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The Therapeutic Nature of the Target Run

Shopping for shampoo and snacks keeps my anxiety at bay.

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Target shopping carts Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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When my life feels overwhelming, small tasks begin to seem insurmountable and my to-do lists start to make me dizzy. When I can feel anxiety start to build, one of my favorite ways to relax is to go to Target.

Shopping at Target allows for time alone, to hit the reset button. It’s an excuse, similar to a hike or vacation, to come back to myself — just in between the lotion and the Kleenex aisles rather than in between a mountain and a lake.

Running errands is an achievable goal that can get me dressed and out of the house when depression creeps back into my life. I may not be able to fix whatever is making me anxious, but I can proactively buy new shampoo when I run out. It’s a tangible, manageable thing within my control, and Target provides the solution.

The variety of products at Target makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself just by looking at them. The diffuse overhead lighting and shiny white tile floors create a calm, celestial atmosphere, and the low beeps of the cash register soothe instead of agitate. The makeup aisle in particular glows. When I’m anxious, I tend to focus on my appearance, and the abundance of lipsticks organized by brand and color makes it easy to find a cheap purchase that brightens my day and makes me feel more put-together. I can get face wash or vitamins at the same place I can look for new clothes, all feeding different needs for impulse buys or self-improvement in one convenient location.

One of the reasons Target works so well for me is that it’s the same everywhere. I know what to expect. I’ve moved a lot, and knowing that I can find a familiar hideout in any city or suburb with a Target is worth something to me. It’s paradoxical that something that’s the same across the country can make me feel so like myself. The familiarity allows the store itself to fade into the background so I can focus on myself and what I need. The inoffensive pop music playing at a reasonable volume doesn’t drown out my thoughts; it allows me to actually hear them.

My Target habit started in high school, when my best friend and I would call each other up and need to talk. “Want to go to Target?” one of us would say, and 15 minutes later we’d be wandering the aisles, sharing secrets and gossip as we pawed through the five-dollar movies or tried on sunglasses and scarves. Shopping was our chosen activity when we wanted to hang out outside of the house, away from sisters and parents. I went to the mall when I wanted to be seen — there was always a chance of running into someone from school in the American Eagle dressing rooms. Going to Target was for moms and errands.

As an adult, my favorite way of shopping at Target is to go alone and call my best friend or my mom on the phone, and walk up and down every aisle while I talk about work, gossip, and whatever drove me to find refuge in the first place. I usually find everything I need, including peace of mind.