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When Shopping Becomes Problematic: How To Spot The Red Flags

“Black Friday” in the U.S. has traditionally been the Friday after Thanksgiving, but it seems like in recent years, Black Friday ads and sales have been starting earlier and earlier – some as early as mid-October. Then come all the lists of “Top Gifts Everyone Will Be Wanting This Year” and the social media algorithms that seem to show you exactly the types of purchases that would most appeal to you. This cultivates an environment ripe for excessive, or compulsive, shopping.

Recognizing Problematic Shopping Habits        

How do you know when shopping habits become problematic? The occasional splurge or “feel-good” purchase may indeed boost our mood temporarily. This is due to a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine – the same substance that is released when using addictive substances like alcohol or drugs. Problems arise, however, when shopping becomes the go-to source of pleasant emotions and is used to cope with or cover-up difficult feelings. Feelings such as sadness, loneliness, or anxiety, or when the purchasing habits become detrimental to an individual’s financial well-being.

Signs of Excessive Shopping

Some signs that your shopping habits are problematic, or indicative of other underlying problems, include:

  • Frequent or intrusive thoughts or urges about making purchases: This may be a sign of underlying obsessive-compulsive disorder and can lead to excessive purchasing as well as be an unproductive distraction from daily life.

  • Strong and changing emotions related to shopping: You may feel a sense of euphoria when making a purchase and for a short time afterward, but then experience guilt or regret later on.

  • Inability to stop or control shopping behaviors: If you know that your shopping habits have taken a negative toll on your life but the urges are so strong that you can’t seem to be able to stop them, you may need help to get the behaviors under control. Consult a therapist to find any underlying cause, and prevent further damage.

Ways to Change Your Problematic Shopping Habits

Strategies for altering problematic shopping behaviors can include:

  • When you feel an urge to shop, pause and notice what emotions you are experiencing. Discern whether those emotions are driving the urge (rather than it being a matter of just needing a particular item). If so, look for another, healthier way to address the emotion. This may be through exercise, engaging in a hobby, or calling a friend.

  • Make a list before going shopping, and stick to it. This includes not going into a store “just to browse”, without a particular purpose.

  • Unsubscribe from stores’ promotional emails, unfollow brands on social media and install ad blockers to help avoid temptation.

A mental health professional can help determine whether problematic shopping behaviors

are caused by an underlying condition such as depression, anxiety, or OCD, and treat the condition(s) utilizing cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness techniques, other talk therapy modalities, lifestyle changes, and possibly medication managed by a psychiatrist. At Hellenic Therapy Center, we have a team of licensed professionals with day, evening, or weekend availability. Please visit us at, FaceBook, or Instagram.  Call us at 908-322-0112 for further information.


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