My first brush with retail therapy was when I watched the movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic. In one scene, Rebecca Bloomwood said, “When I looked into shop windows, I saw another world. A dreamy world full of perfect things. A world where grown-up girls got what they wanted.”

This resonated with me, as it has with many others. After all, why not improve your mood with shopping if that’s all it takes? It’s easy enough.

But does it help in the long run?

For a lot of people, retail therapy is a coping mechanism. It is said that a buyer experiences what is called a Shopper’s High when they stumble upon a product or are anticipating a purchase because it leads to a release of dopamine. This rush, in fact, is similar to what one experiences when they indulge in drinking or gambling.

The other thing that happens inside the brain is that it makes a rough calculation beforehand on how you would feel after buying a certain product. While you might set aside a certain budget when you step out shopping, every tiny decision-making power goes out of the window when you come across something exciting and attractive. A typical case of your neurological flares going all over the place, according to Uma Karmarkar, a neuroscientist and Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School.

Retail therapy also reportedly helps relieve stress and anxiety and is generally done during major life transitions. According to a report in HuffPost, there is no limit on spending before a wedding or before a baby is born. The other big occasion when a lot of people indulge in retail therapy is during the holiday season. With the advent of online shopping, retail therapy can be achieved right here in the comfort of your house. One no longer needs to spend time in a mall, buying most things is a few clicks away!

Retail therapy, then, can be a form of denial.

Accepting stress, anxiety, or the situation puts you back into reality while shopping takes your mind off the real issues and makes it look like the issues have disappeared. Is material possession a sustainable way to get peace of mind, though?

Problems pop up every second day, but shopping cannot be the ultimate solution to all of them. What begins like a shopping compulsion soon turns into addiction before you even know it, says UCLA neuropsychologist Robert Bilder, Ph.D. With a constant urge for gratification, some people tend to indulge in retail therapy without realizing the serious debt they are pushed into. While impulse shopping begins under the pretext of self-care, the actual pinch is felt when it is time to pay the credit cards.

There are several ways to deal with stress, anxiety, depression without your bank account taking a beating. The next time you feel like you have hit rock bottom or are fighting the urge to go shopping, stay away from the malls. Take a step back and reevaluate your need to purchase those expensive shoes/clothes that you don’t need now. Ask yourself what’s pushing you to this exercise and try engaging your mind elsewhere and soon enough (albeit with some difficulty), you’ll ween off.

Seek outside help because while retail therapy can give you that adrenaline rush or a source of joy, one must remember that all of that is short-lived and not permanent.

  • Mrinalini Sundar

    Mrinalini Sundar is a lifestyle journalist with eight years of experience and has worked with renowned publications like Times Of India and The New Indian Express. She is currently freelancing for South Asian Magazines in Toronto and is a digital marketing professional. Mrinalini is a big movie buff and has interviewed the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Irrfan Khan and AR Rahman.