Be it home or work, stress seems to follow us everywhere. Sometimes, we do some breathing exercises or try to think of happy things to beat stress. Many of us also like to go to a store and buy all the things that we love for an instant dose of joy! Shopping is something that a lot of us like to engage in when we feel a little low. Yes, a little bit of control is needed as you don’t want to blow up your hard earned money in one go. But retail therapy helps to uplift our mood, as long as it is done in moderation, says an expert.
If there is music therapy to save you from anxiety, there is also shopping that can work as a stress buster.
HealthShots consulted Dr Rishi Gautam, a US-based mental health expert and a specialist of psychiatry, to know how retail therapy makes you feel better.
Retail therapy is basically shopping with the main purpose of improving your mood (how to improve mood) or decreasing stress. According to Dr Gautam, these are also called “comfort buys and have a similar effect on the mind as comfort foods do”.
He shares that retail therapy may be helpful in decreasing emotional distress with “positive effects on your mood and overall emotional state if done in moderation.”
Ways in which retail therapy helps to uplift your mood
1. Retail therapy restores a sense of control
Shopping helps you to feel in control of the whole process. You can control what you buy or where you buy it from. This is an empowering experience which is therapeutic if you are feeling a significant loss of control about things in the environment.
2. Retail therapy has the power of positive imagery
Looking at beautiful, desirable, and visually appealing objects helps us to feel better. It’s like closing your eyes and imagining yourself dressed in that gown or wearing a shoe or carrying that gorgeous bag.
3. Retail therapy is a goal-driven activity
If you’re engaging in retail therapy in a responsible manner, it will involve some planning and saving. The process of saving is a goal-directed activity which further reinforces the sense of control.
4. Retail therapy involves the fun of anticipation
It is exciting to wait for something in anticipation of it. Shopping produces a similar thrill. It stimulates certain parts of our brain which thrive from a Dopamine release, a neurotransmitter known to induce pleasure, says the expert (how to get an instant boost of dopamine).
5. Retail therapy is a lot about admiration
It is extremely validating if people around us acknowledge these additions to our everyday life. Some people make an extra effort to buy gifts for their friends and family based on their likes or dislikes. It feels good to be appreciated for it.
Brick-and-mortar shopping vs online shopping
Retail therapy isn’t just about brick and mortar stores. There’s online shopping too, and they are both gratifying in their own way. In the case of online shopping, there is the ease and quick turn around time. Physical retail, on the other hand, has the whole experience of travelling, trying things in store and other associated activities like socialising and eating out.
Window shopping or adding to a cart without actually buying anything is also quite gratifying. It produces the thrill of anticipation to some extent, helps us engage in positive imagery and some fantasising without a monetary cost. It is quite harmless, except for the time spent on it, says Dr Gautam.
Red flags that retail therapy is becoming problematic
• A near compulsive need to keep shopping or browsing online.
• Facing economic hardship because of it.
• Excessive guilt or remorse after completing a buy or criticism from friends or family about it.
• Difficulty controlling it even though you know it is becoming harmful.
• Buying things you do not need or have space to store.
• Having functional impairments leading to missing work, or needing to neglect other responsibilities.
It is known to manifest most commonly in the 20 to 30-year-old age group, but does not seem to become apparent till later in life. Retail therapy can be healthy, if done in moderation. In excess, it can become highly problematic and may require a professional evaluation and treatment to prevent the damage.