manageable, smaller trips.  One piece of advice was to see what family and friends get for their birthdays.  Then for the holidays, purchase the items that they did not receive for their birthday, and your shopping is all complete!
  4. Know where you need to go.  Be familiar with store layouts so that you can be extra efficient when you go to the store.  You can even call a store ahead of time and ask about the location of the items in which you are interested.  
  5. Use the shopping cart.  Whether you need one item or dozens of items, use a shopping cart.  The cart will give you extra proprioceptive input for stability and a way to ground yourself while in the store.  
  6. Find “quiet” moments in the store.  If the store begins to feel overwhelming, you can go into the restroom, find a quiet dressing room, or an aisle that is not busy.  Practice your deep breathing, palming, and grounding techniques to help quiet your vestibular system.  One client suggested having a family member or friend go with you into the store.  Have that person wear a solid print shirt and walk in front of you so that there is always something with less visual distraction near you.
  7. Bring your supplies.  There is no reason you can not use your hat, sunglasses, sea bands, ear plugs, and other vestibular symptom management equipment along with you to the store.  Use these things as needed!
  8. Leave.  That’s right.  If it is all too overwhelming, that is perfectly fine.  Leave the store.  You can try again another time or use a different shopping method including online shopping or curbside pickup.
  9. Remember the purpose of the holidays.  While we have commercialized the holidays and formed traditions around exchanging gifts, the purpose of the holiday season goes beyond that.  Remember that spending time and finding enjoyment in the time spent with family and friends is more meaningful than a physical gift.  

Wishing you a joyous, peaceful, and low-symptom holiday season!

Meet the Author
Dana Tress, PT, MS, CEAS, AIB-CON is a physical therapist specializing in the management of concussion, balance dysfunction, headaches and dizziness in Crystal Lake, Illinois at Smith Physical Therapy Balance + Concussion Center, an award winner in concierge physical therapy services for McHenry County and surrounding regions.
You were made to move!