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Retail Therapy: Helpful or Harmful?


With the approaching annual phenomenon of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping, the concept of “retail therapy” becomes more and more of a buzz word. With the increasing popularity of Amazon and similar online retailers, buying something new takes only a few clicks. While shopping is not a substitute for actual therapy, many people gain satisfaction from doing so. “Retail therapy” does have some positive psychological rewards, however, it is a controversial topic within psychology and social work circles.

What are the benefits of retail therapy?

The benefits of retail therapy mainly deal with relief from negative moods. Interestingly, retail therapy usually doesn’t involve negative effects, such as buyer’s remorse, guilt, anxiety, or other distress, and mood improvement associated with retail therapy seems to last well past the purchase. Retail therapy can ease transitions between significant life events, such as moving into a new home or having a child and can also provide social connections with others who enjoy shopping. Additionally, purchasing clothing to “dress for success” can increase feelings of empowerment and create a pleasure boost of creativity and aesthetics for the consumer. Finally, retail therapy can also increase feelings of relaxation, providing a distraction from the problems that the consumer is experiencing. While purchasing items can provide mood boosts, resisting the urge to buy something has a similar mood-boosting benefit for people trying to avoid impulsive spending.

Are there negative effects I should worry about?

While there are many benefits to retail therapy, it is crucial to maintain a level of moderation. Excessive shopping in order to cope can be a gateway to compulsive buying, which can bring about credit card debt, ignoring responsibilities in order to shop, and shame and guilt about purchases which may lead to hiding items or lying about them. In addition, using retail therapy in order to cope and refusing to seek actual help may have long term negative effects on mental health. Some strategies for managing spending include budgeting, window shopping, shopping for things you actually need, and seeking help for the underlying issues that compel you to shop.

If you are experiencing any of the negative effects of excessive retail shopping or would like to speak with a professional, contact us here!

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