Retail Therapy To Regret: Is Online Shopping Damaging Mental Health?

Online shopping, once hailed as a convenient and time-saving solution, has morphed into a double-edged sword for mental health. What started as a way to de-stress and indulge in "retail therapy" has become a breeding ground for anxiety and compulsive spending.

Aastha Tiwari
New Update
Creator: Oscar Wong  |  Credit: Oscar Wong—Getty Images

Image: Credit: Oscar Wong—Getty Images

I spent an enormous amount of time on online shopping applications for my sister's wedding recently. Restlessly scrolling through a bedlam of options, ensuring I got “the best” was in no way satisfying but simply exhausting. I love shopping, and online shopping just makes it all easy for me. Laying on my bed, scrolling through various options, picking the best(if we ever do), it’s cathartic. But, slowly my journey with online shopping has moved from it being “retail therapy” to “retail regret.”


Online Shopping: A Double-Edged Sword

The same options are no longer a source of joy, they bring stress. Even if I land on the best Haldi outfit, I can’t place an order because of the ‘what if’. What if there’s a better one? What if I can get it in a better deal? What if, What if, What if. What makes it worse is when we don’t find the better one, the better deal, and lose what we had. Then, we feel a different kind of regret. Ugh!

Online shopping, once hailed as a convenient and time-saving solution, has morphed into a double-edged sword for our mental health. What started as a way to de-stress and indulge in a little "retail therapy" has become a breeding ground for anxiety, depression, and compulsive spending. We are conditioned to believe that happiness can be purchased with a click, leading us down a rabbit hole of instant gratification that leaves us feeling empty and dissatisfied.

The allure of online shopping lies in its accessibility and dopamine-fueled instant gratification. The ease of browsing countless options from the comfort of our homes, coupled with persuasive marketing tactics, creates a potent cocktail that triggers the reward centres in our brains. Every "add to cart" notification releases a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation. This creates a cycle of seeking that initial rush, leading to impulsive purchases that often fail to deliver lasting happiness.

Furthermore, the curated perfection showcased online creates a distorted reality. Social media influencers and meticulously staged product photos paint an unrealistic picture, fostering feelings of inadequacy and a desire to keep up with the latest trends. This constant bombardment with "perfect" lifestyles fuels feelings of envy and dissatisfaction with our possessions, pushing us to chase the next shiny object in the hope of achieving happiness that remains perpetually out of reach.

The financial strain of online shopping only exacerbates the problem. The illusion of control fostered by "one-click" buying and the ease of accumulating digital debt can lead to overspending. This financial burden creates anxiety and stress, negating any temporary happiness derived from the initial purchase. The cycle continues as we seek retail therapy to cope with the emotional fallout of our shopping habits.


The curated feeds and targeted algorithms online retailers employ further exploit our vulnerabilities. They track our browsing history and purchase patterns, bombarding us with personalized recommendations that tap into our desires and insecurities. This constant barrage weakens our willpower and makes it harder to resist impulse purchases.

However, the responsibility doesn't solely lie with online retailers. We must acknowledge our role in perpetuating this cycle. The constant need for instant gratification, fueled by social pressures and a culture of consumerism, makes us susceptible to the manipulative tactics employed online.

We need to break free from this shopping spree of sadness. I mean, I can prescribe you a list of anecdotes and be like: practice mindful consumption, have a no-buy month, set shopping boundaries, etc etc etc. But, who are we kidding? You ain’t gonna listen to me. You will still keep wishlisting and adding stuff to the cart that’s supposed to deliver happiness but in a very gaslighting manner, serving you a tad bit of sadness and a lot to overthink about.

Views expressed are the author's own.

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