Woman with shopping bags indulging in retail therapy

Retail Therapy: Merits, Drawbacks, and Practical Alternatives

We hear the phrase “retail therapy” thrown around a lot these days. People think it’s a legitimate way to respond to depression, stress, anxiety, or really anything that’s weighing you down. But there are serious drawbacks to practicing this approach.

When you rely on consumption to fix whatever’s wrong, what you’re really doing is applying a crutch; a temporary solution that doesn’t address the underlying issues.

America seems to be all about consumption. We have disposable chargers, disposable kitchenware, fast fashion clothing and perpetually-obsolete phones. We think all these gadgets, trinkets, clothes, and accessories will make us happy. We think they’ll get us to where we want to be. We think they’ll make us feel good about ourselves and they’ll allow us finally, to be happy.

Perhaps purchasing new stuff does make us happy. But the feelings fade almost immediately. We get a rush of adrenaline standing on line making that purchase, but a day or two later, that rush has completely worn away. Now we’ve moved on to focusing on something else, something new, something better.

If you joke that you practice retail therapy — consider if there’s really something behind that. Consider the feelings that make you want to shop. Discover your triggers, and at the very least, become aware of them.

Once you know what sets you off, you can work on concrete solutions that can help improve your mental state. Rather than focus on a solution that doesn’t work and hurts your wallet, put in the time and energy to address the root cause of the problem.

Productive alternatives to retail therapy:

  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Flexing your creative muscle
  • Professional therapy
  • Volunteering your time
  • Reading
  • Movies
  • Spending time with friends

While shopping can have temporary therapuetic benefits, it can also conceal serious issues beneath the surface. For individuals who feel they are constantly in need of retail therapy, they might need real therapy instead.

About the author:

Dr. Konstantin Lukin is a licensed psychologist practicing in two locations in Northern New Jersey. He specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, couples counseling, and men’s issues.