Dopamine and shopper’s high: Your wallet’s frenemy?

Stressful day at work? What’s your escape mantra? Cupcakes? Shopping? There’s a high chance you decide to go shopping and also treat yourself to that cupcake. After all when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Buying stuff for yourself cheers you up and gives you that much needed high. If you’ve ever experienced it, welcome to the world of retail therapy where the simple act of browsing window displays, holiday decorations, imported bone china and sparkling Swarovski helps improve your mood magically.

But have you ever wondered if money cannot buy happiness then why does it feel so good when we shop?

It’s your brain! Shopping is steroids for the brain! Shopping seems to trigger the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that gives you a “shopper’s high” which changes your mood, gives you pleasure and makes you feel better.

When you find a great discount on a beautiful dress or a pair of sexy stilettos that will add to the oomph factor, it triggers a release of dopamine.

Your brain’s all lovey Dopey:

Dopamine signals reward. Dopamine is generally released when you experience anything that is new, challenging and exciting and some people find all those things in shopping. That indicates that you are being rewarded. Over time, the brain learns that shopping = pleasure. We learn to make the connection and form new behaviours to reach for the reward again.

When dopamine is released it provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate us to do, or continue doing, certain activities. Dopamine is released by naturally rewarding experiences such as food and sex. Nature pre-programmed this reward system to ensure that people eat, procreate, and basically survive. It was basically nature’s technique to ensure the species does not perish but we redefined the reward system with new rewards arising from shopping, gambling, gaming, cocaine etc and the brain has no clue that these rewards are not important for survival!

The funny fact is – it is the anticipation of purchase and not the actual purchase itself that leads to the dopamine surge. So, the events leading up to the purchase such as window shopping, browsing through the racks, trying on the outfits etc. are the real pleasurable moments. So, if you’re smart and mindful, you could get the high of window shopping without actually burning a hole in your wallet.

Buyer’s remorse?

Like drugs that lead to addiction and remorse, shopper’s high too that can lead to impulsive buying, overspending and buyer’s remorse. The dizziness caused by dopamine high can cause you to go irrational and shop loads of things like clothes, shoes, jewelry etc. which you do not even need or you may not use in the future. The best things you can do to hold yourself from such an impulse purchase is that hold yourself from buying that thing for one day. So, walking away will give you another day to recover from the dopamine surge and think rationally and act sober!

Are men doped as much as women?

Men are more interested and love to treat themselves with latest gadgets, cars, watches, perfumes etc. and women end up buying clothes, shoes, handbags and make up for themselves. Even browsing or window shopping about the latest trends and design of these things leave men and women on a high and with a plethora of online shops, we might just end up buying this stuff. Research found that people found shopping online and waiting for the stuff to arrive induced a dopamine high! So, dopamine is kinda out there to empty your wallets!

What to do about it?

Unfortunately, getting rid of dopamine is not a solution. We’re better off dead than go through dopamine depletion. So, let’s look at some realistic tips to avoid binge or impulsive shopping:

  • Postpone purchasing by a day: Like we said earlier, if you can manage this, you get the best of both worlds. The high of the dopamine and the elimination of buyer’s remorse. Can’t get better than this!
  • Be serious about your finances: Go through your current expenses in details and breakup all expenses. It will give you an idea where you are spending unnecessarily and then chalk out a plan about how you want to spend your salary in future and how much you want to save from it in future. Also, make sure that you stick to your budget in future.
  • Throw away your credit cards: Do not use credit cards for any purchases. Only use cash or debit card. When you shop using credit cards you do not realize how much money you are left with and you end up spending more than you have and there are millions of people trapped in serious credit card debt.
  • Try to avoid temptations: If you know that if you go to that particular store or shop and you will end up over spending then it is better to avoid going to that store altogether. Avoiding temptations altogether is a wonderful solution.
  • Find healthy alternatives: You should try and engage yourself in some other healthy activity when you feel bored or you have a bad mood due to rough day. It can be anything like reading your favorite novel, playing some sport, watching a romcom, calling up a friend, a walk in the park etc. that can cheer you up.
  • Get some help: If you’re seriously addicted to shopping, there is no shame in getting help from some friend or family or professional. Open up about your problem and seek help. You can also ask someone from family or friend whom you can trust to manage your finances for some time.

We’ll leave you with these tips, hoping this knowledge helps you better understand all that shopping high and stay in control of your wallets.

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Anika Jindal

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