This article is meant to apply to holiday shopping that's within your financial means. We recognize that shopping addiction affects some Americans. If you find yourself compulsively buying beyond your means, we encourage you to read more about symptoms and treatment options here.
With Black Friday just around the corner, the scramble of holiday shopping is inching closer. The holiday season can be a stressful time and adding a list of people to shop for certainly doesn’t make it easier.
That said, gift giving during the holidays can actually be a wonderful way to get a mental boost.
We’ve all heard of retail therapy — the behavior of spending money in order to boost your mood when you’re feeling low. And while typically retail therapy is meant to relate to buying for yourself, the same principles can be applied to gift giving during the holidays.
Research has shown retail therapy has positive, lasting impacts on mood.
In fact, Business Wire released a survey that showed that more than half of Americans engage in retail therapy with the goal to improve their mood.
“In my most recent consumer interviews, online shopping is increasingly mentioned as [a] type of mini mental vacation,” Dr. Kit Yarrow writes in Psychology Today.
Here are five tips for getting the most benefit out of holiday shopping for others, as well as sneaking in a few treats for yourself.
1. Think of researching the perfect gift as an opportunity to show gratitude
So much of the stress of gift giving comes from trying to figure out what someone else wants or needs.
Yet, taking the time to do the research to find out what your loved ones really want will add another level of joy when you finally track that item (or experience) down. And watching their expression when they find out is the cherry on top.
“Giving gifts with love and gratitude make it more rewarding for both the giver and receiver. When planning your holiday shopping, think about the person receiving the gift. What could you give that will express your love and appreciation for them? What would they be excited to receive, which would in return be rewarding for you to give?” asks Anna Poss, LCPC, a therapist based in Chicago.
“Gift giving is less stressful when you think about it as an opportunity to treat someone you care for, rather than as a chore,” Poss adds.
2. Buy time — or an experience — for lasting well-being
Giving a gift that frees up your loved ones’ time to do things they enjoy is a great way to sidestep the guessing game of what kind of gift they want.
Think about the chores that people need to do to get through the day, and if there’s a way you can give a gift that can make their day a little bit easier.
“If you give someone a gift like a house cleaning or yard service, the time they save from having to do unpleasant chores themselves can be spent on activities that are more enjoyable, providing a significant, long-lasting boost to their well-being,” says Tim Bono, PhD, assistant dean and lecturer in psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
Giving truly is better than receiving for mental health. Your mood is also likely to lift if you spend their newly found free time with them.
3. Set a realistic budget to squash money stress
The idea of spending money during the holidays can be such a stressor that it adds an unnecessary level of anxiety to the experience.
Setting a budget keeps shoppers in check, knowing that they’ll be spending exactly what they feel comfortable with.
A budget alleviates much of the financial stress the can emerge during this time of year.
“Financial stress is one of the biggest causes around holiday anxiety. Setting a budget and not waiting until the last minute to shop will help prevent this stress and make the process more enjoyable,” says Poss.
Julie Fanning, LCSW, suggests making something. “Your mom might not want a macaroni necklace you make today, but would love a collage frame of special moments between the two of you. What about a hand-painted ornament or DIY picture coasters? You will get a boost and feel accomplished, and the recipient will love your thoughtfulness.”
4. Seek the thrill — and distraction from stress — of a great bargain
Half the pleasure of shopping comes from the research.
A Hawk Incentives survey reported that 97 percent of those surveyed answered yes when asked if they look for deals when shopping. The research shows that 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel smart when they find the best deals.
Nothing like a surge of self-confidence to improve your mood, right?
“Shopping can have certain therapeutic benefits, especially as it can act as a distraction from real-life stressors. When coupled with an additional activity, such as bargain hunting, it can act as a double distraction,” says Scott Krakower, DO, assistant unit chief at Zucker Hillside Hospital.
5. Shop online to avoid anxiety and stress
If the idea of hitting the stores with the rest of bargain-hungry shoppers feels like sensory overload, the easiest way to combat that anxiety is to shop online.
Shopping from the privacy of your home in your pajamas with a cup of tea can be downright relaxing.
“The holiday shopping crowds can be overwhelming for anybody. For my clients living with anxiety and depression, the fear of facing them can be debilitating. If holiday crowds are stressful for you, shop online and avoid the chaos completely,” says Poss.
Other tips? Avoid shopping at peak times like the weekends. Make a date with a friend to shop.
Or make it an experience for yourself, like adding in a nice lunch or a manicure. Adding in activities that you enjoy personally can make the experience overall less stressful, and maybe even downright fun.
Meagan Drillinger is a travel and wellness writer. Her focus is on making the most out of experiential travel while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Her writing has appeared in Thrillist, Men’s Health, Travel Weekly, and Time Out New York, among others. Visit her blog or Instagram.