Cyber Monday & Holiday Shopping: Lose the Guilt (it's okay NOT to shop)

Yesterday afternoon aka Cyber Monday, I was inspired to write this post after being bombarded with thousands of adverts on my timeline (and in person). Unfortunately, the lightbulb went off a little too late in the afternoon; due to my schedule, I was unable to post this yesterday (when it was most relevant). However, I think that the concept is certainly applicable to the Holiday Season as a whole and makes for appropriate year-round discussion. So let's get to it! 

Every year without fail, I find myself feeling guilty, lost and inadequate during the months of November & December. Obviously, the Holiday season is fast approaching, and it might have you feeling as frazzled as I. The panic sets in and I almost feel as though I've been left in a puddle of my own tears and defeat. With social media being in the forefront of our lives, it becomes incredibly easy for us to get stuck in the world of comparing ourselves to others. There are so many ways in which we compare ourselves to others, including (but not limited to): appearance, ability, romance, opportunities, education, family, etc. The one that gets me every time though, is the comparison of finances and/or assets.

The most common misconception about me is that because I am an only child, I must be spoiled. This is absolutely not true, and far from it actually. As a young child, I won't deny having a relatively comfortable life being in a middle-class family household. However, just as life happens, one day I woke up and that safety net was gone. I took a job at 15 to help my mom with bills. I busted my butt in school to obtain almost full-scholarships to university for my Undergrad & Masters degrees, just so that I would have the opportunity to go. I matured at a very young age, and have this experience to thank.

Most days I find myself reflecting on where I am in life and what I have achieved so far (in the best possible way). However, no matter how hard I try, I can't stop myself from still feeling a bit discouraged when I see my friends becoming new homeowners or purchasing new vehicles. Then, I realized something: When you begin to resent others for what they have, and for what is out of your control, you can lose your sense of self. What is within your control then, is how you perceive the situation, so you need to ask yourself, "what can I do to change it?".

One of the first lessons my first Social Work supervisor taught me was this, "guilt is a useless emotion". Rather, I like to think of it as, "guilt is an unproductive emotion". Of course, feeling guilty for something that you could not control is one thing, not having a conscience is another. So my question is, what positive purpose does guilt serve you? Instead, I've mindfully chosen to focus on "letting go" as much as possible. That being said, guilt still has the ability to hold me hostage for sometime, until I can muster up enough strength to fight it.

In case you haven't heard it lately, I am here to tell you that you are good enough and you are worthy of abundance in your life. It doesn't mean that it will come easy or be handed you on a silver platter, but if you work for it, you can achieve anything. Please please please know and believe this. It is challenging to be so giving, when in fact, you are having trouble yourself. There is no shame in acknowledging this and sharing this information with those you love (if you feel comfortable doing so). Those who truly love and respect you will understand, I promise. 

Financial challenges are very real; especially, those that seem to go unnoticed or are misunderstood. Consumerism is unbelievably classist, but it makes our world go 'round - so we make excuses for it and negate its blame. Propaganda, advertisements and product placement are literally everywhere you turn. Sales are traps. You often just end up buying things that you don't need, just because it's a good deal. 

Everywhere I look, I see bloggers and companies posting about sales and coupon codes. Honestly, I want to scream, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH" and make it stop. Each time I see one of these ads the following cycle begins: 

a) I get excited
b) I feel tempted
c) I think about my finances/bank account
d) I try to justify needing something
e) I rationalize with myself (and my bank account)
f) I feel sad/disappointed about not being able to have what I want OR I buy it
g) I feel guilty for buying it (if I did) or feel jealous of those who could (if I didn't)
h) I [usually] feel relieved to know that I didn't spend an obscene amount of money on a [T-Shirt]

Bottom line is, we are all working for that dollar in some shape or form. It is not shameful to admit that you like making money, or would like to have a surplus of it (READ: as long as you aren't intending on destroying the world with your financial power). However, money isn't as easy to come by as we would like it to be, and we often need to work long and hard just to survive.  I always want to buy new items, but cannot always afford to do so -- and you know what? THAT'S OK. 

The neuro-scientific understanding of addiction suggests that the release of dopamine in the nucleus (the reward centre of the brain) is responsible for this. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are magical four neurotransmitters responsible for our happiness. Shopping addiction is just as real as any other addiction. Sure, it may be more "socially acceptable" but it can be just as detrimental to your life. Addiction is often linked with feelings of depression. We, as humans, seek comfort and pleasure in something to mask the pain (temporarily) and numb ourselves. 

Point blank, addictions overlap and replace each other, as do many of our coping strategies. In the absence of one coping strategy (or addiction), another action (whether positive or negative) is needed to replace the initial euphoric feeling, with a new one. So, in light of all this, I have compiled a list of activities that you can do if you notice any difficult feelings come up when you click that checkout button online! If shopping truly makes you happy, and there is no substitute for the way it leaves you feeling, then you do you boo. However, I am willing to bet that at least one item on this list will resonate with you, and I hope that you will at least give it a try. You can call it, free replacement therapy! 

1. Spend Time with a Friend/Family
Spending quality time with loved ones is the true joy of life. Not only will you be creating new memories with someone, but you will be nourishing your body, mind and soul at the same time. You will probably laugh too -- and laughter is the best medicine! Fun Fact: I always encourage my mom to hug me for 20+ seconds, because a 20 second hug will spike your Oxytocin levels just as much as sex. Oxytocin will take longer to be received in your body, but it's longer-lasting than dopamine.
L to R: Sarah of Big Hips, Red Lips, Allie of Ailurophile with Style and Myself

2. Partake in 'Sexy Time' Activities
That's right, I'm crossing a line here into taboo territory. Seriously, sex (and other sexual activities) produce noticeable levels of oxytocin, dopamine (and less-so, serotonin and endorphins) in the body. As previously mentioned, oxytocin (a longer-lasting neurotransmitter) is secreted during sex. The effects are so strong that oxytocin has been labeled the "cuddling hormone". Some studies have even suggested that heroin use and achieving orgasm produce similar (if not almost the same) spikes and climax (no pun intended) in dopamine levels. Whether you do this solo, or with partner(s), is absolutely your choice! 

3. Take a Bath (or meditate or just general self-care)
We live in such a action-oriented society, that sometimes, we forget to slow down. When we actually stop and check in with our thoughts and feelings, we are able to understand what we really need (often times it is NOT a new pair of boots) and can nourish that part of ourselves. I must admit, it's been almost 9 months since I have taken a bath due to my spinal cord injury (I have substituted this with meditation and the occasional hot tub soak). However, baths were once one of my favourite ways to decompress and relax. Pro Tip: Choose scents and/or products that bring you joy, or evoke a sense of calm and serenity.

4. Window Shop
This suggestion is not recommended for the novice, or those who grapple with their inner willpower. Rather, it is more of an advanced skill that will provide you with great reward, without the cost. Personally, window shopping or online shopping without checking out is something that I enjoy doing when I am feeling down. I will add anything and everything I like into my cart (because even the most impulsive version of Erica will not spend an entire month's rent at Sephora at once). The rule of thumb that I follow is: if I can't stop obsessively thinking about it for at least a week, I will consider buying it. Just the mere act of shopping (even if I don't purchase) will spike your dopamine levels. 

5. Get some Exercise! 
Whether your preferred movement is walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing, weight-lifting, or anything else -- get out and do it! Moving our bodies is so important in our daily routine. It keeps our hearts and minds healthy! Exercise, just like addiction, can boost levels of dopamine, and thus, create a similar sense of euphoria. Endorphins are also running wild within your body, which explains why you have so much energy and adrenaline during and post-workout. 

6. Play with Animals
Spending time with (often) furry creatures will boost your mood (and oxytocin levels). Even if you are extremely allergic, you still might find yourself drawn to animals for this reason -- they make you feel loved and all-round good. Animals are extremely loyal, intuitive and often affectionate. They can sense when you are feeling sad, overwhelmed, anxious, and of course, when you're happy. They will likely come and console you and offer their cute little faces to cuddle with. 

Pictured above is my dog-nephew, Petrie & below, me with a Dalmatian named King (I'm obsessed with Dalmatians FYI). 
7. Shop your own Closet or Vanity 
How many times have you purchased something, to then later discover that you already had one (or three) at home? I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I've done this more times than I can count. Sitting in my bathroom vanity right now... I probably have 8 different face cleansers (good thing though, because I just finished one today). This suggestion should especially be highlighted if you have a large stockpile already (i.e. you are also a blogger with 18 different bottles of hairspray and shampoos in your cupboard). 

8. Make money instead of spending it 
One way to make sure that your pocketbook is full this season, is to make more than you spend (or at least break even). While shopping through your closet (see above), you may notice an abundance of crap that you don't like or need any longer. At this time, it might be of interest to post items on various websites/apps (i.e. Depop, Kijiji) where you can make money off your used goods. Pro Tip: If you're Canadian, try out BUNZ (where you can trade literally anything). 

9. Spend some quality time with Netflix 
Sometimes, it just feels good to do nothing. My favourite part about this suggestion (and it's specificity) is that you are able to avoid advertisements completely when watching Netflix (provided you're not watching a documentary on such). Personally, I find Netflix to be an escape -- into the reality of whatever I am watching. It encourages me to perceive reality a bit differently, and open my mind to new possibilities. It's mindless exercise for our limbic system (the centre of our emotions, learning and memory). 

10. Journal & Write out Intentions 
I hope you didn't stop reading this list, because this is the kicker. By journalling, we are writing to ourselves while simultaneously calling out to the Universe for some type of response or action. By clearly defining our intentions and/or our goals, we are able to feel more in control of them. Perhaps something you would like to achieve is, "I would appreciate for there to a time where my finances were so stable, that I could purchase goods and/or services that I desire (for myself or others)". In fact, I think I will add that to my next intentions list. Pro Tip: Setting new intentions is best done (but not necessary) on a New Moon. The next New Moon will be December 16, 2017. They occur every four weeks. 

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