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Is Retail Therapy a valid coping mechanism?

To cheer ourselves up we often make purchases to treat ourselves or to distract ourselves from our negative thoughts. This is a form of retail therapy. To properly define it, retail therapy is the act of shopping in the hope to boost our mood and feel less distressed. So how does shopping actually lift up our mood and is this a healthy coping mechanism? Read more to find out!

How does retail therapy work?

Just imagine dressing up in the new top you have longed for, and looking hot in it! Or think about the premium sound quality you will get from the latest earbuds! Just these thoughts can make you feel happier because you are envisioning a better version of yourself or a better experience in the future. The process of shopping and browsing catalogues give us many opportunities to have such thoughts, making us think “My situation will only get better!” Besides, according to a study (Rick et al., 2014), shopping gives you a sense of control, which negates your feeling of powerlessness when faced with a challenge. This empowers us to fix any problem and to bounce back higher. Let’s also not forget the happiness we feel when receiving a parcel! The anticipation from waiting to the immense excitement when we finally have the parcel on hand- allows us to feel hopeful and have something to look forward to! Although the pleasure we get from shopping is just fleeting, it allows our minds to relax for a while and can motivate us to strive harder.

Since retail therapy seems therapeutic is it a healthy coping mechanism?

Life is all about moderation and when the amount spent on retail therapy is well within your budget, and in return, you feel happy, I don’t see why it is unhealthy. Nonetheless, when spending goes out of hand, we may need to pay greater attention to it. This occurs when you become a compulsive spender and when spending and feeling stress becomes a vicious cycle.

There is a fine line between compulsive spending and retail therapy. Retail therapy usually restores your sense of control and involves purchases that you desire. On the other hand, compulsive spending causes you to lose control of how much you spend and often involves purchases that make you regret and feel guilty about. As a result, it can easily evolve into a stress-buy-stress-buy loop, in which you feel guilty and stressed after making purchases but continue to spend more to numb your feelings to feel even more distressed. Such situations often happen when you use shopping as a means to escape from reality rather than addressing the fundamental cause of your worry. You must understand that retail therapy is merely a band-aid solution; in order to feel better in the long run, the underlying problem must be addressed.

If you are shopping to relieve the sadness from an accidental fall in front of your crush or from doing worse than expected in an exam, retail therapy may be an effective way to cope with your moods. This is because these problems are temporary, situational and rarely suggest a bigger underlying issue. However, if you are shopping to cope with your academic stress and the time spent on shopping makes you lose even more focus on studying and in life, you may need to explore a longer-term solution to this problem.

To sum up, retail therapy can be a valid coping mechanism for temporary relief and it is okay to treat yourself if you are feeling off-form that day. That said, keep in mind that retail therapy is not an actual therapy, and seek proper help if necessary since mental health is just as vital as physical health. If I were to give an analogy, retail therapy is just like taking naps when you are running a fever; it doesn’t treat your fever but more rest can allow your body to recover faster. Nonetheless, if your fever is high and persistent, sleeping it off is not going to solve the issue. You will have to visit the doctor, understand your symptoms and popped the necessary pill to feel better. This is the exact same for mental wellness! If your negative emotions are lingering for way too long, don’t be afraid to seek professional help and you will get better!


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Rick, S. I., Pereira, B., & Burson, K. A. (2014). The benefits of retail therapy: Making purchase decisions reduces residual sadness. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24(3), 373–380.

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