What makes online shopping so addicting

Thanks to Corona, my addiction to shopping is worse than ever

When people called for social isolation last year, I first scrolled through all the social media channels. I wanted to see how my friends reacted to this; what would that mean for their jobs, caring for their children, their relationships, their sanity? Secretly, I also hoped I wasn't the only one panicking over this suddenly uncertain future.
So while I was scrolling through Instagram and reading through the captions that were wildly speculating what the quarantine might look like for all of us, I got stuck with a picture of a dress. It was lavender and decorated with very delicate lace, something like Bridgerton, before we Bridgerton ever knew. At that moment, the unrest that the idea of ​​social isolation with my toddlers and my husband caused me was suddenly replaced by euphoria. Certainly the lifestyle of a employed mother without childcare would be in a dress like that much easier fall.
So I bought it - and if it had stayed that way, I wouldn't have thought about it any further. After all, there is nothing wrong with indulging in something beautiful in a time of crisis, is it? (Of course we could now discuss the harmful side effects of a capitalist society that gives us the belief that our self-esteem and satisfaction are directly linked to what we (can) buy. But we'd better not do that now.) At least that would be Dress then arrived at some point and I would have enjoyed it for a while - so harmless. That’s the theory.
As someone with a decade-long past of forced purchases - also known as oniomania - this spontaneous purchase in my case was a little foretaste of what was in store for me in the same year. About ten months before Corona changed our lives, I was in weekly therapy because of my general anxiety disorder and its connection with my buying behavior. After a good deal of skepticism, at some point I even got involved in hypnotherapy and was convinced that I was making progress.
But what was my buying behavior before this therapy? So: A large part of my income went, for example, to extensive online shopping sessions at ASOS or a new pair of Dr. Martens on it - regardless of whether there are important bills outstanding or one of my children needs new clothes. Thanks to the therapy, I now kept my expenses lower by, for example, leaving items in my digital shopping cart for days before I clicked on “Buy” to find out whether their appeal would evaporate after the initial enthusiasm. I also deliberately refrained from being lured by Instagram advertising and closed the app if something caught me under its spell. To distract myself, I would go for a walk, watch a movie, or play with my daughters.
When Corona came, I (together with most of the world's population) suddenly spent a lot more time on the Internet - especially with online shopping. The same behavior that had previously plunged me into deep debt and only entrenched other, more serious spiritual problems, was suddenly recommended to me by my own government. And without the help of my therapist (who has been on compulsory leave since March) I have slipped back into old, toxic obsessive-compulsive behavior patterns - and unfortunately I am far from alone.
Although there are no official statistics on the number of shopping addicts in Germany, experts assume that up to 800,000 people are affected, and the trend is rising. Pamela Roberts, addiction officer at the British Priory Therapy Clinic, explains this disorder as follows: “Those affected by oniomania feel completely controlled by the compulsion to shop and spend money - either for themselves or in the form of numerous gifts for others.” Like this one Addiction then ultimately looks is completely individual - also in connection with Corona. The Priory Hospital has examined the various effects of COVID-19 on shopping addiction in more detail and describes them as follows: Some people affected by the pandemic may have come to the conclusion that they are consuming too much and "now want to hold back completely apart from important purchases with the exception of the occasional luxury purchase ”. Others, in the opinion of the clinic, are now more careful than ever to at least support local retailers with their purchasing behavior in order to “consume more sustainably”. And since the current economic situation means that in many households the money is not as loose as it was before, we are all currently feeling moved to keep an eye on our expenses a little more carefully.
But things look different for people who are particularly affected by the compulsion to buy, like me, says Roberts. According to her, we are “really busy shopping at the moment,” she says, and there are good reasons for that. "For shopping addicts, shopping is like medicine - like a temporary breather from stress, restlessness, loneliness or fear, for example, which is usually followed by feelings of guilt and shame."
Caught. And it's not just me; Carolyn from Northern England writes to Refinery29 that she has been compelled to buy since she was 13 and still financed the addiction with her pocket money. “I think the reasons for this were very complex, but I have been struggling with my mental health a lot since I was 12 - probably because of my parents' very bad divorce - and have therefore been taking medication since then. I was only recently diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and that explains a number of behavior problems from back then, ”she explains, telling me how she was doing with her shopping addiction during the pandemic. “I spent thousands of pounds last year. The fact that I couldn't go on vacation or eat in a restaurant didn't bring me any financial savings. Every day I spend several hours scrolling aimlessly through the web and shopping, always looking for the next dopamine kick. "
And that's pretty understandable, I think, when you consider that other methods of releasing happiness hormones (such as a live concert, exercise in the gym or just nice IRL meetings with friends) are either impossible or difficult to do at the moment. So it's no wonder that we oniomania sufferers are turning back to shopping - especially because, like any addiction, it can be a coping mechanism, for example for anxiety disorders, depression or claustrophobia.
For Ratnadevi Manokaran from Malaysia, this shopping mania in lockdown also has very specific reasons: She has the feeling that she simply needs more stuff at the moment. “I need things for the household, sportswear, paint, handicrafts; just anything that distracts me, ”she says. “I just stumble across these things while browsing. Then I see someone using something on TikTok, for example, and immediately think to myself: 'Oooh, I need that too!' It could be dishes, or maybe nice place mats, "she says. “I was never so into furnishings before; now I want to breathe more meaning and beauty into my apartment or my everyday life because I spend so much time at home. "
To limit this addiction, Manokaran has come up with a few rules for using mobile phones. “I don't scroll through social media until I've meditated, made my bed, prayed, and had breakfast in the morning, and the same goes the other way around in the evening. I noticed that this reduced my impulsive buying behavior; I usually shop in the evening when I'm bored or when I've seen something nice on Instagram, "she says. “I also force myself to wait a day or two before actually buying anything, and when it comes to skin, body or hair care, I wait until the products are all I have. When it comes to clothes, it helps that I spend 95 percent of the time at home anyway and don't need any new clothes. Instead, I buy secondhand clothes, if at all, and only when I need them and know that I will wear them again and again. I don't even look forward to clothes that I only wear once. "
With all of this, it is also important to keep in mind that there are other methods of releasing happiness hormones instead of always relying on the click on "Buy now" - and many of them are also possible in lockdown. Sport, more protein, enough sleep, meditation and music can also be found in your own four walls. And if all else fails, you can always turn off the router.