Ask The Therapist: “I am addicted to shopping and have a lot of debts due to that…how do I get rid of this habit?”

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In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I am addicted to shopping and have a lot of debts due to that. My gold is on mortgage as well. How do I get rid of this habit? When I cancel my orders, I regret doing it so much. It’s as though even just colour attracts me. Is this an addiction? And if yes, how can I break out of it?”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

Ah, the shopping addiction phenomenon, one that’s been perpetuated even more in recent years – courtesy of our dear friend the Internet. It’s interesting, isn’t it? That rush of excitement you feel when you carefully select items, place them in your cart and then finally place your order. It’s one that a lot of us can relate to – and it’s certainly something that can be explored and worked on. Let’s get into this further.

The Science and Psychology Of Your Shopping “Addiction”

When it comes to the cycle or pattern of addiction, there is usually one common theme: relief and escape from pain – this pain can be physical or emotional, and it usually starts off in the same way: you’re feeling distressed or hurt in some way, or you’ve had a long, exhausting day, and you’re looking for a way to make yourself feel better, or find some kind of relief. This is when your mind and body seek out ways of coping – now, you’re on your laptop and you find yourself visiting that online shopping site; the excitement builds as you’re perusing through all the different products, adding things to your cart; the pleasure senses in your mind begin to light up and Dopamine, which is the hormone neurotransmitter that makes you feel good, begins to flood your brain in anticipation of a reward. Activities like shopping do provide a great deal of sensory stimulation – there’s a whole psychology behind the use of colors in retail stores/sites – so yes, it’s a strategy that works on many (myself included).

Finally, you checkout and press “submit order” – excited for your new items to arrive in 2-5 business days! After a while, once the excitement dies down, you start thinking about how much you spent, and perhaps might begin to feel regret/shame/guilt. When it comes to those who use shopping as their primary source of relief, the irony is that they will shop again to soothe themselves from the feeling of shame – so, the cycle ends up repeating itself.

When It Becomes A Problem…

Like everything else, things are best done with a certain level of moderation. The occasional splurge is okay, but if you find yourself in a place where you’re spending more than you can afford to, this might become a little problematic as it’ll begin to trickle into other aspects of your life and impact them in a negative way. Some signs that suggest you might have a shopping addiction are:

  • Difficulty fighting off the urge to buy items you don’t need
  • Financial struggles that are the direct result of excessive, compulsive shopping
  • You feel the post shopping “high” 
  • You might begin to hide your shopping sprees from others out of fear of judgement
  • You relate a little too much to Isla Fisher’s character in “Confessions of a Shopaholic” (highly recommend this movie – it’s a feel good/rom-com and sort of relevant here!)

Healing From The Addiction

As stated before, addictions tend to have roots – they’re the painkillers you use to numb out something that already exists. In order to move on from it, it’s recommended to explore your addiction – this can be done through self-reflection, or even with a therapist/counsellor – they can help you explore the patterns of your addiction in a non-judgmental space.

In the meantime, it could also be helpful to stay mindful of whenever you feel the compulsion to shop, take a pause, acknowledge its presence, and redirect it towards something else:

  • Find other ways to satisfy that need for gratification – remember, there is a pay-off from shopping and it’s usually that it makes you feel good, happy, even. The idea is to find other ways to self-soothe. You could choose to go for a run, do something creative, take a nice warm shower or just simply step out for some fresh air. 
  • Alternatively, you might opt to create a budget for yourself for each week or month – giving yourself a set limit on how much you can spend, and sticking with it. 

Anon, it’s difficult to break free of a habit, especially one that feels so rewarding, and I hear that. Probability would suggest that change will not happen overnight, and that’s okay. Take it one step at a time and try your level best to stay as mindful as you can during this process. Be aware of what you’re feeling, when you feel it, and that in itself can be a step towards breaking a habit. I hope that you found this article helpful, and I wish you all the best on the rest of your journey! Take care and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or therapy.

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