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Retail Therapy: More Harmful Than you Think?

What is retail therapy and is it a problem that needs solving?

Retail Therapy

If you're anything like me, you've probably experienced a time in your life when you felt a little bit sad or stressed or maybe even anxious, until you realised that the perfect solution for your problem was right in front of you all along... to buy a new top. obviously.

But why is it that I amongst many others find comfort in making random purchases which are unrelated to the root problem? Two simple words... Retail Therapy.

What is retail therapy?

Retail therapy "is the act of buying special things for yourself in order to feel better when you are unhappy", and let's be honest, it's an easy rabbit hole to fall into. This can include unplanned shopping sprees with the intention of cheering yourself up, shopping to relieve stress and shopping as a means to feel in control. However, when we step back and look at the potential impacts of retail therapy, we have to question whether or not it does more harm than good.

How does it work?

It's undeniable that getting something brand new can be an easy mood booster with one study finding that "62% of shoppers bought something in order to cheer themselves up". Since shopping can allow us to focus on one thing and distract ourselves from whatever else may be going on in our lives, it's easy to see how a good shopping spree could feel like a quick stress reliever and distraction.

Alongside this, researchers have found that endorphins and dopamine, otherwise known as the "happy hormones", are released during retail therapy which explains the buzz that we get after we buy something we like. However, it is important to not confuse 'retail therapy' for 'shopping addiction' as with retail therapy the buyer has control over their decisions and feel good about their purchases, whereas the same does not apply for people with shopping addictions.

What are the benefits?

Stress Relief

As previously mentioned, through being able to block out everything else going on in our lives and have tunnel vision while shopping, retail therapy has the ability to help us relax and live in the present. There is also possibility that because can shoppers envision themselves being happy and having fun in the future with their purchase, this brings double the comfort and reassurance for making it through the stresses of current life.

Creative Exploration/ Freedom

Confidence Boost

Why could it be harmful?

Although there are some positives to retail therapy such as stress relief, creative exploration and improved confidence, there are also many negatives which shouldn't be overlooked.

Negatives include:


As shopping does not actually solve our problems or fulfil our needs, but rather act as a quick fix/ temporary distraction, it is easy for retail therapy to become a habit which is hard to break, thus heightening the risk of addiction if no alternative coping mechanisms for problems are found.

Financial Implications (Debt)

Poor Environmental Impact


So, is retail therapy a problem that needs solving?

Well, as therapist Dr. Meaghan Rice says...

”Retail therapy isn’t necessarily bad. When practiced intermittently and in moderation, retail therapy can be a healthy outlet.”

Although there are negatives to retail therapy which can be harmful when not practiced sensibly, for example the risk of financial problems, negative environmental impacts and the potentially negative impact on self-image, if we are moderate in the way in which we shop, for example buying something we already needed or second hand/ environmentally friendly, then it is less of a problem and can be healthy.

Do you engage in retail therapy?

  • YES, can't help it

  • NAH, not my thing

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