Lifestyle Mindfulness

Retail Therapy: An Unhelpful Way to Manage Emotions

The day following our celebration of “thanks,” my family experienced the loss of a loved one this holiday season.  Instead of jumping straight into Christmas bliss, I found myself on an unexpected, last-minute trip home to WI to attend my Grandpa’s funeral and spend time with my family the week following Thanksgiving.

I wasn’t particularly close with my Grandpa; nevertheless, I was not immune to the emotional hangover one experiences as one ingests the finality of death.  The mourning of family connections that had grown distant over time and the reliving of childhood memories that had remained dormant for many years only added to the grief my internal world was attempting to process.

After an emotional five days in WI, an early morning departure, a flight connection, and a long 10 hour travel day, the moment I caught sight of my building through the rain-streaked windows of my Lyft carpool ride, my soul breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  I grabbed my suitcase, waved “thanks” to the driver, and proceeded to stumble up the multiple flights of stairs leading to our apartment, luggage in tow.  The effort seemed like no feat at all, as I was spurred on by the anticipation of the comfort and familiarity of “home sweet home.”

My peace was quickly replaced with a sinking sense of dread as I turned the corner of the last flight of stairs and was greeted by box upon box upon box on my doorstep.  Immediately, a tightening anxiety in my chest and a punch of guilt to my gut had me plummeting down deep into the shadowy crevices of my inner-world.

Shoot.  It happened again. 

Despite my well-intentioned efforts to abstain from the commercialization of Christmas and remain mindful amongst the holiday hustle and bustle, I still found myself victim to the crafty, well-played marketing of retailers this holiday season.  The unexpected life event of my Grandpa’s passing and the resulting grief had caused me to be more susceptible to the enticing messages that bombarded my email inbox and played on my vulnerabilities to create a yearn for things I did not yet have.

My unconscious desire to add happiness and remove painful emotions left me turning to a source that could not deliver on its promises to fill me up with lasting contentment.

While the retail therapy had indeed provided an outlet to numb my troubled emotions, the relief was but temporary.  The feelings from which I was attempting to flee had not vanished: rather, they remained dormant, lurking expectantly in the shadows, waiting for the next emotional trigger or opportunity for my defenses to be down, allowing them to escape.

In my past, uncomfortable emotions, such as grief, were avoided at all cost.  I falsely believed that if I numbed myself to the emotions I labeled as “bad” and sought to replace such “bad” emotions with “good” ones (such as joy, happiness, and excitement), the result would be a happier life.  What I didn’t realize, was that my numbing of emotions was not a selective undertaking.  By numbing myself to uncomfortable emotions – those I ran from – in turn, I began to numb myself to all emotions…including those I most enjoyed.

Over time, I’ve learned that there are no “bad” emotions.  There are certainly some that are more uncomfortable to experience, at least at first.  But, even those hardest for me to weather through have become easier to experience over time, and I’ve also found that all emotions are incredibly helpful and full of wisdom.  Instead of listening to the fear encouraging me to flee from those often labeled as “bad” emotions (such as grief, anger, sadness, and anxiety), from experience, I can now see the importance of “feeling the feels” and searching for the underlying information my soul is trying to communicate to me through such emotions.

After dumping off my luggage and dragging the embarrassing number of boxes into my apartment, I opened the packages to unveil the spoils of my commercial endeavors.  I won’t bore you with the details of the contents of those boxes.  That’s really not all that important (and to be honest, most items ended up going back anyway!).

However, I did gain some valuable insights and lessons as a result of my self-reflection and self-examination regarding the purchases made and the underlying emotions that led to the gray cloud of “icky” that enveloped me as soon as I saw the tower of packages awaiting me on my doorstep upon my arrival back home.  From experience, I knew the “yuck” I felt was an indication that there were underlying emotions and feelings I needed to unpack and process in order to gain understanding and emotional awareness.

There were many layers of emotions through which I needed to dig; however, my efforts in intentional reflection unearthed some helpful information.  Some of the take-aways include:

  • I had some grief that needed to be worked through, and there was no amount of retail therapy that could extinguish that pain.
  • There was not a timetable for my grief: it was going to take as long as it needed to take for me to work through the various emotions that arose as a result of processing through the loss of my Grandfather and finality of death, mourning the absence of certain family relationships, and recalling difficult childhood memories.  While dealing with painful emotions is difficult; it’s necessary, and this process is not to be rushed. And also, the grief will not last forever: as with any emotions, the grief will subside once its done its job.
  • My most recent retail slip-up did not mean my goal for a more “mindful” holiday season was an utter failure.  Sure, it was a slip-up; but one that could be corrected and reframed as an opportunity to help me bring more mindfulness going forward.
  • The recent event also highlighted how bringing awareness to feelings is incredibly important.  Had I not slowed down to reflect on the guilt and shame I experienced from seeing the startling number of boxes on my doorstep, I would have not been able to uncover some of the underlying emotions that had caused me to mask my grief with sparkly, new possessions.  I may have also found myself in an ongoing cycle of retail numbing: making purchases to mask unwanted pain, resulting in additional guilt/shame, which would inevitably leave me on the hunt for another way to salve my conscious (which ironically, could end up including yet another retail conquest).

My latest “retail therapy session” at first caused me to experience guilt and shame; however, as I processed through the ordeal and welcomed in self-compassion (instead of judgment), I was able to reframe the incident as a learning experience.  In turn, what it has resulted in is increased awareness to my internal world, additional mindfulness in subsequent (and future) purchasing decisions, and a heightened desire to remain focused on the true meaning of Christmas and fight against the holiday craze that can be incredibly intoxicating this time of year.

After reflecting on how I want to spend the remaining portion of 2018, it inspired me to come up with a list of mindfulness principles I wanted to implement throughout the holiday season to encourage more mindfulness and fight against the “Holiday Craze.”

By doing so, my aim is to keep my eyes set on the “Reason for the Season” and avoid any additional mindless slip-ups (retail or otherwise).

In the coming days, I’ll be sharing these “mindfulness principles” to help encourage a more meaningful, relaxing holiday and avoid being ensnared by mindless consumerism and the blinding craze of holiday stress.  Hopefully the mindful tidbits I will be sharing with you will help you bring more mindfulness and experience more peace and calm during your holidays as well.

I’ll be releasing a new blog post that dives into the mindfulness strategies in more detail, and will be releasing one tip per day on social media.  Stay tuned for more on this in the coming days.

Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  🙂

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