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Studies Link High Stress Levels with an Increased Urge to Spend — Here’s How to Fight Those Costly Impulses

Studies Link High Stress Levels With An Increased Urge To Spend
Ray FitzGerald

Written by: Ray FitzGerald

Ray FitzGerald
Ray FitzGerald

Ray Fitzgerald has more than a decade of journalism experience, writing for national media outlets, including the Miami Herald and Investment Times. Ray is passionate about traditional and alternative investment strategies, but most enjoys sharing creative ways to budget and save money. Ray has personally written about hundreds of credit card offers from banks and credit unions across America and enjoys helping people find the best cards and rewards programs for their specific spending needs.

Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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In a Nutshell: Studies have found a common link between stress and diversion spending — that’s where consumers buy things they don’t necessarily need to lessen the effects of what’s bothering them. Diversion spending can increase debt, cause feelings of regret later, and increase stress levels even further when the purchase bills are due. To help negate the effects of stress on one’s body and mind, Raizelah Bayen, Spa Services Manager at Osmosis Day Spa in Freestone, California, provided us with three helpful exercises for consumers to control stress — including deep breathing, stretching exercises, and taking a moment to give your brain a break. //

After a recent stressful day, I found myself taking a different route home from work to grab some ice cream. I figured after the day I’d had, I deserved a treat.

While a little dessert is likely to hurt my waistline more than my bottom line, the use of retail therapy to cure stress isn’t a new phenomenon.

Studies show that increased levels of stress can have various impacts on consumer spending. While some people may opt to put more money into savings for better days, others were shown to have increased spending tendencies during tough times.

Those who spend more have varying reasons for doing so. A majority of consumers studied purchased items they deemed necessary, but an increase in impulse spending caused other consumers to find any means to justify what they bought — from simply saying “I wanted it,” to finding ways to make the purchase seem more necessary than what it was.

Osmosis Day Spa LogoThe process is referred to by psychologists as diversion buying — spending money on things you normally wouldn’t in an attempt to take your mind off the things bothering you. The practice was shown to cause future regret in many consumers and add to financial troubles in others, which only increased stress levels.

I recently talked to Raizelah Bayen, Spa Services Manager at Osmosis Day Spa in Freestone, California, for ideas on how consumers, including myself, can reduce their stress levels. She also shared her thoughts on the damaging effects that stress can have beyond its impact on bank accounts.

“There have been a lot of studies done that show how stress lowers immunity,” she said. “Once your immune system is lowered, then you become susceptible to illness or disease. It can affect the health of the heart, especially if it’s prolonged stress over time.”

Spending Under Stress Gives Consumers a Sense of Control

Most of the studies conducted on the correlation between stress and spending show that diversion buyers make purchases to regain a sense of control in their lives. This could stem from issues at work or home that leave consumers feeling helpless or unable to improve their situation.

One thing people can control is what they buy — so making a purchase restores consumers’ sense of control, if only briefly.

The same phenomenon exists in people who suffer traumatic events — like soldiers returning home from the battlefield. In those cases, traumatic experiences trigger an overreaction in the brain that puts it into a “stress mode” where impulsive decisions are made as a protective measure.

To combat these impulses, Bayen suggested several exercises that can be accomplished in a matter of minutes within almost any setting to relieve stress on the body and mind.

3 Ways to Ease Tension from Any Location

The buildup of stress can strike at any time and in any location. Bayen, who teaches massage and stress-release practices throughout the country, said that some exercises can be done in minutes from your office, your car, or even in line at the store before you make that big purchase.

Breathing Routines

We all take our ability to breathe for granted, but Bayen said that conducting controlled breathing exercises is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress and clear the mind.

Headshot of Raizelah Bayen, Spa Services Manager at Osmosis Day Spa

Raizelah Bayen is the Spa Services Manager at Osmosis Day Spa in Freestone, California.

“If you have time to do deep breathing for a couple minutes, that would be great,” she said. “First fill your lower belly, then your upper belly, then your chest with the breath and then release slowly until you’re empty. That deep breathing, if only for a couple minutes, will make a huge difference in your state of mind.”

Another breathing tactic focuses on a common area that causes pain during stressful times.

“So many people put their stress and their tension in their shoulders,” Bayen said. “When you take a deep inhale, you can lift your shoulders up to the ears and hold it until you need to exhale. When you exhale, drop the shoulders. Do that a few times to let the shoulders empty of that physical tension.”

Stretching Exercises

While conducting a full stretching routine may not be a great look while you’re in line at the store, Bayen said that slow, deliberate movements can cause substantial reductions in the effects of stress.

“If you’re in your office or your living room you can do a couple stretches up against the wall or a door frame,” she said. “Start by bringing your arm up to shoulder height, bend the elbow, and with the forearm on the wall, do a gentle twist that opens the front of the shoulder. Do that on both sides while breathing deeply.”

Brain Breaks

Quite often, we fail to give our bodies the simplest things it needs to drain itself of stress. Even if you don’t have the time to do regular breathing or stretching exercises, taking a few minutes out of your day to give your brain a break could be all you need.

“Just take a moment to stand outside with the trees and feel your feet on the earth,” Bayen said. “That often will be like a reset for the mind.”

Bayen also suggested that relaxation techniques can make a big impact on your physical and mental health.

“If you can relax and drain the tension from the physical body, it will help relax the mind,” she said. “If you can quiet the mind, either with a breath awareness or meditation practice, it will help relax the body. One helps the other.”

Creating Daily Routines Can Eliminate Stress and Urges

While Bayen suggested several ways to relieve the effects of stress in the short term, she said that creating healthy daily routines will extend the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and lessen stress.

These routines can include daily yoga practice, daily meditation practice, physical exercise, or having an outlet to express your emotions.

“Basically, it comes down to self-care — how you’re taking care of yourself in the moment, but also your self-care routines outside of your work day,” she said.

A healthy routine also extends to the way you eat, including those little ice cream snacks when stress increases.

“If you’re eating a lot of foods that stress the physical body — foods that are hard to digest or have common allergens that people have sensitivities to, you’re adding to the load of what your body and your immune system has to process,” Bayen said. “Eating whole foods, organic foods, and a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables will support your physical health and not stress the body.”

Stress Has Side Effects Beyond Increased Spending

Consumers respond to stress in different ways depending on the nature of the stress. Many choose their reactions based on regaining control over their environment. Others turn to diversion buying to get a brief respite from the stress that ails them.

And while stress-spending can lead to more stress when the bills for the expenses are due, the effects of stress can be far greater on your body than your wallet.

Common side effects of stress include headaches, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, or changes in your mood that can alter your relationships with loved ones.

So the next time you’re in line at the drive-through after a long day of work, try filling your belly with deep breaths instead of ice cream. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you later.

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