Can Holiday Shopping Cause Mental Illness?

written by Skye Sherman - Jan 22, 2024

Photo Credit: by,
Photo Credit: by,

A potential dark side lurks beneath the sparkly lights, cheerful carols, and festive activities of the holidays, and that’s the serious toll that holiday shopping can take on mental health.

As the pressure to find the perfect gifts, navigate crowded stores, and manage an already tight budget intensifies, many people find themselves battling mental illness during what should be a joyful time of year. While holiday shopping may seem innocent and harmless, it can lead to depression and anxiety or even trigger a schizophrenic episode.

Read on to learn more about how holiday shopping can trigger mental illness and what you can do about it.

How can holiday shopping lead to mental illness?

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, merriment, and cheer. But if you’re feeling anything but happy in the heart of this season, you’re not alone.

There are many ways that holiday shopping can be a trigger for mental illness, whether it’s an underlying mental condition or a new development. Many people experience depression, anxiety, or worse during the holidays.

One of the biggest ways holiday shopping can lead to poor mental outcomes is financial stress. Giving gifts and hosting and attending parties and events for weeks straight can carry a financial burden. There’s a lot of relational pressure and social expectations to spend money you may or may not have.

Plus, overspending or even debt can lead to major anxiety about your finances, putting a major damper on what is supposed to be a joyous, festive time of year.

When it comes to spending on holiday shopping, if you feel like you can’t stop, this can be known as compulsive shopping disorder or compulsive buying. The CPTSD Foundation reports, “Compulsive buying disorder (CBD) occurs when someone has an uncontrollable need to shop and spend, leading to distress or impairment. CBD negatively affects not only the person doing the shopping but also those around them as money is often spent that they do not have.”

Disorders associated with CBD include mood disorders, anxiety, poor impulse control, substance use disorders, eating disorders, and more.

Schizophrenia can also be triggered by holiday shopping. As BrightQuest Treatment Centers puts it, “For someone trying to manage schizophrenia episodes and symptoms, the holidays present so many triggers to thwart that control… Stress leads to the production of cortisol, a hormone. This, in turn, can trigger episodes of schizophrenia.”

Minimizing or avoiding stressors, keeping to routines, avoiding alcohol, and seeking support from family and friends can be extremely helpful in warding off an episode.

On top of the financial pressures of holiday shopping, there’s the hustle and bustle with unrealistic demands on your time and schedule. Trying to balance your normal routine of school or work, social events, eating, and sleeping with the added stress of shopping for your family and friends leaves you with less time than ever.

You may not even have time for your usual healthy routine activities like self-care, eating well, exercising, and getting adequate sleep. Exhaustion can trigger mental episodes and leave you feeling ragged, down, and worn out.

Then you have to consider the physical act of holiday shopping, which may involve crowded stores, overstimulating malls, long lines, rude customers, frustrated clerks, and being on alert for the perfect gift.

Add to that time crunches, feeling overcommitted, and the overall heightened stress levels and it’s a wonder why we bother calling the holidays a celebration year after year! It’s no wonder people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders have a hard time during the holidays.

There are also a lot of expectations placed on ourselves and others to create the perfect holiday experience and make everybody happy all the time. The unending pressure can contribute to feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, stress, frustration, and sadness.

Luckily, there are healthy ways and easy tips to manage this typically disruptive time of year. You can approach the holiday season with a warm embrace rather than dread if you learn to shop smart and balance your time well.

Make a list of smart holiday shopping tips (and check it twice)

Looking for a list of how to shop smart this holiday season? Give yourself the gift of peace and mental wellbeing by following these steps for a smarter, happier holiday shopping season:

1. Budget wisely: Set a budget for holiday spending that’s both realistic and wise, and stick to it. Create a list of all anticipated expenses, including gifts, decorations, festive meals, travel, and more. This will help you avoid overspending and alleviate financial stress, which can really detract from your overall wellness.

2. Plan ahead: One of the best tips for getting on top of it is getting ahead. Start your holiday shopping early to avoid the last-minute rush. A good rule of thumb is that you should be finishing up your shopping list with the big-ticket items on Black Friday. Save the expensive purchases for this discount deal day and you’ll also save yourself a bit of financial stress, too.

3. Shop year round: This is a great rule of thumb that will also help you gift items that the recipients truly love. As you see items that someone may love throughout the year, buy them! Start a small “present closet” or a box you keep under your bed, where you store the gifts you buy for people as inspiration strikes. This also spreads the gifting costs out all year long, which can be more manageable on your wallet.

Plus, shopping early gives you plenty of time to be thoughtful and avoid piling procrastination onto the stress pile. If you buy gifts that your friends and family will love as you come across them, there’s no need to rack your brain and try to buy them something they can merely live with.

You’ll earn a reputation as a thoughtful gift-giver, be able to take advantage of sales, limit your stress levels, and find unique items that people really love, because they didn’t come from a desperate place of looking around trying to find something. Try it starting now.

4. Embrace the gift of presence: Consider alternatives to traditional gift-giving, such as gifting experiences or quality time spent together. This can alleviate the financial strain and focus on the true spirit of the season.

Plus, you don’t have to skip out on the fun of wrapping and present-opening. You can print out a picture of the experience or wrap up a gift card. You could even have fun with it: for example, wrap a basket with movie tickets, popcorn, movie snacks, candy, and other items for a fun movie date with a loved one. For many, this is more enjoyable than some big overpriced present, and it’s lighter on your wallet, too.

5. Shop online: Avoid crowded stores (which can also spread disease!) by exploring your online shopping options. Many retailers offer exclusive online deals, and the convenience of having items delivered to your doorstep can save time, energy, hassle, and more.

6. Prioritize self-care: Make time for relaxation, exercise, and activities that bring you joy. Taking care of your mental and physical well-being is crucial during this potentially stressful time and will help you love the people around you better.

7. Learn to say no: Recognize your limits and don’t be afraid to decline invitations or commitments that may contribute to feelings of overwhelm. Prioritize your mental health and well-being with your schedule.

8. Seek support: If you find the holiday season particularly challenging or find yourself sinking into despair, reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional. Sharing your feelings can provide emotional support and help alleviate the burden of stress and anxiety.

In some cases, a doctor may also feel it appropriate to prescribe drugs like Lexapro, Effexor XR, or Rexulti. Always consult with a health professional before starting any type of treatment with prescription medication.

Share your tips for staying sane through the holidays

Do you have your own tips and strategies for a stress-free holiday season?

Whether it’s a unique gift-giving idea, a self-care ritual, a holiday shopping philosophy, or a mindful approach to the season, share what you’ve learned about how to stay happy, healthy, and well in the thick of the holiday hubbub.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.