Shopping highs for moody lows - New study looks at the impact of using shopping to deal with negative emotions

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A recent study from reveals that people who opt to shop when they’re feeling depressed end up with far more problems than they started with.

Buying a pair of shoes when you’re feeling sad won’t make you feel better - you’ll just be a sad person in new shoes.

Shopping may temporarily dissipate feelings of sadness, but the result is short-lived - and the financial, emotional, and relationship repercussions are quite damaging.

Retail therapy, much like eating comfort food, is an attempt to avoid dealing with feelings that we don’t want to face.

Josephine Bonaparte was reported to be a notorious spender, once purchasing 900 dresses in the span of a year. From a psychological standpoint, there are several plausible theories to the explain her extravagant spending style. Her relatively humble beginnings, her harrowing time in prison, Napoleon’s frequent absences and his family’s blatant dislike of her, just to name a few. One theory is as good as the next, but what is clear is that spending money in order to find happiness is a short-term solution at best. Moreover, recent research from indicates that using shopping to allay bouts of sadness can actually lead to even more troubles.

Analyzing data collected from 14,669 people who took the Shopaholic Test, PsychTests’ researchers examined a sub-sample of the population who indicated that they when they feel depressed, shopping makes them feel better (categorized as “Moody Shoppers”). Compared to people who don’t use shopping as a source of comfort (“Balanced Shoppers”), the differences in thinking style and spending habits were staggering. Here’s what PsychTests’ study revealed:

> When shopping in a store or online, 86% of Moody Shoppers said that they end up spending more than they intended (compared to 34% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 66% said that they get so excited by shopping that they don’t realize how much they shell out (compared to 11% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 68% shop even when they know they can’t afford to (compared to 16% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 57% spend more on non-essentials (clothes, accessories, gadgets) than essentials (bills, food, rent) (compared to 12% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 32% have maxed out their credit cards as a result of their shopping sprees (compared to 5% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 17% indicated that they can’t afford food, housing, or healthcare because of their shopping habits (compared to 2% of Balanced Shoppers).

> 48% of Moody Shoppers tend to feel guilty about their purchases (compared to >19% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 56% have bought things they never ended up using (compared to 15% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 42% have purchases at home that still have a price tag on them (compared to 15% of Balanced Shoppers).

> 12% of Moody Shoppers have stolen credit cards from family or friends (compared to 2% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 27% have borrowed money in order to shop for pleasure (compared to 5% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 17% have had to take drastic steps to pay their credit card debt, such as re-mortgaging their home or taking out a loan (compared to 4% of Balanced Shoppers).

> 46% of Moody Shoppers stated that they can’t leave a store without buying something (compared to 6% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 89% said that they have obsessive thoughts about shopping (compared to 21% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 51% insist on owning the latest fashions, regardless of the cost (compared to 9% of Balanced Shoppers).

> 48% of Moody Shoppers lie to their loved ones about how much they spend (compared to 7% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 51% have hidden their purchases (compared to 10% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 12% said that they have lost the trust and respect of family and friends because of their shopping behavior (compared to 2% of Balanced Shoppers).
> 8% have had relationships end because their shopping tendencies became an issue (compared to 1% of Balanced Shoppers).

“Retail therapy, much like eating comfort food, is an attempt to avoid dealing with feelings that we don’t want to face,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “Shopaholics may compulsively spend money to boost a fragile sense of self-esteem, as a stress or anxiety reliever, or in the case of our sample, to dissipate feelings of depression. Some shoppers even do it as an act of revenge when their partner upsets them. Sadly, the euphoria or relief the shopping brings is temporary. So, the negative feelings return, and the desire to smother them pushes a person to engage in their habit once again. It’s a really vicious cycle, and although many shopaholics recognize that their spending is excessive, they feel that they just can’t help it. They may even rationalize their purchases, insisting that it’s something they really needed or that they sensibly bought it on sale, but rationalization is a defense mechanism, a method people use to justify a behavior that they know is unacceptable.”

“Like all addictions, there is a psychological component at its basis, and the best approach to deal with it is to seek therapy. The goal is to get to the root of the habit - when it started, what preceded it, and the type of triggers that tend to set off the urge to shop. The problem with compulsions linked to money, whether it’s shopping or gambling, is that the repercussions are far-reaching - your financial health, your dream to own a home, and your family are all going to be negatively impacted by your behavior. When it comes to addiction, it’s not just the person themselves who suffers as a result of it, it’s also everyone around them. Learning to identify the triggers soon enough, and practicing healthier coping mechanisms, can help shopaholics beat their problem. However, it is difficult to go it alone, so ideally, get a therapist or a coach to accompany you on the journey to a healthy relationship with money and yourself.”

Want to assess your shopaholic tendencies? Check out the Shopaholic Test by visiting

Professional users, such as HR managers, coaches, and therapists, can request a free demo for this or other assessments from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery:

To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook:

About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists and coaches, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see

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Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D
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