If your depression is of the bipolar variety, read no further: this post is not for you. You may well need (sometimes) to curtail your shopping impulses instead of making therapeutic use of them.
But if your depression is more the chronic kind, the one that almost constantly leaves you feeling isolated, brooding, without much energy or initiative, imprisoned within the endless circles of your own negative thoughts, then forcing yourself to go on a modest shopping expedition might do you some good.
Apart from depression, one of the things that has played a role in isolating us from the real, physical world is internet. Ten years ago when I needed new ink cartridges for my printer, I still went into town to get them at an actual shop. Now I order them online and they’re delivered at my doorstep the next day (not to mention that nowadays, it only rarely happens I need to really print out something). There’s only one shop that I still frequent every week: the supermarket. Will hauling your own groceries become old-fashioned, too?
Just wandering for a few hours through some town- or shopping center can in fact be very useful, even healthy. It can be worthwhile regardless whether you need or don’t really need to buy anything. It can serve as a useful break in your dull daily routine, as a window to a world that is larger and more varied than your own home, as an opportunity to experience something new or different, as an activity that interrupts the monotony of your depression and that maybe even gets you some personal satisfaction.
Ideally you go out for a little shopping with some nice company; but you can do it just as well all on your own. In the latter case, the only thing to watch out for is that the wandering through a busy street or shopping center full of strangers doesn’t make you feel more alone and isolated than you already do.
In my own experience (which as usual may not be entirely valid for you) there are a few basic rules that can help making such a shopping-fun expedition into a small success: into a kind of small victory over your own depression. I’ll list my main rules here first, and then explain them.
BASIC SHOPPING RULES FOR THE DEPRESSED:
(1) try walking around for 2 to 3 hours;
(2) keep moving without sitting down;
(3) look for one thing to remember;
(4) say something to at least one stranger;
(5) eat at least one unusual snack;
(6) buy yourself one little present.
(1) Try walking around for 2 to 3 hours: often the first half hour is the most difficult. This is when (to some extent) you’ll have to tear yourself out of your depressed mood and to gradually concentrate on your surroundings. You should not give up too soon. On the other hand, even when it turns out you’re doing fairly well, you should not go on until you start feeling bored or tired.
Allowing yourself a time span of about two and a half hours will probably be the right in-between.
(2) Keep moving without sitting down: wander through streets or arcades, enter various shops, buy a drink on the go if you like, but don’t sit down in cafés, snack bars or some place like that. Especially if you’re alone, just sitting somewhere will make you look at your environment in a less immediate, more distant and reflective way. This makes it more easy for depressive thoughts and feelings to return, so you should avoid this.
If you simply keep moving, your mind will be much more occupied with a stream of half-conscious decisions like: shall I go left or right here? shall I enter this shop or not? shall I take a look at the gadgets over there? This will help to contain your depression tendencies.
(3) Look for one thing to remember: keep reminding yourself that afterwards you should be able to tell what was the single most memorable thing you saw. That weird ad poster? That street musician with his guitar? Those super-elegant dresses in that shop window? Whatever.
This assignment will help you to wander through the streets in a concentrated way, looking around, focusing on your environment and (hopefully) forgetting your depression for a few moments.
(4) Say something to at least one stranger: meaning not a cashier or saleswoman, but just someone else in the street or the shop you’ve entered. Tell that street performer you like her music. Ask someone for the way to x or y. Or if you see someone looking intensely at some product you happen to have yourself, tell her why you like or don’t like it in daily use. Again: whatever.
This doesn’t need to become a full conversation. Just exchanging a few words with a complete stranger will suddenly make you feel more human again.
(5) Eat at least one unusual snack: anything from a Big Mac from the McDonalds counter to a Vietnamese roll from a street stall or a walnut-flavor ice cream. Just something you’ve never tried before, or haven’t tasted in years. The unusual taste will intensify your sensory experience (really) and again help you to focus temporarily on something else than your depression.
Besides, this is a simple way of rewarding yourself: it helps to reduce the self-deprecation that is inherent to depression.
(6) Buy yourself one little present: allow yourself a small, limited budget (say $10) to buy just one small present for yourself – and stick to that budget and to buying just one little thing. A scented candle, a funny coffee mug, or a USB stick: again, whatever.
Apart from the same rewarding mechanism, limiting yourself to one purchase will force you to look around carefully in the shops you enter: to select, to prioritize, to find out what you would like best. Once again, this will help you to concentrate on what you are seeing around you, and to focus temporarily on something else than your depressed feelings.
– Stick to these simple rules, and you will get back home not just with a nice little present for yourself, but also with a few recollections: of something you saw, something you tasted, someone you exchanged a few words with.
Sure, once you are back home, your depression may return full force. But now you do know that for a moment you’ve been able to overcome it, at least a little bit.
So the most important thing you’ll bring back home from such a shopping expedition, will be a slight feeling of success, of satisfaction. This is not about having bought something, but about the feeling of at least having done something even though it wasn’t anything very special.
Your main present to yourself will be the reaffirmed knowledge that you’re still capable (if only for a couple of hours) to be a bit more human again and perhaps even did enjoy things a little.
That feeling can take some weight off your depression.
(And perhaps now you’ll feel obliged to light your new scent candle and take in the smell, or to make some coffee to inaugurate your new mug, or to plug in your new USB stick and see if it works. If you’re lucky, that will now help a little bit, too.)
• tip: … this was one of those posts where the post itself is the tip.