How Overspending Eats at Your Mental Health and Worsens Paruresis

spendingFor some, overspending can be a bad habit that hits around the holidays or other key times. For others, it can be a way of life. Those who hover in the latter category may have more than just an empty wallet to show for their penchant of laying out money they don’t have. 

Being broke or fearful about finances can increase your overall levels of anxiety – and serve to make your paruresis much worse. Your shy bladder symptoms may increase, fueling yet more anxiety and stress. This, in turn, can lead to more spending in the hopes of making it all go away, or at least forgotten about until the thrill of your new boots wears off. Then the cycle may start up again, spiraling you deeper into debt as well as mental anguish.

So Why Do We Do It?

Various emotional states are often to blame for overspending. When you’re super-tired, super-anxious, super-sad or super-feeling-anything, overspending can easily hit. The Daily Finance website offers a lineup of some of the most common emotional states that can propel us into overspending.

Instant Gratification

Thanks to the digital culture, the promotion of consumerism and an all-too-common “me first, me now” attitude, overspending can simply come from the need for instant gratification. We want it fast, we want it first, we want it now. And you’ll bet we’re gonna buy it, even if we have no money to pay for it.

Retail consultant and psychologist James Dion told Daily Finance that the trend toward instant gratification in America has become heavy enough to turn many into “short-term hedonists.” Yikes!

Low Self-Esteem

When feelings of self-worth hit the skids, we often hit the shopping circuits. Those who indulge when feeling crummy about themselves may subconsciously hope the item they buy provides the acceptance, love and sense of belonging they are otherwise lacking.

They may then turn to social media channels to show off their recent purchase, perhaps to gain yet more acceptance, love and sense of belonging. That feel-good rush we get from our new purchases, however, wears off rather quickly, leaving us with gads of stuff we bought but never wear, use or maybe even took out of the shopping bag.


Similar to the overspender who blows the bank account to improve self-esteem, some may spend, spend, spend in the hopes of alleviating depression. Whether their depression is a chronic state or a day or two of feeling blue, shopping again provides that instant rush that can help them feel better. At least for a minute or two.

Those who overspend when feeling down may note they share the same types of triggers that can propel others into overeating or even reaching for a drink or drug. Shopping becomes a kind of instant fix that you reach for to make whatever feelings of sadness or badness you have go away.

A study published in Psychological Science delved deeper into the link between sadness and overspending. Study participants were divided into two groups, one group that watched a sad movie clip from the film The Champ and another that watched a video about the Great Barrier.

Each participant was given $10 to spend on a “sporty water bottle” after the movie clip and video showing. Those who watched the sad clip were willing to spend four times as much on a water bottle than the Great Barrier group, easily shelling out $2.11 for that sporty bottle as opposed the 56 cents.


This term comes out of a study entitled “Miserly is Not Misery,” which is mentioned on the Knoji website. The study found sadness may be one of the components in the bigger recipe that makes people overspend, with other ingredients that include feeling devaluated, crummy self-esteem and dwelling on their shortcomings.

Mix all the elements together, top it off with the constant use of “me, myself, and I” when the folks were asked to write something, and there’s a grand chance you’ll get a batch of overspenders. Like those suffering from low-self esteem, the self-focus spenders often do so to increase their feelings of worth. Again, those feelings are short-lived.


Sometimes the cause of depression, or at least bad feelings, is the state of your finances. When dealing with finances makes you upset, confused, annoyed or otherwise sick to your stomach, the solution can be to simply avoiding dealing with them.

When you ignore things, however, they tend to go away, a belief that holds as true to your health as it can to your bank account. Refusing to track your finances can easily lead to not having enough of them to cover your usual lineup of bills, buying things with money you don’t have or otherwise piling on the debt with no clue as to how, when or if you’ll ever have resources to pay it off.

So How Do We Fix It?

If the state of your spending is increasing your anxiety, worsening your paruresis, draining your bank account and otherwise decreasing your quality of life, it may be time for some action. A number of suggestions can help you regain your financial power instead of falling prey to yet another shopping binge.

  • Turn off the TV. Advertisers are keen on making us feel our lives our meaningless unless we have whatever they’re selling. That’s they’re job and they’re often quite good at it. Try muting the TV during commercials, paying less attention to billboards and glossy magazine ads, and stop giving a dang if you’re keeping up with the proverbial Joneses, or at least whatever the ads say the Joneses have. 
  • Recognize your triggers and substitute another activity. If you know grief sends you to the shopping mall, nip the habit in the bud by substituting something else. Instead of running to shop the next time a trigger hits, try running around the block. Draw a picture. Read a book. Take a bath. Engage in yoga or meditation. Rent a DVD and kick back on the couch. Just don’t go shopping. 
  • Keep track of your finances. Knowing exactly where you stand financially can get rid of the avoidance. And the practice doesn’t have to be horrible or confusing. Check out some off the free apps out there that help you keep track of your finances in an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand manner.
  • Remember money does not buy you happiness. The next time you want an instant boost, try doing something for others. This can bring on higher levels of longer-lasting happiness that won’t cost you a single dime.


Photo Credit: Vanessa Pike-Russell via Compfight cc