original article published in The Huffington Post.
Forget meditation and yoga: For many stressed-out Americans, the best remedy for a stressful day at work or the sting of a painful breakup is the smell of brand-new clothing, the feel of a silk dress and the sound of a credit card being swiped. If you turn to retail therapy in times of anxiety, you’re not alone — according to a recent survey, nearly one in three recently stressed Americans (which accounts for 91 percentof the general population) shops to deal with stress.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey — an online poll of over 1,000 U.S. adults commissioned by the Huffington Post — found that women were twice as likely as men to use retail therapy as a way to cope with stress (40 percent vs. 19 percent). And in turn, men were more than twice as likely as women (34 percent vs. 16 percent) to say that they had never shopped out of stress and would never consider doing so in the future.
But gender aside, there is one trait many “stress-shoppers” have in common: They tend to seek distracting, temporary fixes to alleviate their stress. HuffPost’s survey found that those who shop to deal with anxiety (versus those who do not) were also…
- 46 percent more likely to exercise to cope with stress
- 86 percent more likely to eat to cope with stress
- 76 percent more likely to worry about their weight
In other words, the stress-shoppers are also “stress-eaters” and “stress-exercisers.” Those who used retail therapy tend toward the “flight” side of fight vs. flight, distancing themselves from the stress with an unrelated activity rather than facing it head-on. In contrast, the respondents who said they never shop to deal with stress were more likely to cope by finding the root of their anxiety and confronting it.
And yet stress-shopping is still an appealing coping mechanism — and it helps that it’s super convenient. Many of us shop online using our iPads, laptops and even cell phones. “It was so easy to lose track of how much I was spending,” Darleen Meier, a self-described “Gilt addict,” told HuffPost Women in 2011. “At the high point, I was getting boxes delivered to my doorstep every single day of the week. It was time to stage an intervention.”
As temporarily uplifting as an afternoon of store-hopping may be, excessive consumption can leave a lingering toll on your credit card statement that may ultimately lead to higher stress levels due to financial concerns. Unsurprisingly, those who turned to retail therapy were more likely to feel stressed out by unexpected expenses (55 percent vs. 44 percent) and to be concerned about how they’ll pay their monthly bills (59 percent vs. 34 percent).
To curb a stress-spending habit and avoid accumulating debt on impulse purchases, try to avoid shopping altogether when you know you’re feeling upset or anxious. If you do need to shop, go with a list of items that you actually need to buy — and stick to it. Women’s personal finance resource Learvest also recommends leaving credit cards at home and carrying cash instead, unsubscribing from email newsletters from your favorite retailers and avoiding shopping with wealthy friends as ways to tame an impulse-buying habit.
Of course, that’s all easier said than done. Do you ever shop to deal with stress? How to you try to curb your stress-shopping habits?