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Money and Mood: How Emotional Spending Affects Your Mental Health

Have you ever gone on a shopping spree to take your mind off of an unpleasant life event? Perhaps your virtual shopping cart is particularly full during the winter months when sunshine is sparse but online browsing is bountiful. If you’ve ever tended to regulate your mood with shopping, you’re not alone.

Emotional spending

Emotional spending is a common coping mechanism that provides an effective, albeit temporary distraction from negative thoughts and feelings. Despite its disconnection from rational, necessary purchases such as basic food and shelter, those of us who engage in emotional spending find solace in the quick fix of materialism. When we are presented with a negative emotional trigger, including anger, guilt, and insecurity, we try to reverse said unpleasant state with something that soothes us.1 Ideally, people will engage in positive self-talk, and rationalization of the situation, or they will seek out the support of a mental health professional, trusted friend, or relative to talk through their negativity. These healthy practices promote positive mental health that will be longer lasting and ultimately more effective.

Conversely, when people rely on spending to bring meaning to their lives, they will likely end up feeling cognitive dissonance, or more commonly, buyer’s remorse.2 This may result in compounded feelings of guilt or distress when the purchase is out of your budget, and now have to endure feelings of financial stress.

Emotional spending, compulsive buying, or impulse buying?

When emotional spending gets out of hand in terms of amount or frequency, the reliance on “retail therapy” can put people at risk of amassing debt and neglecting financial responsibilities. With the convenience of online shopping, this compulsive behaviour is becoming more prevalent, especially among youth and females. Approximately 1 in 20 individuals will meet the criteria for Compulsive Buying Disorder.3

Additionally, the presence of a mood, personality, or substance use disorder, or developmental disability like ADHD, might contribute to what’s called impulse buying.1 Though many of us can remember dipping into savings to splurge on a highly desired yet expensive item on payday, those with mental health concerns might be more inclined to spend more than they can afford, leading to a lack of funds to pay overdue bills, rent/mortgage, or even buy healthy food. When a person is at risk of losing housing or simply unable to uphold financial obligations, it’s advisable to enlist the services of a mental health and finance professional to determine the underlying cause of their excessive spending, practice more rational spending habits, and then plan how to budget for financial stability.

Invest in your positive mood

Although purchasing a new smartphone, stylish outfit, or decadent meal might temporarily elevate your mood when struggling with life’s stressors, there are healthier ways to improve your thoughts and feelings, including:

  • Exercise: A quick jog outside will release stress-reducing, pleasure-inducing endorphins; best of all, it’s free! Also, practice positive self-soothing strategies, like relaxing, deep or diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness, drinking herbal tea, or taking a breath of fresh air – anything that will help ease your body and mind.
  • Talking: Whether with a mental health professional or confidant, saying your feelings aloud might help you feel less overwhelmed.
  • Delay a purchase: Once you add an item to your shopping cart, don’t place your order right away. Instead, go for a walk, drink a glass of water, or text someone for a second opinion to see how you feel before completing the transaction. Letting some time pass can help prevent impulse buying and the subsequent buyer’s remorse.
  • Planning: If something is causing you to feel stress, try writing down exactly what the problem is and ways you can resolve it. Acknowledging and taking control of stressful situations can help you feel empowered to act in productive ways while preserving your mental and financial health.

If you’re looking for more information or guidance on how you can reduce your emotional spending, or you suspect you might engage in impulsive or compulsive buying, Homewood Health is here to help





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