Depression and Shopping: Does "Retail Therapy" Exist?
Few people haven't indulged in a little retail therapy on occasion. However, if you suffer from depression you may be more at risk for compulsive shopping, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research
Compulsive shopping is becoming a national epidemic, with consequences that range from financial difficulties, to health problems, family conflicts and poor self esteem. In three different studies researchers linked compulsive shopping to depression, anxiety, stress, materialism and reduced self-esteem.
The study authors developed a new scale for measuring compulsive buying that included nine questions. "The scale is designed to identify consumers who have a strong urge to buy, regularly spend a lot of money, and have difficulty resisting the impulse to buy," they explained.
According to the researchers, nearly nine percent of the population are compulsive shoppers. They experience positive feelings when they're buying, tend to max out their credit cards, hide purchases, return items and have more family arguments.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that promotes excessive consumption of products as a way of life. This makes it easier for people to fall into the habit of medicating themselves with purchases, because it's perceived as a good thing.
When Retail Therapy Becomes a Problem
For many people living with depression, shopping may act as a distraction. It may help you to temporarily take your mind off your problems. Or, you may get a short-term boost in your self-esteem tied to owning a particular product.
However, as the researchers point out, compulsive shopping can lead to financial ruin-- whether you suffer from depression or not. But, there's also evidence from other research that if you suffer from depression, you may tend to pay higher prices for products in an effort to cope with your emotions.
Of course, this could possibly lead you into financial ruin even faster than someone who doesn't suffer from depression. Furthermore, coping with stress is even more difficult when you have this mood disorder.
Compulsive buying often runs in families--in particular, those where mood disorders and substance abuse are common. Here's a quick self test to determine if shopping is becoming a chronic problem in your life.
1. You're buying items to feel better about yourself or to cope with emotions such as anxiety or depression.
2. You feel that your spending is out of control.
3. You are having financial trouble, for instance problems paying off your credit cards or bills, or running out of money.
4. Your close relationships are suffering because of your shopping and spending.
5. You've started to lie about your spending habits.
If you've answered yes to most of the questions above, it's time to seek professional help. The "fix" you get from retail therapy is only short term, so your depression symptoms will return very soon after indulging in shopping.
It's better to try coping strategies with longer-lasting effects on depression, such as medication, one-on-one counselling, group therapy, biofeedback or exercise. Financial and marital counselling may also be helpful.
Smarter Shopping to Cope with Depression
During those times when you do give in to compulsive shopping to cope with depression, try to choose products or services that may truly make you feel better. For instance, pay for an aromatherapy massage or acupuncture treatment.
You can also buy a workout session with a personal trainer, some golf, tennis, or skiing lessons, or a trip to see a loved one who can help you through a difficult period.
Journal Of Consumer Research, December 2008,Vol. 35 No. 4. "An Expanded Conceptualization and a New Measure of Compulsive Buying." Nancy M. Ridgway, Monika Kukar‐Kinney, Kent B. Monroe.
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