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Shopping as a Form of Therapy? According to Some Research, You Bet!

There seem to be two camps when it comes to shopping -- those who go into withdrawal if they don't do it regularly, and those who will stop at nothing to avoid it. Those in the former group will be thrilled to learn what they probably already feel: shopping can be good for you.

Shopping Releases Feel-Good, Desire-Inducing Chemicals

Women shop longer when they're with another woman than when they're with children, men or by themselves.

At the heart of the matter is that finding the pantsuit that makes you feel professional or the shoes that make you feel sexy causes mood-enhancing chemicals to be released in your brain.

That's right. The same chemicals that are released when we exercise, eat a piece of chocolate, or fall in love are also released when we shop. The two chemicals at play are serotonin, which is closely related to mood (low levels are linked to depression) and dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates desire and gives us an intense feeling of pleasure.

A Shopper's High

Dopamine, in particular, appears to play a role in why people can become addicted to shopping. It seems that, to those who enjoy it, shopping induces a "high" feeling. The better that this feeling is, the more we want to experience it again.

"You're getting a release of a chemical in the brain which is associated with learning, with making new memories, and with learning behaviors and how to repeat them," said David Sulzer, an associate professor at Columbia University Medical Center.

Shopping for Self-Worth

Perhaps you've saved for months, and finally have enough to purchase a coveted high-definition television. Or, you find those perfect figure-flattering jeans, or invest in some scented candles to soothe your nerves at the end of the day.

Get Your Own Shopper's High Right Now

Looking for that certain something to help you be safe, live longer and prosper? has everything you need, from aromatherapy bath salts for you, to radon test kits for your home.

Enjoy a relaxing shopping experience by perusing the good-for-you, wellness-promoting categories that appeal to you.


Upon leaving the store with your purchase, you feel good -- you're successful, attractive, worthy of some pampering.

"Shopping is an easy way to assert self-worth, one of the simplest ways," says Judith Mueller, executive director of The Women's Center in Vienna, Virginia.

Shopping for Camaraderie

Particularly among women, shopping presents a unique opportunity to share opinions, boost each other's self-esteem and talk -- all of which can be as beneficial as any form of therapy or stress relief.

In fact, when women shop with another female companion, a study found they shop longer than when they're with children, alone or with a man.

"When two women shop together, they talk, advise, suggest and consult to their heart's content, hence the long time in the store," said Paco Underhill, who ran the study and also authored "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping."

"Shopping has always been a form of therapy, and I think this has both positive and negative implications," he says. "Women get an enormous amount of pleasure from the act of looking, and it's an escape."

When Shopping Goes Wrong

Shopping can, indeed, boost your self-worth and self-esteem, help you nurture your inner desires for a more comfortable home or a creative outlet -- even help you develop deeper relationships with your shopping buddies. But there are also ways in which shopping can be taken too far, and end up harming rather than helping you.

According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 15 million Americans are compulsive shoppers, meaning they can't control how much they shop. Some 90 percent of compulsive shoppers are women.

Not knowing when to say when while shopping can quickly bring on a whole new set of problems in your life, including debt, feelings of guilt, anxiety over how to pay bills, a sense of losing control and more. How do you know if shopping has become a problem for you?

  • Shopping has become your only way of rewarding yourself.

  • You have an underlying depression or loneliness, and you're spending more and more to make yourself feel better.

  • Shopping (at stores or online) is interfering with your work or relationships.

  • You can't resist going shopping, even when you should be doing something else.

  • You have to spend more and more to enjoy the shopping experience.

  • Your spending has gotten out of control, your credit card debts are high and you don't know how to get out of debt.

Healthy Shopping Tips

Want to be sure that shopping remains a pleasant pastime in your life, and not a source of bankruptcy or financial stress? Use these tips to stay in the clear.

  • Shop only with cash so you can't overspend.

  • Try window shopping -- if you can't resist, leave your wallet at home or only carry a small amount of cash.

  • Stay away from impulse purchases, especially high-priced ones or those that can't be returned.

  • If you find that you spend more than you should when you're with a particular person, avoid shopping with that person.

Recommended Reading


CBS News: Getting High on Shopping

Discovery Health: Shopping as Therapy

Retail Therapy

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