Odds are, you picked up some bad habits during quarantine.
And if there’s one thing we’ve all gotten a little too comfortable with during quarantine, it’s the “Add to cart” button.
Whether it’s inspired by the dopamine hit from retail therapy, or the hope that a new pair of yoga pants might motivate you to get back on track with your workouts, many of us have significantly increased our online retail spending during the pandemic.
“Retail therapy” isn’t a new concept.
But during the pandemic, when many stores reduced their hours or their capacity — or closed their doors completely — online shopping became even more of a panacea than it had previously been.
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The jury is out on whether “doom shopping” is worse for your mental health than doom scrolling, but it’s definitely worse for your wallet.
Why We Shop When We’re Stressed
“The excitement of getting something new can be a great distraction from whatever is causing the stress,” says GinaMaria Guarino, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor and founder at PsychPoint.
“Shopping also provides instant gratification, and creates a feel-good sensation in the brain that relieves stress,” she adds.
According to data from Mental Health America, between January and September 2020, the number of people self-screening for anxiety increased 93 percent when compared to 2019.
So it’s easy to see why “doom shopping” has been on the rise — but its stress-relieving effects are fleeting.
“The excitement and joy that comes from new things are temporary,” Guarino says. “Once it fades, the stressors still need to be dealt with.”
7 Tips to Help Curb Quarantine Shopping
Doom shopping doesn’t solve the underlying issues of chronic stress or anxiety, and it can cause even more stress when the credit card bill comes in.
Here are a few simple ways to cut back on online shopping.
1. Don’t buy everything in your cart
Dopamine is the “feel-good” hormone that plays a role in how we respond to rewards (like seeing the delivery truck roll up).
But research suggests dopamine is also released in anticipation of a reward — just think about the enjoyment you get from buying plane tickets or booking a hotel.
Use this to your advantage as you dial down your quarantine shopping habits.
Buy just one item in your cart, and save the rest for later.
You’ll still have something to look forward to on your doorstep, but with a much smaller dent in your budget.
2. Shop for essentials, not extras
Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your favorite online stores, use your online shopping time to stock up on essentials you actually need — like groceries, paper goods, pet food, or cleaning supplies.
Your brain will still get the “ooh, I have a package!” reward, without spending any extra money.
3. Don’t mix wine with retail therapy
There’s a reason Hemingway said “write drunk, edit sober.
“Alcohol loosens inhibitions, whether you’re trying to write the next great novel or just convincing yourself that you need to buy a new area rug or air fryer.
If you’re shopping while tipsy, go ahead and add to cart — but wait until morning before you decide whether or not to proceed to checkout.
Online shopping after a bottle of wine ’cause I like to live dangerously pic.twitter.com/mB6GrDhn1j
— Doug The Pug (@itsdougthepug) February 5, 2017
4. Make shopping harder
Out of sight can mean out of mind.
Website blocking tools like Impulse Blocker can put an obstacle between you and your favorite online stores.
It’s easy to get around these blockers if needed — after all, sometimes you actually do need new yoga pants — but that initial deterrent might help you avoid impulse purchases.
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5. Limit your news intake
When you’re trying to kick a retail therapy habit, dealing with the source of the stress can be more effective than trying to curb your shopping habits.
In the beginning of the pandemic, we were all glued to the news as the situation was evolving rapidly.
But research suggests negative news consumption can take a psychological toll over time.
Stay on the pulse without stressing yourself out by subscribing to a daily or weekly newsletter (from a trusted source) that can wrap up the most important headlines.
6. Find other ways to reduce stressbb_height_spacer lines=1]
Online shopping can give you a momentary mood boost, but you may feel guilty if you spend money you didn’t plan on spending.
There are plenty of healthier ways to relieve stress. Lean into these!
You’ll get the reward response without worrying about buyer’s remorse.
Indulging in retail therapy to relieve stress 🤝 being stressed that I spent more money
— MAI (@mailebrownn) February 20, 2021
7. Reward yourself for your successes
Often, we take the time to try and break habits, but we don’t reward ourselves for doing so.
Rewards can keep you on track.
“Keep up your motivation with celebration and appreciation,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist in Southern California. “Appreciate yourself for being willing to change, and you’ll find your energy stays high.”