Why using Retail Therapy can get you into Hot Water and How to Keep it in Check

I love to go shopping. Online or in person I get so excited to find things I love and its like Christmas when new package arrives. I think this is a common experience for so many of us. When we shop we get that quick hit of dopamine in our brain and that feels good. Temporarily. Our brains then go back to our neutral state and often this can lead some people to seek out other external ways to get that feel good boost. Some people may feel more down after coming back from the “high” of a shopping trip. In recent years I think more people turned to shopping as a way to cope during the pandemic when so much of our regular coping and fun activities were not available and extremely limited.


Isn’t it harmless to use shopping as a coping mechanism? If you are able to keep it in check and stick to your budget and you are using other healthier coping mechanisms then yes it can be harmless. But for many people it becomes a crutch as they spend way too much and buy a lot of what they don’t need. It also becomes a mechanism for avoiding feeling any negative feelings. Unfortunately for some people it crosses the line into an addiction and they can feel out of control with their shopping leading to spending much more money than they can afford on items they don’t need. This can lead them to continue shopping even with negative consequences.


This can cause unmanageable debt and financial issues when there isn’t enough money to spend on basic needs. It can also lead to regret, and guilt and shame on how much was spent. IT can negatively impact relationships as well as loved ones may try to address it with the person who may get defensive which can lead to conflicts.


So how do you keep it in check so it doesn’t become an unhealthy coping skill?

1) If your initial tendency is to shop when feeling stressed or anxious, find other outlets for fun and leisure time. Go to local parks, walk more, play mini golf with the kids and allow yourself to engage in activities outside the house. Pick up an old hobby you stopped doing and better yet try a new skill or hobby with a friend.


2) Bring only cash for in person shopping trips and if you can, shop with someone who doesnt tend to spend much while shopping. They may able to be an ally to help keep you in check.


3) Online shopping can make it too easy to spend money! Can you limit only absolute necessities for online spending with a budget in mind? Keeping a budget for online shopping may be necessary as well.


4) Unsubscribe from retail email lists who might have “flash sales” to entice you shop


5) Only go to stores if you have something specific in mind to buy, don’t allow yourself to go and hang out and just “browse”


6) Go through and create a list of items you truly need, keep that list with you when you shop


It is very common to seek that little boost in your mood when shopping. The key is not to let it rule your life so that you end up in way over your head. Finding other activities to fill your time can keep the urge to shop at bay. Practicing healthier coping skills like mindfulness, breath work and yoga can also keep you more emotionally regulated and help in prevention of wanting to use shopping as part of your coping.


If you are needing more help with overspending, its important to discuss with a Licensed Therapist. The Therapists at Path to Hope Counseling are here to help. Reach out today for a free 20 minute consultation at pathtohopec@hushmail.com.


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