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Shopping My Worries Away: Retail Therapy As College Students

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

As midterms came and went, I, like many, feel as if I need another break to process any lingering anxiety from test-taking nerves. During such a stressful time in a student’s life, it is normal to find some distractions to ease your mind. 

Whether it be watching TV or scrolling through TikTok, for a shopaholic like myself, online shopping is my weakness. The hours I can spend scrolling through the Zara website looking for new clothes rather than studying is a regrettable yet self-justified choice at the same time. 

This, however, got me thinking. I have heard the term “retail therapy” probably ever since I’ve been shopping for myself. Now that I’m experiencing increased hyper-awareness of my own mental health and anxiety, I wonder if shopping the worries away is a healthy coping mechanism to rely on. 

Many studies surrounding this mood-boosting phenomenon have been conducted, and lots of scientists and healthcare professionals have varying opinions. 

Dipping into your wallet, especially as a college student, is usually done with caution — especially in this economy, babes! But sometimes, the little extra dopamine boost I get from buying that one item I’ve had my eye on is something I look forward to and work towards for a good feeling. 

Clinical psychologist Dr. Scott Bea says in a Cleveland Clinic article, “Research suggests there’s actually a lot of psychological and therapeutic value when you’re shopping — if done in moderation, of course.” He suggests that because shopping can restore a sense of control within our lives, this is why people turn to this method as their form of self-wellness.  

After taking exams, there’s this looming uncertainty about your performance; one that can stick around for weeks. So when you order something online and finally make that purchase, the anticipation is guaranteed to be positive, creating a sense of satisfaction.

If you’re like me, sometimes even window shopping fulfills that small need of purchase fantasies without the actual purchasing aspect. Dr. Bea pegs an interesting concept, “Ever fill up an online cart but abandon it because you already feel relatively satisfied?”

Healthline suggests that while gaining the physical product may increase dopamine levels, the buying journey a consumer goes through may raise them even higher. And on the plus side, you have less to lose financially.

Now obviously, there is such a thing as overspending — trust me, I am more than aware of this. An article published by Psychology Today explained how online shopping has become increasingly more utilized as a type of “mini-mental vacation” rather than any other visual content. My shopping cart icon remains full on multiple websites at all times; however, if spending is one thing, sometimes saving up for something is therapeutic and self-soothing. Making big or extravagant gifts for myself gives me a sense of accomplishment and achievement, contributing to my self-confidence and self-fulfillment.

This is an important message to spread amongst people of our age group because it teaches a valuable life skill. Working hard for yourself and for the things you want doesn’t have to apply to buying that Aritzia bodysuit you like but also to fulfilling future aspirations as well. 

There is no shame in some retail therapy from time to time, but as always, it is important to understand and be aware of what we need to resolve personal issues as they come forward. Go out and “treat yo self” in the ways that work for you! 

💸 Related: “Retail Therapy” Is Not the Answer — How to Be Smart With Your Money and *Still* Treat Yourself
Isabella Deiulis

Toronto MU '26

Isabella Deiulis is a Creative Industries major at Toronto Metropolitan University and JE/writer for Her Campus. Living in Toronto her entire life, she hopes to share all stylish things about the city she calls home. She writes her perspective on fashion, lifestyle, and culture. When she's not writing for HC, she is probably out compulsively shopping or hanging out with her two kittens, Lady and Louis❣️ Find her on instagram, @isabella.dei🍸