What your shopping habits reveal about your mental health

What your shopping habits reveal about your mental health

It’s not every day you hear about shopping habits being linked to the state of your mental health. Yet, as part of their month-long awareness campaign, the organisation Mental Health America has done just that; they’re highlighting shopping habits as one among other behaviours that either exacerbate existing mental issues or are themselves signs of mental illness.

This is as relevant as ever, as the stats show that the gigantic retail sector contributes sizeable percentages to developed countries’ overall GDP. I won’t bore you with the precise figures, but we’re talking about consumers spending trillions of dollars (yes, with a ‘T’) on retail purchases every year. And, with internet-based shopping reaching dizzying new heights, (think shopping on the go thanks to smarter-than-ever phones), the trend of increasing sales will likely not slow down any time soon. Even more fascinating are the findings of a recent PWC report that the influence of social media on shopping habits is becoming stronger by the minute, with a high proportion of consumers surveyed reporting that they shopped online directly through a social media channel.

Where to draw the line

Now, stay with me here; I am by no means bashing a love of shopping- in fact, I’d be the first to tell you that shopping is indeed one of my favourite hobbies (don’t trust anyone who denies loving a little retail therapy now and then). But what we need to consider are: what place shopping holds in our lives, how influenced we are by our desire to shop and to what lengths we will go to have the ‘latest and greatest’. In other words, some introspection is warranted to determine what our primary motive is, the emotions attached to these experiences, and if we are going to extremes in our buying behaviours.

The real danger lies in compulsive buying, which has been defined essentially as an unbridled desire to shop, involving copious amounts of time and money. The key driver for a compulsive shopper is… you guessed it: negative emotions. Sadly, this habit does little to soothe the bad emotions but does have terrible consequences on one’s finances (accumulation of debt), which in turn leads to guilt, depression, ruined relationships with family and friends, and even suicide.

How big is the problem?

In recent years, the concept of what’s been casually referred to in the past as a ‘shopping addiction’ has gained traction in the scientific community in being treated as a real problem, a disorder, in fact. One study cited in the American Journal of Psychiatry reports that nearly 6% of Americans suffer from Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD). To contextualise that a bit, that translates to over 19 million people, in just one country! That’s got your attention, now hasn’t it?

How is Compulsive Buying Disorder linked to mental health?

Nevertheless, you may wonder if CBD should really be spoken of in terms of mental illness. Well, research has shown that compulsive buying is often motivated by feelings of low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Some experts even categorise compulsive buying as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. What’s more, people who have CBD frequently also exhibit traits of other mental illnesses like anxiety and mood disorders, ADHD, eating disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Take the Quiz

Now to the fun part! Here’s a short quiz to help you gauge whether you might have CBD:

  • I have to spend every last bit of my paycheck. If I’m almost at payday, and have money left from the last one, I take that as a sign from the universe that I should go shopping.
  • If others knew how much I spent, I can picture their looks of shock and judgement.
  • I buy things I can’t afford.
  • I overdraw my bank account buying things I don’t really need.
  • I max out my credit cards regularly, and I only pay the minimum on them.
  • The process of buying things makes me feel better, almost like I’m on a high.
  • I’m sad when the shopping experience is over and get a serious case of buyer’s remorse. I feel guilty and disappointed in myself.
  • I feel anxious on days when I feel the urge to go shopping but I can’t.

If you agree to most of the above statements, you should consider getting some help. Many who have suffered from this disorder have found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps. Others benefit from being in support groups which hold regular meetings and have programmes designed to help CBD sufferers (see www.debtorsanonymous.org for more information on this). Alternatively, if you feel like you might have this trait, but it’s not very serious at the moment, you could use self-help books and accountability to a trusted friend as tools to nip it in the bud.

Here's the point

The bottom line is, the proliferation of clever advertisement and social media darlings in snazzy outfits have the potential to lure us into unhealthy buying habits; we need to be careful. After all, ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ is not worth putting our mental, emotional and financial wellbeing at risk. If you think you need help, don’t be afraid to seek it. 

Comments as to how useful you found this article to be are welcome below, as always.