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Retail Therapy: How Shopping Reduces Stress

It’s been a long, stressful day at the office. You’re tired and frazzled, with tension building in your neck and shoulders. As you walk to your car after work, you contemplate going straight home to collapse on the couch. But then you get another idea – maybe a little shopping trip is just what you need to decompress.

As it turns out, there’s evidence that a bit of “retail therapy” really can help relieve stress and improve your mood.

The science of alleviating stress through shopping is based on the idea of “emotional regulation.” This refers to our ability to work through our feelings and return to a state of calmness or equilibrium. We practice emotional regulation by using coping strategies that soothe us when we face something upsetting. For some people, shopping serves that purpose.

How Shopping Can Improve Your Mood

Shopping activates the reward centers in our brains, releasing “feel-good” hormones like dopamine and endorphins. These are the same hormones that contribute to runner’s high. The act of browsing and buying provides us with feelings of enjoyment, excitement, and accomplishment. These positive sensations help override or counteract negative emotions we may be experiencing like anxiety, sadness, or anger.

Additionally, having something new, whether it’s clothing, home decor, beauty products, or even snacks, can improve our mood. Bringing home purchases gives us something fresh and pleasurable to engage our senses, capture our attention, and lift our spirits. The novelty introduces a disruption from whatever was previously bothering us. The anticipation involved in shopping also boosts dopamine. Looking forward to the arrival of online orders or planning a trip to the mall gives us a positive prospect to think about.

How Shopping Relieves Stress

There are several ways shopping directly relieves stress:

Distraction – Shopping diverts our focus away from whatever was causing the stress. The concentration involved in browsing products and making selections occupies the parts of the brain caught up with worry. The cognitive attention needed allows a mental break from emotional distress.

Autonomy and control – Part of what makes stressful situations so taxing is feeling a lack of control. Shopping puts purchasing power and decision making directly in our hands, offsetting being in circumstances that may seem outside our control. Having options to choose from and making our own selections is intrinsically rewarding and empowering.

Physical activity – Even if it’s just walking around stores, the light physical exertion involved in traditional shopping trips releases endorphins that relieve stress. The movement and activity gets us away from our usual surroundings and breaks the tension that builds up when you’re sedentary. Being upright and mobile has been shown to improve mood as well.

Social interaction – For many, shopping is a social activity done with friends which combines the stress-relieving benefits of distraction and physical activity with the comfort of companionship. Laughing, chatting, and enjoying a change of scenery in a group promotes wellbeing. Even shopping solo and exchanging pleasantries with sales clerks can give your mood a little lift.

Sensory stimulation – The sights, smells, textures, and sounds involved in shopping engage our senses, promoting a sense of enjoyment. Eye-catching displays, the scents of beauty and body care products, feeling the fabrics of clothing and home goods, and hearing upbeat background music in stores all contribute to sensory pleasure that calms and decompresses.

So next time you’re feeling particularly anxious or on-edge, consider treating yourself to a little shopping break. Get out and walk around your favorite stores, browse the aisles and checkout the sale racks, pick up a little something special for yourself or someone else. Channel your stress into focused productive energy while you search for the perfect find. Then stand in line with the satisfaction of accomplishment as you wait to swipe your credit card. You may be surprised just how renewing an hour or two of retail therapy can be!