Retail Therapy - Pros and Cons of Using Shopping to Relieve Stress

Health Writer

Retail therapy - shopping to relieve stress - is a common activity. According to the Huffington Post, about one-third of all Americans use retail therapy to relieve stress. [1] It is no surprise that women use this type of activity to lift their mood.

When stressed, you may crave certain foods - such as chocolate - or some activity that will boost your mood. For many, shopping and giving yourself a treat lifts mood and, as you learn this works, you feel an impulse to buy something when feeling down. According to a study conducted at Penn State, 82 percent of those who purchased something within the past week as a "treat" to themselves, had positive feelings about the purchase and these feeling lasted over a long period of time.


Inexpensive - If you can stick to a budget or stick and buy yourself a small treat every once in a while or stick with window shopping, retail therapy gives you a boost, but, the costs involved are also pointed out in the Cons section.

Easily accessible - With the internet, shopping is available 24 hours a day. You may prefer walking around the mall, picking up items and choosing what you want or to relax you may spend an hour online visiting your favorite stores.

Diverts anxious thoughts - Sometimes all we need to break out anxious or depressive thoughts is a diversion. Going shopping, whether to the mall or online, gives you something else to think about and pushes the anxious or depressive thoughts to the background.


Can develop into a compulsion - Compulsive shopping can empty your bank accounts. Making major purchases, not knowing when to stop and needing to shop all lead to spending more money than you planned or have.

Increase in anxiety - For those who worry about money, shopping increases stress. You may make a purchase you don't need and then spend hours, days or weeks focusing on your "weakness" of giving in to your impulses. According to the Huffington Post survey, 55 percent of shoppers felt stressed by unexpected expenses and 59 percent were concerned about how they were going to pay their monthly bills. [2]

Remember, even if shopping helps you to relieve some of your stress, it is not a replacement for therapy with a trained professional.

What You Can Do

If shopping is your stress relieving tool, besides avoiding shopping altogether when feeling stressed or anxious, you can take steps to make sure it doesn't get out of control.

Set aside a "stress" shopping fund - Place a small amount of cash (or whatever your budget allows) in an envelope to use when you want a mood boost. Keep credit cards at home and take only your shopping fund with you. When the shopping fund is depleted, you are done shopping, until you have replenished your fund according to your budget.

Unsubscribe to emails from your favorite shops - These emails tempt you to make impulsive buys, rather than waiting until you need something.

Keep a list of items you need -  When you feel the urge to shop, buy an item from your list. This gives you a sense of accomplishment - notching off something on your list - and satisfies your need to shop.

Reorganize and rotate - Your closets may be full of items you once enjoyed. Instead of shopping for new items, keep a stock of items to be rotated in a closet. For example, you might have a closet full of home decor items; rotating some of these makes you feel as if you have "new" items around the house.

Buy something inexpensive to help induce relaxation - You might buy a new scented candle and new flavor of tea or a book you have wanted to read. When you get home, lighting the candle and sipping on the tea and reading your book gives you a sense of "getting away" and helps you relax.

Window shopping - Keep all your credit cards and money at home and enjoy wandering the mall, taking your time to look at items you like. However, while some people find window shopping an enjoyable experience, others find it depressing looking at what you want and can't afford. If window shopping makes you feel worse, try one of the other alternatives.

Engage in a hobby - If shopping is a diversion from the stress in your life, a hobby serves the same purpose. Find a hobby that occupies your mind, even for a short time.

If shopping becomes compulsive or if you are fighting to pay your bills every month because of your shopping, talk with a therapist.


[1] [2] "Retail Therapy: One in Three Recently Stressed AMericans Shops to Deal with Anxiety," 2013, May 24, Carolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post