Experts Say Shopping Could Calm Your Coronavirus Anxiety

Photographed by Tayler Smith.

The shelves at Trader Joe’s, Target, and Whole Foods are bare; Amazon is sold out of toilet paper; hand sanitizer was selling on eBay for $500. But are panicked consumers quelling their coronavirus-induced anxieties by shopping for clothes in the same way that they are for disinfectant wipes? 

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Given the fact that we’ve all been advised to stay home and avoid any public spaces (for example, Disney World, and the Australian Grand Prix), it’s unlikely that malls are preparing for a spike in feel-better shopping. However, it wouldn’t be unheard of for online retailers to benefit from a wave of panic-induced retail therapy, especially now that our concerns about packages being carriers of the COVID-19 virus have been squashed. 

According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, retail therapy is proven to make people happier, as well as fight sadness and stress, especially in times of uncertainty. The study goes on to suggest that when we’re sad, scared, or feeling as if we have no control over the circumstances around us, shopping is a sensible method of coping, and one that consumers use often. "When life is chaotic, we might go, 'what's something I can do?'" Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, says. If perhaps, your preferred answer is shopping for clothes, "it can give you sort of a false sense of control in the moment,” which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Because, according to fashion psychologist and author of Dress Your Best Life: How To Use Fashion Psych To Take Your Look — And Your Life — To The Next Level Dawnn Karen, “It’s psychologically proven that humans like to control things." Because of that, Karen says that in her professional opinion, there will be an increase in online shopping as a form of stress relief while the pandemic runs its course. 

Even if consumers do use shopping as a coping mechanism during the coronavirus outbreak, there’s still the issue of supply. While demand might increase in the form of retail therapy, supply is still struggling to keep up given the number of factories that remain closed in China and around the world and fashion’s dependency on manufacturing in Asia. Beloved fast-fashion retailers like H&M and Zara may be especially vulnerable to the virus, given that the former’s higher quality goods are still manufactured in China and the latter, while only sourcing roughly 10% of their inventory from Asia, has a very high inventory turnaround that puts them at risk when their factories are closed, even if it’s just temporarily, according to Quartz.

Your best bet? Try to shop from small, independent designers — it'll help them stay afloat, and you'll get the psychological benefits of retail therapy plus something really cute.

COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.

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