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The Science Behind Retail Therapy

January 4th, 2023


Something that I know will never fail to bring me joy is wandering the aisles of Target. Immediately after my divorce, I drove myself straight to Target and Target did not fail me. This is a phenomenon that many of us experience. Either just walking around a store and looking, adding items to an online shopping cart, and/or the actual act of purchasing an item(s).

Per Web MD, a study found that 62% of shoppers bought something to cheer themselves up. Over half of the shoppers engage in retail therapy. This statistic may surprise some and not others. Personally, it does not surprise me as I know 100% of my friends engage in shopping therapy.

Web MD defines retail therapy as when you go shopping for the main purpose of feeling better. This article will dive into why any sort of shopping, window shopping, online, retail therapy shopping, makes us feel better.

Why Retail Therapy Makes You Feel Happier 

Why Retail Therapy Makes You Feel Happier

One of the main reasons retail therapy, or emotional spending, can help us feel happier is because it helps us feel in control.

Feelings of sadness can be associated with a feeling of not being in control of an aspect of your life. Feeling out of control in parts of our lives is an extremely uncomfortable feeling. Therefore, anything that can help us fill that void can bring feelings of contentment.

Another big reason retail therapy makes us feel happier is that the possibility of a treat or reward releases the dopamine hormone in our brains. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that makes us feel good. Dopamine lasts even past the act of the purchase. The anticipation also releases dopamine such as when window shopping or adding items to an online cart.

The distraction associated with retail therapy helps relieve a bad mood. This is one of the reasons why wandering the aisles of Target can instantaneously make me feel better. Looking at all of the colors, feeling different fabrics, and viewing new items aids in sensory stimulation which gets our minds off of negative feelings.

Social interaction in stores can also be a reason that shopping can alleviate sadness. While some recharge with alone time, some recharge with social interaction.

Can Retail Therapy Actually Be Helpful?

Retail therapy can improve your mood. It has been proven that unplanned shopping can help relieve negative moods. Interestingly, resisting the urge to buy something has similar mood-boosting effects. For me, it is always a proud moment when I walk out of Target spending less than expected. Therefore, retail therapy, whether it results in spending or not spending assists in positive feelings.

Usually, retail therapy does not result in any negative consequences such as buyer’s remorse, anxiety, or guilt. Many times the purchase ends up being a good reminder of when we did something for ourselves. Many of us spend more time taking care of others, so doing something special for ourselves can feel empowering and exciting. Doing special things for yourself is just as important as doing special things for others. A tangible item can be a reminder of when you did something good for yourself and can empower and remind you to continue to take care of yourself and your mental health.

What is Compulsive Buying Disorder? 

What is Compulsive Buying Disorder?

Retail therapy does not have negative consequences for a person. Although, it can turn into what is called compulsive buying disorder. This is when shopping causes distress or impairments. Some signs of compulsive buying disorder are:

  • feeling unable to control your spending habits
  • feeling the need to hide purchases from others
  • lying to others about the amount of money you spent
  • struggling to cope with negative feelings without shopping
  • the positive feelings do not last after the purchase
  • over-spending which leads to money problems
  • feeling irritated or ashamed after shopping

While retail therapy can be helpful in elevating our mood, it is important to pay attention to the possible consequences of shopping addiction. Make sure you are sticking to your budget and think about your purchase before you buy it.

When to Seek Help For Shopping Addiction 

When to Seek Help For Shopping Addiction

If you are struggling with compulsive buying disorder, it is recommended to seek help such as therapy. Therapy can help with processing feelings, discovering alternative coping mechanisms for negative feelings, and providing clarity for feelings, thoughts, and impulse-buying behaviors.

While retail therapy has its positive effects it can also result in compulsive buying disorder which is something to seek help for. Be mindful of your feelings and if your coping skills are helpful or harmful.

If you or anyone you know has questions about this article or is seeking help, Clarity Clinic is here to listen and assist.

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