7 Signs You’re Addicted to Retail Therapy: Tips on How to Break Free

Ever found yourself shopping for a pick-me-up? That bit of retail therapy might work short-term, but if it becomes a habit, it could lead to an addiction. Learn the signs that your retail therapy has turned into compulsive shopping and how to break free.

Covered in the article:

Unpacking the cycle: is your love for shopping harmless or a sign of something deeper?

Value for happiness: does buying more really make you happier?

One-stop shop: how to manage compulsions and break the cycle

Retail therapy

We’ve all heard the term ‘retail therapy’ before once or twice, mostly in a romcom when someone going through a breakup says they need it to cheer them up.

We do it for an escape or temporary distraction from whatever emotions we don’t want to face at the moment. Of course, it’s not at all like professional therapy, where we usually do the opposite and work on confronting and managing those difficult emotions.

If it’s not the norm for you, it’s not necessarily unhealthy, either. Like most things in life, it’s about moderation. However, if it starts becoming a habit and leads to excessive shopping, it might be time to take a step back.

7 signs you are addicted to shopping

A bit of retail therapy here and there doesn’t define an addiction. But if the urge to shop becomes overwhelming and starts affecting other areas of your life, it might be a sign of a deeper problem. Here are some things to look out for if you’re worried about your shopping habits:

  1. Compulsive shopping. An uncontrollable urge to shop, often for items you later realize are unnecessary.
  2. Temporary euphoria. A relief, rush, or high when browsing and purchasing things.
  3. Guilt and regret. Feelings of shame and remorse afterward, perhaps even lying about purchases.
  4. Escalating tendencies. Buying more and more to get the same rush.
  5. Financial strain. Spending beyond your means, potentially building up debt, and opening new cards for more buying power.
  6. Neglecting activities or responsibilities. Shopping is impacting your relationships, work, and health.
  7. Emotional dependence. Relying on shopping to make you feel better.

Will shopping make you happy?

While shopping might give you a temporary high and boost in self-esteem, it rarely leads to true contentment. This is especially the case if it becomes an addiction, as it’s an unhealthy way to manage or escape pain.

For some, it may even lead to anxiety and despair if they feel they have no control over their spending habits or are in debt. Financial insecurity, after all, is one of the biggest causes of stress in people’s lives, which can contribute to anxiety and depression.

Overall, countless studies and meta-analyses show that prioritizing materialistic pursuits is associated with poorer well-being. Specifically, lower levels of vitality and self-actualization, and more depression, anxiety, and general psychopathology.

True contentment and happiness often lie in the simpler, more profound aspects of life, like relationships, positive experiences, a sense of safety and security, and personal growth.

Why do we tend to want more and more?

We often desire more thanks to our cultural conditioning and survival instincts. Acquiring nice things can make us feel better, at least, temporarily. Plus, finding a “great deal” can feel like a boost to your self-esteem, helping you recognize your sense of savvy.

But the truth is that compulsive shopping is often the result of a combination of factors and difficulties, such as a mental health condition, loneliness, low self-esteem, and being raised in a materialistic culture. Shopping can become a way of managing pain. It offers an escape, pleasure, and a potential boost in self-esteem.

Tips for dealing with shopping addiction

It’s not easy to change the way you think and behave, especially when it’s related to an obsession or compulsion. Breaking free takes effort, introspection, and most importantly, support.

Get honest with yourself

If you’re at all worried about your shopping habits, it might be time to sit down and get real with yourself. Grab a journal and pen and ask yourself how your spending habits are affecting you, and what might help.

Find a supportive community

We’re wired to thrive with social support, so telling loved ones you trust can give you a much-needed sense of comfort and safety. If you’re not sure how they will take it, there are plenty of online or in-person support groups with trained professionals and people going through the exact same thing as you.

Try professional help

If you need to work on your coping mechanisms for managing stress, start by educating yourself on the topic with books or free information online. For personalized support, consider a therapist to gain the tools you need to develop healthier stress-relieving habits. Research also shows that support in the form of group therapy can be beneficial.

Focus on compassion and new coping tools

Mental health is directly tied to how you care for your body and emotions. Think about one simple step you could take toward caring for yourself with compassion each day. From there, you can begin to focus on learning how to manage difficult emotions in a new way.

Some examples include daily journaling, meditating, a self-compassion exercise, and emotional regulation techniques like tapping, going for a walk, seeing a friend, or eating a healthy meal.

Practice mindfulness

Research shows that mindfulness and feelings of gratitude are associated with lower materialism. While it’s not easy to change your way of thinking overnight, practicing gratitude and mindful exercises daily may help you shift your mindset around what you truly need to feel content. It might help you notice and manage your emotions more easily, reducing cravings and compulsions.

Think about shopping mindfully as well, focusing on presence and boundaries. That could look like bringing a friend along for support or waiting one day before buying something you didn’t plan to buy.

In the end, while the term retail therapy might come off as a joke, it can turn into something more serious. Turning to shopping, or anything that offers a high or escape from difficult emotions, can lead to addiction.

Key takeaways:


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