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A little retail therapy can combat anxiety

Kelly Dilworth

Retail therapy often gets a bad rap, due to its association with chronic overspending and credit card debt, but if you’re like me and struggle with anxiety, a little retail therapy now and then can help, new research finds.

How can that be? Well, the “buy high” of shopping can be genuinely therapeutic. The challenge, though, is to stay on budget and stick to purchases that help you solve problems or improve your quality of life, the researchers say.

The new study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that people who don’t feel as if they have control over their circumstances are more likely to make practical purchases — and less likely to blow their money on frivolous luxuries.

Examples of practical purchases include screwdrivers and dish detergent. “These are typically associated with problem solving, which may enhance people’s sense of control,” the study authors said in a news release.

I can relate. I often soothe my anxiety by running errands or buying books that help improve my outlook or that directly relate to a problem I’m facing. I also buy items that help make my life better, such as organizing supplies or inexpensive exercise equipment, and I don’t regret those purchases.

Sometimes I do overspend — particularly when I buy more books or home supplies than I need. (As I recently wrote, I’m still struggling to find a spending balance.)

For me, I’ve found that a little retail therapy can be surprisingly therapeutic. By purchasing items that help me manage and tangibly improve my life, I am often able to significantly reduce my feelings of anxiety.

The authors of the Journal of Consumer Research study speculate that people who engage in retail therapy do so to combat feelings of powerlessness.

“Consumers may actually purchase more functional items because they want to feel they can do something to exert control over their lives,” the authors said. “Because of the more virtuous nature of such products, perhaps consumers who cope by buying them experience less post-shopping guilt or buyer’s remorse.”

Your bottom-line
The next time you’re feeling anxious, look around your home and take an inventory of what you need. You may find that replenishing your cleaning supplies or replacing your worn-out sneakers with a more practical pair gives you a temporary mood boost and helps you feel more empowered.

See related: Feel powerless over finances? You’re likely to overspend, Can a fear of death lead to overspending?, Materialism may make it harder to bounce back from adversity,

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