15 Ways to Deal With Emotions Without Retail Therapy

retail therapy

“I’m so messed up. I’m going out for a little retail therapy. Wanna come?” So began a recent conversation with my neighbor. I’ll admit that she’s got every reason to be upset: Her kids are in trouble, there are financial problems in her house, her job is a mess, and her relatives are the sort of people that give “family” a bad name. Add to that she just had two deaths in the family. That’s a lot of emotional baggage to be carrying around and I feel for her.

Her answer to all of this was to go for a little retail therapy. I declined her invitation. Sure, I could be supportive, but I’d rather listen to her talk about it on a walk than watch her blow money she doesn’t have (remember there are financial problems, here). I did see her unloading her car when she got home and it didn’t look like she’d done a “little” retail therapy. She’d done a lot of retail therapy. Bags from stores that I know are in two different malls came out of the car, along with a couple from some free-standing stores. I didn’t say anything, but I’m thinking that she’s got to find a better way to deal with all of her emotions, especially since part of the problem is already financial.

Last year another woman that I know lost her husband. If there was ever an excuse for going off the emotional rails, that was it. But she handled it with grace and no shopping. She could have gone on a shopping binge as she was well provided for financially, but she chose to find other ways to deal with her grief. There are plenty of alternatives to retail therapy that will be better for both you and your wallet in the long run. They aren’t as easy as heading to the local mall, but there are more rewarding. Here are some ideas.

Low cost counseling

If your problems aren’t severe or physical in nature, you might be able to get some help via non-traditional therapy sources such as church groups, helplines, and support groups.


Writing about your problems can be a great way to see them in a new light and come up with solutions. If it’s not the sort of problem that can be “solved,” journaling can still be a great way for you to vent some emotions in a safe and nonjudgmental atmosphere.


Volunteering is a positive thing to do. It can make you feel better about yourself and others, and it gives you a chance to be out amongst other positive people. The work can be distracting, too. Pick a cause that’s meaningful to you and spend some time helping.


It’s well known that exercise reduces stress and releases feel-good endorphins into your bloodstream. You don’t have to overdo it, either. A simple walk will do, but if you’ve got some rage to work off, you can look into things like boxing or martial arts.

Get out in nature

Sunshine is a great mood lifter. For many people, the natural world can be soothing. Go for a walk in your local park or even take a walk in your neighborhood. If you live close to a place like a lake, the beach, or the mountains, those can be wonderful, too. Take up gardening if you want some solid outdoor exercise. Get out of the artificially lit gym and go outside. (Wear sunscreen to protect yourself, though.)

Distract yourself

Some people deal with emotions best when they don’t think about what’s bothering them. That’s sort of the idea behind retail therapy. But there are plenty of free and low cost distractions to be had. Rent some DVD’s or watch some old favorites you already own. Work a jigsaw puzzle, play a board game (there are even solo games available if you don’t have company to play with), go to a museum or free concert, work on some hobbies or crafts, or take a class in something that interests you.


Being a workaholic may not be ideal, but there are some people who find work to be a great emotional outlet and distraction. If this is you, have at it. Just be careful not to cross the line from “Hey, this is helpful,” over into, “All I ever do is work and I hate it.”

Just be

Sometimes you just have to simply “be” to deal with whatever’s bothering you. Sit quietly, think through the problem, meditate, or pray. If you can find a way to go on an inexpensive retreat for a few days, that might be helpful.

Listen to music

Many people find that music can help soothe their emotions. Sometimes you may want some metal screaming through your head and other days you may want some soothing classical or New Age melodies. When you need a lift, bubble-gum pop or music that you remember positively from your younger days may work.

Be with people

Some people deal with emotions best when they are surrounded by friends or family. Sympathetic listeners or fun people can be helpful.

Be alone

Other people do best when left alone. If you don’t want to be around people, don’t feel like you have to accept any invitations, no matter how well-meaning. You can simply say, “No thanks. I’d rather be alone right now.” Only the most insensitive jerks will be offended by that.

Find comfort in rituals

Sometimes, during periods of stress or grief, it’s tempting to skip things like birthday/anniversary celebrations and holidays. But this may be a mistake. There can be comfort and relief in observing traditions, even if they seem painful at first (think putting up a Christmas tree after the death of a loved one). It can be hard to get started, but many people find they’re glad they went ahead with it in the end.


You can read fiction to “take you away from it all,” or you can read non-fiction that’s uplifting or somehow related to your problems. The self-help aisle at the library can be full of quackery, but there are also some gems in there that might be helpful.

Don’t make it worse

Whatever you’re going through is bad enough. You don’t need to compound the problem by watching sensationalist news stories designed to scare you to death. You don’t need to participate in conversations with people whose sole mission in life seems to be to work you up into a frenzy or to depress you further. (You know the people I’m talking about. They’re the ones who say they want to help you, but they really want you to dish the dirt or wallow in misery with them.) Surround yourself with positive people and messages and eliminate the negatives.

Get a checkup

If your problems persist, go get a physical. Sometimes what seem like emotional issues are really physical issues like vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disorders, food allergies/intolerances, or hormone imbalances. Many problems are easy to fix with medication or dietary/lifestyle changes, once you know what’s going on. But you have to figure it out, first, and a doctor can help.

Of course, if you need more help than this, by all means go to see a licensed professional and get medication if the doctor thinks you need it. Sometimes emotional issues are a medical problem in the brain and all the exercise, journaling, and distractions in the world won’t fix it. But even if you end up having to see a doctor, that’s a far better use of your money than heading to the mall to buy a bunch of crap you don’t need.

(Photo courtesy of Dragonleek)

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4 Responses to 15 Ways to Deal With Emotions Without Retail Therapy

  1. Frugal Girl says:

    Yup, agreed.

  2. jim says:

    Good advice!

  3. Linda says:

    First time I heard of retail therapy. Now I understand what I was doing for a long time. But, when I joined the gym it was one of the best thing I’ve done for myself. You can’t swim and shop at the same time. lol

  4. Mike says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    These are good tips in dealing with emotional issues. Exercise is helpful. It can relieve people of stress. being with people who will sympathize with your problems can also be of help.

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