Retail therapy may be better than therapy

by Jack Smith
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When you have a bad day at work, when you get some bad news from friends or family, when you are going through a break-up, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In those dark times, we all have crutches we turn to. Some of us put on romantic movies and cry our eyes out, some of us open up a tub of ice cream and consume the whole thing in one sitting and some of us go online and start to shop, spending our hard-earned cash until the pain goes away. Rom-coms are an amazing creation and there is no reason you should ever stop using those to cure your blues. Ice cream is a beautiful thing but if you experience too much stress or anxiety you will start putting on the pounds. What about shopping? Is retail therapy an evil vice or the perfect solution?

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This was the question that was faced by a number of scientists and the answer was recently published in a psychology journal called Consumer Psychology. The answer, unsurprisingly, is not so straight forward. Of course, if you don’t have the money you should not go into debt to put a plaster over what is causing you anxiety. Your sadness and debt will continue to spiral, giving you more things to stress about, causing you to dig a deeper and deeper hole of debt and despair. This is not good.

However, if you have the disposable income and are debt-free then studies have shown retail therapy to be an effective form of, well, therapy. One study has shown that shopping makes people happy and can be a powerful enough driver to get people out of a stressful, sad, or pitiful mood. Sometimes this catalyst is all it takes to help people start to think positively again. Wouldn’t you rather spend $100 on a pair of shoes then hand it over to a shrink for an hour if the result was the same? The researchers did warn that those suffering should not be easily led by just any purchase. At these low moral times, we can purchase the first thing we see advertised and that is not good, instead try to own your decision and enjoy it.

Retail therapy has also proven to help people refocus on the future. Evidence has shown that when people purchase they envisage a better moment in the future. Whether they are shopping for themselves and buy a new outfit that they can visualize wearing out with friends, or something for a child or loved one that makes them think of fond memories with them. Positive purchases lead to a positive frame of mind. Again the researchers warn to be careful how you shop and to ensure you are thinking positively. If you are upset because you have put on weight it may be best to avoid shopping for things that require you to try on a lot of outfits. If you are upset that you are single while all your friends are having kids maybe avoid shopping for your favorite nephew on that day.

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Retail therapy releases dopamine into the body as people are excited to shop. They are not only happy to have a new item but are happy in the activity as well. Shopping is a powerful emotional driver and should not be looked down upon too easily. 

Of course, there is no substitute for facing your problems, confronting, and overcoming what has made you sad or anxious. Once you have done that though, popping online for a little shopping pick me up (usually) doesn’t hurt.

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