Many of us often head to local malls to lift our moods when we feel low. To pamper ourselves, we indulge in shopping and try to find solace by buying clothes, accessories or even gadgets. But is the retail therapy for real and does it actually help? 

“The important thing about retail therapy is not in the buying, although there is often a big buzz in the moment of purchase, but the process of looking. Like a treasure hunt, it is the journey not the destination that is most real fun,” according to the self-help website ChangingMinds.org.

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In 2015, a study published in the journal Psychology and Marketing found shopping helped in lifting moods. Researchers examined the impulsive behaviors of participants due to depressed or anxious moods to understand if people regret shopping. They found people were more impulsive when their mood was bad and indulged themselves in retail therapy, but did not regret doling out money.

“[Bad] mood does lead to greater purchase and consumption of unplanned treats for the self. However, it also provides evidence that the consumption of self-treats can be strategically motivated. Those individuals who do indulge can also exercise restraint if the goal of restraint also leads to improved mood. Finally, retail therapy has lasting positive impacts on mood. Feelings of regret and guilt are not associated with the unplanned purchases made to repair a bad mood,” the researchers noted in the study.

Ohio-based clinical psychologist Scott Bea is of the opinion is that retail therapy does not harm. “Shopping gets us sensing and that gets us out of our own thoughts,” Bea was quoted as saying by a non-profit academic centre, Cleveland Clinic, in an article. “Many times, if we can get away from thinking about ourselves, we can feel better.”

“We’re enamored with possibilities,” he added. “I think in those ways, shopping produces a kind of delightful brain chemistry with relatively low hazard.”

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Retail therapy can also be rewarding. “If you plan it out and say I’m going to save for this or I’m going to reward myself and accumulate those funds to do a little retail therapy, then that can feel really, really good,” Bea explained. 

However, some may argue emotional shopping can actually have its repercussions such as unnecessary expenditure on items that one may not really require. In an article, the Huffington Post noted retail therapy is often used as a defense technique. “Defense mechanisms are an unconscious process that protect an individual from painful thoughts or ideas that are too difficult for the conscious mind to cope with. In certain cases, defense mechanisms keep unwanted thoughts and impulses from entering the conscious mind,” the Post stated.

In denial mode, people tend to refuse to accept the reality or problems they face in life. However, the article went on to explain that if money is not an issue, it is okay to be involved in retail therapy once in a while as it reduces stress and anxiety.