Saturday, July 2, 2016

Guest Post: Is Retail Therapy Effective in Relieving Stress and Depression? by The Pumpink Hat

“Retail therapy” has become abuzz word when depression and stress are talked about.  The use of the word therapy implies that it is a medical treatment but shopping does not qualify as a therapy in the medical field.  So how did retail therapy come about?

“Retail therapy is shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer's mood or disposition.  Often seen in people during periods of depression or stress, it is normally a short-lived habit. Items purchased during periods of retail therapy are sometimes referred to as "comfort buys" (compare comfort food).” – Wikipedia.

When I was in my mid 20's and had a bad fight with my boyfriend, who became my husband, I felt terrible that I ran to the nearest shopping centre.  I chose to go to a high-end mall and thought of just walking around, enjoy the serene and elegant ambiance as well as the top of the line items.  As I had a penchant for household items and the desire to “modernize” our ancestral home that was twice as old as me by bringing in something new, I thought perhaps I can buy a piece.  Just a piece.  And maybe the cheapest?

I ended up with 5 – an electric multi-cooker, electric kettle, desk fan, flat iron steamer, and a touch lamp. I went home carrying 5 boxes. I can’t even remember how I even managed to carry those and rode the public transport!

When I got home, my mother was furious.  “What were you thinking?”, she asked.  “We don’t even need any of these.  Besides, our electric bill is already too high so we can’t keep on using electric appliances.” I just said, “I just wanted to buy them.”.  And I went straight up to my bedroom. There was no “retail therapy” then.  At least the phrase was not coined yet then.  But was it really retail therapy?  Or was I simply a shopaholic?

Back to my story.  I thought, during that time that I was going around and shopping, I could have locked myself up in the bedroom, alone, perhaps crying about the fight.  But I was away for about 5 hours (yes, I can last for 5 hours and even more just going around and shopping – alone!).  So, essentially, it saved me 5 hours of crying and mulling over my boyfriend and whether that would be the end of almost 10 years of relationship.

And during that 5 hours, the emotions have subsided a bit.  So when I went home, I was not that upset anymore.  Come to think of it, it was like taking deep breaths for a minute or two when you were very upset to calm yourself down – only I was shopping instead, and did it in 5 hours.  So, it sounded like it was effective, right?

Nevertheless, I'd try not to miss any sale that I knew of, regardless of my mood.  There was a sale called Midnight Madness that I always looked forward to.  When it comes, I’ll be there till the shops are closed and by then, I’d already be carrying lots of shopping bags from the “best deals” of Midnight Madness – up to 80% discount and nothing less than 50% off!  Thankfully, I already had a car, albeit an old hand me down sedan from my elder brother, so I didn’t have to push my way in the public transport and annoy other passengers that get bumped and scratched by the corners of the paper shopping bags.  Anyway, this evidently didn’t rule out the shopaholic theory - yet.

I loved shopping.  Whether it's because “the item is on sale” or just simply buying groceries for the family every payday.  So shopping has always been a huge part of me.

Then came the more challenging part of life – getting married and having children.  No matter how much you anticipate having a family, it is a first time journey into parenthood and the challenges would come and go.

On top of having 2 hyperactive toddler boys, I was at the peak of my career. I was promoted to manage the merger of the IT Divisions of 2 rival companies. And in any merger, corporate politics is at a totally different level.  The company that was acquired by ours naturally had their own candidates for the coveted position, so they were very disappointed when I was appointed instead.

While I was able to quickly merge the 2 teams through mini teambuilding sessions and equal treatment to all, there were people outside the division that made my life a living hell.  Even my staff were like, being hit by snipers while I was attacked head on, almost on a daily basis, sometimes a few times a day.  I could fight and protect my team, it was not an issue.  I could fight because I knew things, the business, the systems, etc.  I could fight because I had none less than the CEO on my back.  In fact, he was the one who told me who the snipers were and what “bullets” they were using so I could fight back and win the war.

But it wasn’t about whether I could fight or not.  It was a question of why?  Why are there assholes? Why are these people so mean?  Why can’t they just mind their own business as I mind mine?  Why can’t they leave my team alone as we are all happily working together?  Why do I have to be pushed to be someone I am not so I can fight them?  It was all about resistance to the reality facing me.   

That’s when my depression started.  I won the war, many times, but not the battle.  Sadly, I had to give up that career to keep my sanity.

I was in my early 30's then.   After I resigned, I travelled to Hong Kong and China with my elder son and my mother.  I just thought of taking a break in a very different place and environment.  But yes, I ended up shopping there.

Since then, the depression would come and go.  And “retail therapy” was always there.  And I was still a shopaholic.  When I got a job offer abroad and accepted it, I threw in a garage sale.  Only then I realized that I had 20 bags, 15 of which were black.  Who would buy 15 black bags?  And the shoes, I even lost count.  The clothes, I had several racks of it. Not to mention the pashminas and other fashion accessories – bangles, chokers, necklace, watches, bracelets, etc.  Was it an outcome of depression and retail therapy, or of being a shopaholic?

I am lucky to have a husband who understands.  There was a time when I was so depressed with my work that he asked me to go to Takashimaya at Orchard Rd and buy 3 pairs of shoes and a bag.  He even   accompanied me and carried the shopping bags for me.  Can it get any better than that?  Or was it too good to last?

I’ve been working overseas for about 10 years now and the experience has transformed.  When I feel depressed or stressed, I still go for retail therapy.  But buying was not that easy and impulsive anymore. There was this voice that kept on asking, “Do you need it?”, or “If you already have it, why buy another one?”, or “Is this a priority?”, etc.  That voice!  Ugghhh…There’s this struggle inside like David and Goliath or Cain and Abel trying to kill each other.  But I would still buy.  Then, when I get home, I'd feel guilty because I bought things that were not needed, or because I already had something like it (this is always the spoiler), or because it was not a priority.  In short, it wasn’t therapy anymore.  It made me feel worse, at least when I didn't buy the right things.

I still get that feeling to shop, shop, shop.  But I learned to avoid the mannequins that seemed to call me.  Or the huge discount signs in red that worked like magnet on my seemingly steel body. Or the factory outlets that used to feel like home to me.  And I learned to stop inventing logical justifications just so I could buy something even if I don’t need it or I already have 5 of it.

Yes, I learned all of that and I applied it…well, sometimes, to be honest.  There were still times that I bought stuff that were too good to resist, but I made sure that ---  1) I need it,  and  2) it’s a good deal.  My recent buys included a neck and eye massager.  And oh, dog food for my beautiful Pekingese, Maki.

The rest of my yearning has been redirected to shopping food at the nearby supermarket.  There will always be something to buy that is needed, a priority, and consumable like food and toiletries.  And there are lot to choose from.  There will be sale items, too.  But just like any item, you have to check if those on sale are “damaged”.  And it made me felt good because I was always buying the right things, AND saving more!  No guilt whatsoever.  Even if I buy my favorite dark chocolates.

Perhaps I can’t establish whether retail therapy is effective or not in relieving stress and depression. Maybe on a short term, or maybe “retail therapy” is a more politically correct term that is used to justify being a shopaholic. Shopaholic sounds negative, but retail therapy sounds, well, therapeutic.

But what like any doctor would usually say, the effectiveness of a treatment varies from person to person.  So take it with caution and do not overdose.  

And lastly, don't wear the green scarf, but try the Pumpink Hat.

Can you relate to this? Tell us what you think.

Original post was published HERE.

The Pumpink Hat is a blog that brings you to a wide variety of interesting topics.  She writes about teenage life, work, relationships, ADHD, anxiety, depression, survival skills, sports, politics, parenting, online shopping tips, mindfulness, hats (of course and why not?), and many others.  

LIKE The Pumpink Hat on Facebook HERE.

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