Retail therapy

YOU’RE upset. You’re not feeling so good about yourself. You’re stressed out. You just want to feel good, darn it!

And the mall seems to be the most entertaining place you can be right now, so off you go. Or in this new virtual reality world, off we go to online retail stores!

When you get emotionally drained, there is an instinctive urge to fill up on feeling good.

A study published in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing found that people shop to celebrate or simply to cheer themselves up. We don’t need to actually buy stuff. The mere act of shopping seems to be a proven antidote to the glum. Well, at least temporarily.

Psychology Today’s Kit Yarrow Ph.D. discussed five therapeutic benefits of shopping along with the reasons why most people turn to retail therapy.

1. Easing transitions – major life events like marriage, having a baby, or a separation/divorce, can trigger anxiety and people feel more in control by nesting and preparing. This involves discarding old things and buying new ones.

Shopping has a coping mechanism that helps people “anticipate, imagine and mentally prepare.”

2. Dressing for success – a new job or promotion that entails looking sharper than you used to can understandably make you feel the urgent need to overhaul your entire wardrobe. Most people go on a semi-spree in buying their first set of “new job” OOTDs.

This is perfectly normal and justified as long as you taper your purchases down to a more controllable seasonal urges that won’t max out your credit line.

3. The pleasure boost of creativity and aesthetics - when we’re feeling down, the need to see and appreciate beauty in texture, style, and color is strong. Dr. Yarrow explains that “some think that owning a luxury item is about status, but for many it’s more an appreciation of craftsmanship and design that enlivens the senses.”

4. Relaxation and escape – one does not necessarily have to click “buy” in order to feel the rush of shopping. Just the mere browsing has been proven to trigger a mini-vacation mode. Why do you think that mothers take time to do their grocery shopping, doing it shelf by shelf, counter by counter? It’s part of their “me-time!” Away from the diapers, tantrums, and house work, it’s an opportunity to at least put on something nice, dab a lipstick, and enjoy all the new discoveries a supermarket can offer.

5. Social connection – going shopping need not just be in a department store or supermarket. Shopping for books, works of art, or athletic gear can provide opportunities to meet up with people who have the same interests as you do. Retail therapy here can become a social therapy as well.

As a graduate of psychology, I’m all for self-care and doing everything in your power not to sink into the pits of depression and hopelessness when you’re suffering from a bad day.

However, as a financial planner, I feel it’s my duty to insert a little caveat here. Remember that in retail therapy, the operative word here is THERAPY. It’s supposed to help you momentarily get out of the slump and empower you with the reminder that you still have some sort of control.

Like a glass of wine that helps you relax and celebrate, don’t drink your purchasing power liquor by the bottle. Don’t get drunk and end up in hopeless debt. Don’t let your therapy be your downfall or your addiction. Enjoy shopping!