Desperately seeking shopper

You hear it all the time.

Women who are stressed hit the malls in search for some kind of emotional relief — in the form of designer handbags, useless kitchen gadgets and uncomfortable shoes they’re never wear.

It’s called retail therapy — and if it works, I need it.

Retail therapy is shopping with the purpose of lifting your mood, making you feel better about a bad situation. It’s what drives people who have just lost their jobs or got notice of a pay cut to spend the money they should be saving in order to feel better — then later, worse — about their lives.

It’s a short-term mood-lifter, usually followed by the inevitable downer after realizing that you just spent $400 on anti-aging skin care products at Sephora.

I wonder if I’ve been experiencing the euphoria of retail therapy lately.

I don’t have a ton of gifts to buy this Christmas — but I’ve been spending an awful lot of time at the mall these days. And instead of just shopping for the people on my list, I’ve noticed that I’ve been tossing in a little something for me, too. A bag here, a tank top there. What’s going on?

This is the first Christmas that I can honestly say has stressed me out. And I’m not sure why. I’m not working any harder, I don’t have any more bills than last year, and my Christmas gift list hasn’t grown in years. So what’s eating at me?

I wonder if what I’m feeling is a heaviness that has been lingering for awhile now. People — including friends and my younger sister — have lost jobs to layoffs and cutbacks (and, in some cases, entire companies closing down). Other friends have taken substantial pay cuts, some in the form of furloughs. Couples are breaking up. I’ve been to more funerals than weddings. And I don’t know a single person who doesn’t wish they had more free time to do something they love.

Can a Coach bag fix this?

Now I’m not usually such a downer. In fact, this is downright uncharacteristic of me. But I can shake this heaviness I feel — and instead of grabbing for the nearest bag of chips or frosted animal cookies (been there, done that), I’ve been going to the mall.

Part of it is that malls seem like happy places, where you’re most often greeted with a smile and a friendly, “Hello.” People are thrilled to find deals, to cross names off their lists, to get an extra discount after using your Macy’s card. (That’s definitely a cheap thrill of mine!) The malls have been a nice refuge from the rest of the world for me.

So why not buy something while I’m at it, right?

— Catherine Toth is a Nonstop blogger may not need retail therapy. But she needs something — and STAT.