This Is the Psychological Reason Why Black Friday Shopping Feels Stressful

How you can embrace holiday shopping while avoiding the anxiety that often comes with it.

Sirinarth Mekvorawuth / EyeEm/ Getty Images
Sirinarth Mekvorawuth / EyeEm/ Getty Images

This time of year can be stressful –– and the onslaught of overwhelming shopping lists only adds fuel to the fire. Finding good deals on Black Friday is a staple in the American Thanksgiving tradition, but when feelings of stress and guilt overshadow the experience, the holiday season can evoke feelings of tension, anxiety, and even depression.

If you struggle with feeling anxious from holiday shopping, you’re not alone. There’s a psychological reason we feel negative emotions around the holidays. “There are many cultural and societal expectations about how wonderful the holidays should be, or how great getting or receiving the right gift is supposed to feel,” Tim Bono, Ph.D., psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis tells Thrive. “These expectations often escalate very quickly and can become so grandiose that their fulfillment is no longer plausible,” he notes.

Bono says one reason why holiday shopping can be invaded by these negative emotions is because of our anticipatory expectations. The guilt that follows can take a serious toll on our well-being. “It's the same reason why vacations or even weddings can sometimes lead to sadness or regret,” Bono explains. “When reality does not quite live up to them, the end result is often disappointment or distress.”

It’s possible to provide thoughtful gifts to our loved ones while avoiding the stress of the Black Friday rush. If you’re looking to shop in a way that feels less stressful, try these heartfelt, enjoyable ideas:

Shop, but be realistic

If you want to partake in the Black Friday tradition in a stress-free way, it is possible to enjoy shopping without the pressure. For starters, keep expectations realistic, says Bono. “Know that there will likely be long lines, congested traffic, or other frustrations along the way. Take these in stride and refocus attention toward other aspects of the holidays you have to look forward to.”

Bring a buddy

Make it a social experience, Bono suggests. Bringing a friend along for the shopping trip can make the experience more fun, and having a second opinion nearby is never a bad thing when you’re deciding whether to make the purchase or walk away. Plus, you’ll be less inclined to get stressed out if you have a friend to help you laugh it off.

Take a tech break

Finally, if you feel particularly lonely or isolated as you’re shopping (especially online) this time of year, try taking a break from your devices while you spend time with the people you care about. Holiday shopping stress can often escalate when you spend time looking at all of the great things other people have online, so set boundaries to avoid the inevitable comparison trap. After all, how much fun are they really having if they have all that time to post?

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