Shopping, for many, can represent joy and excitement. Because of the happiness that may come with this activity, some use shopping as a source of stress relief or dopamine release when feeling down. This behavior may lead to unhealthy spending habits, such as compulsive buying.
Shopping to boost your mood may cause financial difficulties such as overspending or debt. People with compulsive spending habits may find themselves spending money in a way that harms them. For example, they may go on an expensive trip with their rent money and become late on their bills.
Is Shopping Therapy Real?
"Shopping therapy" or "retail therapy" are slang terms many people may use to describe the positive feelings they get following a shopping trip. However, licensed therapists may discourage the use of these terms, which are not actually an approved form of therapy.
Therapists are trained to help people deal with mental health disorders, problem behaviors, and life issues. Compulsive spending is one of the many issues that a licensed therapist may support you with.
Often, compulsive spending is a symptom of a problem rather than the root. A therapist may work with you to determine what is going on in your life that leads to compulsive or problematic spending. Together you may identify situations and emotions that lead to the behavior you want to change. There may be self-esteem concerns or other issues that can be uncovered and addressed to support your efforts to change your spending habits.
A therapist may also work with you to find ways to manage stress or other intense emotions that could be related to your spending behaviors. They may provide you with "homework" or coping mechanisms to use outside the session to help you control your habit.
How Can I Change My Shopping Habits?
Changing your shopping habits may involve taking an introspective look at your needs and wants. It may be beneficial to figure out what you need and which items are a luxury.
Your therapist may have you create a budget for yourself. Budgeting your money responsibly may help to ensure that you stay within reasonable parameters while spending your money.
Try To Stop Window Shopping Online
Online or in-person window shopping may lead to unplanned spending. Many compulsive purchases are made online because online shopping can feel exciting. You might use a program on your device that blocks you from viewing specific sites while working on your shopping behaviors and urges.
Make Use Of A 48-Hour Rule
A 48-hour rule may be helpful when trying to change spending habits. When you desire something, wait 48 hours before deciding whether to purchase it. This period could give you time to consider whether the purchase is healthy. If you don't remember it in 48 hours, it could be that the purchase wasn't necessary.
Avoid Your Spending Temptations
Many people who engage in compulsive shopping have spending triggers. You may want to avoid videos, ads, or social media content about the items you frequently buy. For example, watching videos about sneaker trends might not be beneficial if you are interested in buying sneakers.
For some, the trigger may be certain emotions, such as stress or insecurity. If you know your triggers, you may choose to take steps to combat them.
When you are tempted, it could be wise to enlist the help of a friend. You could even call or message your therapist if you feel it would help. If you are feeling the urge to spend in an unhealthy way, reaching out to someone in your support system could allow them to help redirect you. It might also make you feel you are holding yourself accountable by having someone check in on you.
Counseling For Shopping Compulsions
If you are experiencing urges to spend your money or shop frequently, you might consider reaching out to a counselor. Although there might not be specific "shopping therapy," your therapist may be able to address your behaviors and concerns and provide you with coping skills.
If you spend a lot of time at home browsing online stores, you could instead try to use your online time for professional support. Online therapy allows you to meet with a therapist from your personal device at home or anywhere with an internet connection. Online therapy is convenient, more affordable than in-person therapy, and effective in treating the symptoms of compulsive shopping behaviors.
Once you start counseling, you may start taking control of your spending. A dedicated therapist can guide you through the process as you work to manage the emotions and triggers associated with your spending. If you are ready to try it, consider signing up with a platform such as BetterHelp.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are a few commonly asked questions related to the topic of compulsive spending.
Is Compulsive Spending A Mental Illness?
Compulsive spending is a behavior, not a mental health condition. However, it is often a symptom of a mental health disorder called compulsive buying disorder. It may also be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Those who compulsively spend often have difficulty controlling their behavior and may feel that they get into a cycle of spending and losing money every time they go out. Compulsive spending can feel addictive, and there are support groups for those who experience it. One of those is called Shopaholics Anonymous. There's also a group for those in debt called Debtors Anonymous.
Anyone may be a compulsive spender. If you find yourself hiding purchases from your spouse, ignoring the negative consequences of your actions, or only getting temporary relief from the high of shopping, you may benefit from support.
Why Am I So Obsessed With Buying Things?
As with other compulsive habits, with a shopping compulsion, the more you spend, the more you may feel you need to spend. Compulsive spenders may have other life stressors, such as low self-esteem, grief, or personal distress. People might shop to cope with negative emotions. After compulsive shopping, they may feel better and excited for a short period.
However, shopping compulsively can be harmful—the time and money spent while shopping can take away from other aspects of life. Retail therapy is sometimes shown as a reasonable action in TV, ads, and the media, causing people to form positive associations with the behavior, even if it becomes harmful. However, shopping compulsions may not have the same positive impact shown in the media.
In the end, you may find that negative emotions do not disappear after compulsive behavior. Spending money again is often how compulsive shoppers deal with this feeling. Compulsive shopping can feel challenging to stop and can look like an obsession.
What Is The Root Cause Of Compulsive Shopping?
The cause of a shopping addiction may differ depending on the person. One compulsive spender may be coping with trauma from early adulthood. Another may demonstrate symptoms of compulsive buying disorder due to boredom or feeling incomplete without material goods.
Often, a shopping compulsion can be an attempt to fill the hole of a personal need, a concept that tends to be the theme with addictions. No matter the reason for compulsive spending, help is available.
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