Have you ever bought something to make yourself feel better? If so, you're not alone. Many people turn to shopping to relieve stress and help boost their mood.
Yet sometimes, stress shopping or retail therapy can develop into a habit.
Since shopping when stressed can improve your mood, what happens when it goes too far? Overspending to make yourself feel better can easily cause more stress.
That said, keep reading to see how stress shopping changes your mood and how to avoid overdoing it.
What is stress shopping?
You’ve probably heard of retail therapy, which is a common way to talk about stress shopping. It's a habit that is built when you make a purchase to try and reduce stress or improve your mood.
The act of shopping — from visually-stimulating displays to getting something new — has a positive effect on many people’s moods.
An example of how stress shopping can affect you
Imagine you’ve just left work after a busy day. Your boss spent the day overloading you with new tasks.
Your coworkers were constantly asking for updates about ongoing projects. And your phone kept ringing anytime you started to make progress. You’re feeling stressed, irritated, and tired.
As you’re on your way home, you notice a sign for a new boutique and decide to destress with a little retail therapy. Your mood is instantly better when you walk into the store. It jumps up even more when you spot the perfect pair of boots in your size.
You decide to buy them because you want a reward for getting through a long day. When you get home, you can’t stop pulling the boots out of the bag and smiling.
Does retail therapy really work?
Stress shopping exists because it works. According to this article by the Cleveland Clinic, a study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that shopping can give you a mood boost. These good feelings come from a sense of control and the stimulation of your senses.
Shopping puts you in control of the situation. If you’re stressed, there are likely things you can’t control. For example, you can’t control how much work your boss gives you.
When you shop, you get to choose where to go and what to buy. You're in total control of what you do.
A shopping trip is also great for distracting you from the stress in your life. Think about what you see, hear, and smell when you walk into a store. There are usually visually-appealing displays of your favorite clothes or the latest electronics.
Many stores play popular music that encourages you to stay longer in the store. The shop may use air fresheners or perfumes for a light, pleasant scent. These stimulants focus your senses and keep you distracted from your anxiety or stress.
Retail therapy has real mood-lifting benefits. That doesn’t mean you should reach for your credit card any time you’re feeling down. Let's dig in to see how you can tell if you are developing a shopping problem.
When does shopping to relieve stress become a problem?
It’s one thing to buy yourself a treat from time to time. In fact, occasionally rewarding yourself can help motivate you to keep working on your goals.
It’s another to let stress relief shopping turn into its own source of stress. For some, shopping can even turn into an addiction known as compulsive shopping.
If stress shopping is causing you to rack up debt and not take control of the true issue at hand it can be a real problem. Let's dig in to see how you can tell if you are developing a shopping problem.
How to tell if you have a stress shopping problem
Wondering if you have a stress shopping problem? Even if you shop a lot, you might have your retail therapy sessions in check.
However, stress shopping becomes a problem when you lose the benefits and face new difficulties related to your shopping. Some signs you have a shopping problem include:
- You rely on shopping as your primary way to deal with negative emotions like stress or anxiety
- Shopping sprees have affected your finances; including racking up credit card debt and not being able to save money
- You feel guilty after the initial high from shopping binges
- You try to hide your purchases or lie about how much you spent
- Your shopping habits are straining your relationships
6 Key tips to avoid stress shopping
Shopping to relieve stress can be a slippery slope if you’re not careful. Luckily, being mindful of your shopping habits can help you use retail therapy in moderation. Try some of these tips to help you reduce the temptation to shop.
1. Make shopping less accessible
Giving yourself less access to shopping is the easiest way to curb spending. Of course, changing this behavior isn’t always easy — especially for online shopping.
Start by unsubscribing from marketing emails. Taking yourself off of email lists reduces how often you see a brand. You should also delete any shopping apps from your phone, such as Poshmark or Amazon.
Finally, remove any saved credit cards from your browsers or online retail accounts.
2. Spend less time in stores
Simply being in stores less can help cut your spending. Browsing Target is a great way to kill some time while you wait for a friend to meet you for lunch. It’s also a good way to tempt yourself into stress relief shopping.
The next time you’re waiting on someone, skip the store and find somewhere else to wait. Try looking for a local park or art gallery to enjoy while waiting.
You can also spend less time in stores even when you have to go shopping. Everyone has to eat, so there’s no way to avoid grocery shopping. However, you can cut out temptations.
Head to your local store for groceries instead of the big box store the next time you need produce. The grocery store won’t have racks of clothing or an extensive makeup aisle to tempt you into spending.
3. Set a shopping budget — and stick to it
You can work your stress shopping into your budget. Give yourself a special allowance each month for stress relief shopping. Then stick to it.
For example, let's say you decide to leave $200 a month in your budget for retail therapy. During a stressful time at work, you go shopping every day for a week. However, you only spend $10 each time.
With a budget, you can enjoy your purchases without guilt.
Having trouble sticking to your shopping budget? Try taking out cash for your allocated amount. Once the money is gone, it’s gone.
Sticking to a budget is essential if you are shopping when stressed!
4. Find and address your stress shopping triggers
It’s important to figure out why you shop. Knowing what triggers your shopping — and how to avoid it — will help you stop compulsive shopping. For example, shopping after fighting with your significant other.
Instead, learning how to communicate better with one another could help reduce the stress of a disagreement.
Identifying your triggers allows you to change or avoid what's causing you stress.
5. Use the 24-hour rule
Did you know you can benefit from retail therapy without making a purchase? Just window shopping or browsing online can give your brain a boost. Your brain releases dopamine (the hormone that makes you feel happy) even if you don’t buy anything.
This comes from the possibility of being rewarded — you start to anticipate a potential purchase. So you can use that to your advantage.
Before you stress shop, spend time just browsing. Don’t make any purchases. Wait at least a day before you decide if you still want the item.
You might find that you’re happy with window shopping. It's all about slow shopping to help reduce the urge to make an instant purchase.
6. Change your environment
As mentioned before, stores purposely create a more relaxed and stress-free environment. When your home or work environments aren't as inviting, you tend to seek out retailers who provide a calmer place to be.
To avoid the temptation of walking into stores, try making your home and work spaces more inviting. You can do this by keeping your desktop clean and organized. Try adding photos and treasured moments to your space.
At home, try rearranging furniture to make your home feel brand new.
Now that you know how to avoid shopping when stressed, let's discuss some fun shopping alternatives to help you instead!
What are some alternatives to stress relief shopping?
Cutting out stress relief shopping doesn’t solve the problem of what to do when you’re stressed. The good news is other activities can give you the same stress-relieving feelings as retail therapy.
Here are some fun and productive things to do instead of shopping to relieve stress!
Declutter your home
If you’re looking to feel more joyful, decluttering your home can help. The act of freshening up your space can give you similar feelings as shopping.
You’re in control when decluttering — deciding what to keep and what to toss. You might even come across something you forgot you owned, giving you a similar sense to buying something new. So why not declutter your life instead of shopping when stressed?
Get into an exercise routine
One of the best alternatives to stress shopping is exercise. Exercise is known to release your brain’s feel-good transmitters called endorphins.
So instead of getting a shopping rush, you can get a natural chemical high without buyer's remorse.
It can also be a good distraction from the things that are stressing you out.
Be sure to start a new routine slowly. You don’t want to hurt yourself by pushing your body too far, too fast. Start slow and work your way into a more strenuous routine as you get more in shape.
If you need motivation to stick with it, find a budget-friendly online trainer to keep you going!
Pick up a new hobby
Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn, but never tried? Pouring some energy into a new pastime can help reduce your stress.
Try to find an activity that makes you happy and isn’t related to the things causing you stress.
Some ideas for a new hobby include:
- Gardening or taking care of houseplants
- Volunteering, such as walking dogs at the animal shelter or reading to elementary children at the library
- Painting or drawing
- Playing an instrument
- Learning a new language
- Trying an extreme sport like rock climbing, skateboarding, or skiing
- Exploring new cooking styles and cuisines
Try out some of these hobbies instead of shopping when stressed. That way, you feel better and prevent yourself from spending money. There are so many hobbies to try out you'll definitely find the one for you.
Start a gratitude journal
Learning to be content with what you have can help you stop shopping to reduce stress. Using a 30-day gratitude challenge or starting a gratitude journal is a great place to start.
A gratitude journal is a place to write down what you’re thankful for. Let your personal style shine through in your journal.
Some people love to write long, detailed paragraphs. Others are happy to jot down a few bullet points. Whatever works for you is the right choice.
Participate in a savings challenge
You can use retail therapy as a reward instead of something triggered by stress. An easy way to do this is to start a savings challenge. Challenge yourself to reach a certain savings goal in a specific timeframe.
Add checkpoints into your timeline with mini-goals. If you meet your goal at each checkpoint, you can reward yourself with a shopping trip.
Make sure to set a spending limit for each reward. You can even ramp up the amount at each checkpoint to encourage yourself to keep saving.
Stop stress shopping and improve your finances!
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally treating yourself — as long as you don’t overdo it. How can you tell if you’re going overboard with stress shopping? Start by taking a hard look at your finances.
If your shopping habit is causing you to increase your debt or limit your savings you might want to try changing your behavior.
Focus on reducing your retail therapy by limiting your access to online purchases and setting spending limits.
You can also try out new hobbies and an exercise routine to replace your need for shopping, which can help cut your spending and get your finances back on track.