Who hasn’t indulged in a little retail therapy? We’re all familiar with the little boost that retail therapy can give us but does retail therapy come at the expense of long term wellbeing? And how do we know when we're overdosing retail therapy?
In our society, retail therapy gets a bad rap. And yet we’ve all used retail therapy at some point in our lives. It's our guilty pleasure. Surprisingly, research has revealed that our negative attitudes and fears around retail therapy are unfounded. For example, a 2014 experimental study found that retail therapy actually does alleviate sadness. Between countless anecdotal evidence and experimental evidence, there’s no doubt that retail therapy can lift our moods.
However, the study also found that retail therapy doesn’t have this effect on other emotions like anger. The researchers believe that the reason retail therapy works on residual sadness and not anger is because sadness is perceived to come from a lack of control over our environment. And retail therapy gives us a sense of control over our environment. In contrast, anger is a reflection of feeling that others are responsible for negative events. But retail therapy doesn’t give us a sense of control over others.
CHOOSING WHAT WE BUY IS A POWERFUL ACTIVITY
When we shop, we engage in a myriad of experiences, like window shopping, browsing, interacting, choosing, restraint, paying, acquiring and consuming. But researchers found that it's the act of choosing and restraint that gives us a sense of control over our environment. So when we're discerning about what swimwear or outfit we buy, we restore a sense of personal control, which in turn alleviates sadness.
At Koraru, we've compiled some guides to help you be discerning about your purchase, whether online shopping or in stores, because we believe that choosing the right items is not only good for the environment, it's good for you too.
- HOW TO SHOP FOR CLOTHES YOU WILL ACTUALLY WEAR AND LOVE. BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE WARDROBE
- HOW TO SHOP FOR CLOTHES YOU WILL ACTUALLY WEAR AND LOVE. SUSTAINABLE SHOPPING TIPS
- THE TIMELESS GUIDE TO SWIMWEAR
- HOW TO FIND A PERFECTLY-FITTING SWIMSUIT
RETAIL THERAPY IS GOOD FOR YOU
Researchers suggest that retail therapy is a strategic effort to improve mood. But is this really a healthy behavior? Does it serve us in the long run, or will it have us in a downward spiral of negative consequences?
Researchers in 2011 set about understanding whether retail therapy, while providing short-term relief and mood enhancement, happens at the expense of long-term well-being. Their results were also surprising. They found that while some participants made unplanned purchases as treats to boost mood, following the purchases, participants did not experience buyer's remorse, guilt or anxiety. Neither did they overspend, engage in compensatory activities or experience a downturn in emotions later. However, they noted that participants used retail therapy to alleviate mild negative emotions rather than chronic conditions like depression or loneliness.
IS RETAIL THERAPY ALWAYS GOOD?
No. While these two studies show the benefits of retail therapy, the authors highlight the difference between retail therapy and compulsive shopping.
Retail therapy is just that. A shopping activity employed strategically to lift a damp mood. But overdosing on retail therapy, otherwise known as compulsive shopping, doesn’t fit into this category and is a very different activity with different immediate effects and long-term consequences.
RETAIL THERAPY VERSUS COMPULSIVE SHOPPING ADDICTION
These two activities are similar in that they both involve unplanned purchases. However, compulsive shopping is an addiction. Unlike the strategic activity of retail therapy, compulsive shopping is like any other addiction and is linked to the dopamine reward system.
As with other addictions, shopping addiction comes with other negative behaviors and emotions, and these help us to understand if our shopping habits are helpful or harmful.
TELLTALE SIGNS OF COMPULSIVE BUYING DISORDER
A Greenpeace survey found that shopping compulsion leads us to lie about purchases, hide purchases, feel guilt and shame, and fear others' judgments. The study also found that compulsive shopping and overconsumption affect your mental health negatively, with frequent feelings of buyer's remorse and anxiety post-purchase. While not shopping, people who suffer from compulsive shopping disorder experience feelings of boredom, emptiness, feeling lost, restlessness, and dissatisfaction.
People who engage in compulsive consumption tend to have out-of-control spending habits, further causing money problems, financial stress and debt. In contrast, when we engage in retail therapy, we tend not to overspend.
The combination of mental health problems, financial problems, and interpersonal problems of compulsive shopping also puts tremendous stress on our relationships which you don’t get with the odd bout of retail therapy.
ARE YOU IN CONTROL OF YOUR RETAIL THERAPY?
If you use retail therapy frequently as a mood booster and coping mechanism, now might be a good time to reflect on your shopping habits and purchase decisions. Reflecting on your mental health and the ways you cope with emotional distress, how you're spending money and your financial well being, whether your personal relationships suffer every time you walk in with shopping bags, and how much time you're spending browsing online, window shopping and filling shopping carts can help you determine if you have a problem.
If you're not being strategic about using shopping as a mood booster, you might need help. A mental health professional can help you reflect deeply on these issues and turn things around to combat your reliance on buying things to reduce stress and feel good.
CATCH A RAY OF SUNSHINE WITH A DISCERNING SHOP
The truth is that retail therapy is not only fun, but buying yourself a new outfit or the odd treat can improve your mood in healthy ways. That guilty pleasure no longer needs to be something you hide - the research is in and strategic use of retail therapy puts a ray of sunshine on our day and gives us a sense of personal control and self-esteem very quickly.
However, while there are benefits to retail therapy, and people do use it safely for a mood boost it's important to know if your spending habits are healthy or harmful. If you feel anxious about your spending habits and are concerned you may be overdosing on retail therapy. Find yourself a therapist to work with to restore the balance in your shopping habits.
Photo by Olena Bohovyk on Unsplash
Written by Kirsti Formoso - Wellness Writer for Koraru. Kirsti Formoso is a wellness writer and researcher. She is passionate about holistic health and wellbeing. She has over 30 years of experiential knowledge in personal and spiritual development, and a Masters of Science in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology. She is also a peer reviewer for two scientific journals specialising in Transpersonal Psychology. When she’s not writing she can be found working on her vegetable plot, hiking in the mountains and breathing in all the wonders nature has to offer