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Grocery store workers sound off on customer bad behavior. Are you guilty?

A viral Twitter post highlighted the negative experiences retail employees experience during the holidays. It's expected the pandemic will bring extra stress.
Try to put yourself in someone else's position, especially when engaging in a low stakes activity like holiday shopping.
Try to put yourself in someone else's position, especially when engaging in a low stakes activity like holiday shopping.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

A viral Twitter thread is highlighting the stressful, chaotic circumstances retail employees work in during the holiday season — and asking shoppers to be a little more empathetic this year.

The thread, posted by user Dylan Morrison, starts with some funny stories about his experience handling takeout holiday orders for a "fancy grocery store," such as a woman who was outraged at the thought of having to reheat a refrigerated meal she bought and a man who didn't realize he needed to remove the plastic packaging his turkey came in.

At the end of the thread, Morrison made an earnest plea, asking people to stay at home for the holidays to protect themselves, their families, and others, including retail employees, who they may expose to the coronavirus. Public health and infectious disease experts have made similar requests, fearing that indoor gatherings that bring people together from different parts of the country may lead to more spread of the coronavirus.

"I know it sucks to have to cancel your holiday plans, especially after this enormous stinking turd of a year ... but you’ve gotta cancel those holiday plans anyway," Morrison wrote. "You’re not only risking your life, your family’s lives; you’re also risking the lives of service workers, all of whom, I promise you, have seen the worst of humankind every holiday season and kept helping you anyway."

If you do decide to embark on holiday shopping, whether you're hosting a normal Thanksgiving or modifying your tradition, keep in mind that everyone is likely to be more stressed this year. TODAY spoke to two psychologists to talk about why the time is likely to be harder on everyone, and how to keep your cool during stressful shopping situations.

Why might shopping be more stressful this year?

Sanam Hafeez, a clinical psychologist based in New York City, said that she thinks the general stress of the coronavirus pandemic, including anxiety about catching the virus, leads to more stress and outsized reactions.

"People are stressed and anxious about going out in public, and people are dealing with the fallout of a whole year of (financial stress)," she said.

It's also expected that there will be some shortages of in-demand holiday stapes. While grocery stores and other retailers have taken efforts to "shore up" supply chains and make sure that people can still get necessities, it might not always be possible to get exactly what you're looking for.

"We're working directly with our manufacturers to ensure that we do have adequate supply," said Chelsea Minor, the corporate director of public affairs for Raley's, a West Coast-based grocery chain. "There is plenty of food to go around, you may not have the exact products that you're looking for, but there will be options, so be flexible."

How can people avoid confrontations while shopping?

1. Make a list

Hafeez said that having lists can serve multiple purposes. It'll keep you on track, help you spend responsibly, and can "take the emotion" out of shopping.

"I'm a huge fan of lists and writing things down with what you want and what your budget is," she said. "Right off the bat, that is one way to deescalate and destress because you know what you want and what you want to spend and you have a clearer idea of what to do. You're approaching the shopping process less emotionally and more pragmatically. ... Then you're less likely to react in an emotional way when things aren't going your way."

2. Don't get too hung up on traditions

Andrea Bonoir, a licensed clinical psychologist in Bethesda, Maryland, said that another way to stay relaxed is to know going in that your store might be missing some of your usual supplies or traditional ingredients.

"Even if we think 'Well, at least I can recreate the holidays that I always have at home, even though not everybody's going to be here,' we know that might not be the case," she said. "That ingredient you need may have never made it to your grocery store."

Instead of getting bogged down by supply chain issues, try to think about substitutions or consider trying a new recipe.

"We have to be flexible with ourselves in terms of our expectations, because this year is different, and if we don't acknowledge that it's different, then we're going to set ourselves up for disaster," she said.

3. Don't go shopping while you're emotional

Sort of like how you should avoid food shopping while you're hungry, Hafeez recommends not doing holiday shopping while you're angry, stressed or otherwise dealing with negative emotions.

4. Adjust your expectations for the holidays

Bonoir said that while families might enjoy decorating for the holidays early or looking forward to Christmas morning, it's important to recognize that things will be different this year.

Allowing for this, Bonoir said, will mean that you can be more in touch with your emotions and reactions.

"If we think that holiday magic is going to just fix everything and we're all going to be happy, that is just going to set us up for failure," she said. "...We might not feel as calm or as joyous as we have in the past. We might really be resentful or scared and we have to recognize our feelings. ... We have to be honest with ourselves."

5. Put yourself in others' shoes

Hafeez also advises trying to put yourself in someone else's position, especially when engaging in an activity like holiday shopping, which is generally a low-stakes activity, and trying not to take any perceived negative reaction too personally.

"I think to myself 'Here I am purchasing something,' which is most likely fun, but for (employees), this person is working here, they have to be here, they have to do their job," she said. "What if they're dealing with an illness? What if they're dealing with a sick parent, what if they're dealing with being evicted? I think of the worst case scenario to justify and explain away their behavior, and it really works for me. ... It can help people have more empathy and compassion."

6. Take some time for yourself

According to Bonoir, a great way to avoid shopping stress is do what you can to stay calm in other areas of your life.

"Make sure you get some pauses in your day where you're getting time outdoors or you're getting some laughter," she said. "Make sure you're getting up and moving your body. The stress relief basics that are so important throughout the year become doubly important during the holidays."