We were lying in bed, his arm curled around me, and for the hundredth time I was blurting out anxieties and worries I’d been having. Worried about my career. Worried about my relationship. Worried about my mental health. Worried about my art. Worried about how much I worry, how often I latch on to bad things and bad thoughts. On and on it goes.
Surely having the same bad thoughts over and over again meant that they had to be true? Surely all this fear meant something terrible was going to happen?
That’s when my boyfriend said, “you’ve got to stop impulse-buying fear.”
The analogy snapped into my head like a missing jigsaw piece. I’d been impulse-buying fear?
Sure, I was guilty of picking up a cheap dress that would look nice one week and then ratty the next. I’d purchased online self-help courses in a heartbeat and then not given them a second look (who’s with me on this one?). But I didn’t have an impulsive need to buy material things. When this impulsive need was applied to fear though… it seemed I’d maxed out my credit card.
I’d walked down the high street and seen something I didn’t need, didn’t even really want, but it was so shiny and attention-grabbing that I’d cashed in immediately. A particularly nasty thought, or a sliver of anxiety. I’d snatched it up and told myself, I need this.
Investing in fear feels like you’re promising yourself safety, that you’re assessing all the risks, that you’re going to keep yourself alive and happy. But oftentimes, we just end up with guilt (and a messy closet) instead.
I need to start window-shopping. I need to acknowledge, appreciate, and move on.
So what’s the real remedy? Maybe we need to go all-in on this metaphor and look at how people avoid regretful purchases, and then apply it to fear.
Give It Time
A common tactic to control impulse-buying is to make a note of what it is you want to buy, and then leave it for 30 days. If you come back in 30 days and still need it, then you can buy it. Often with fear I will be absolutely consumed by an idea, and then once I’ve had a good night’s sleep (in worse scenarios, a few good nights sleep), those feelings are gone. Accept the thought, note it down and then let it sit on the back burner. In a few days, with a clear head, it doesn’t seem so important.
Does It Spark Joy?
Another way to evaluate whether you need to let a thought sit around your brain is to ask: does this spark joy? This is a minimalist trick to curb over-spending on useless items. Is this thought or item something that is going to be a worthwhile investment? Does it make me feel safe, comfortable, healthy or strong? If not, let it float away. Bye-bye!
Know Your Triggers
For shopaholics, triggers are often feelings of low self-worth, etc. Sometimes it’s even just a case of basic needs not being met. I know my fear triggers are often related to the simplest of things: food and rest. If I’m overtired and underfed, my brain turns into Halloweentown. If you can navigate life in such a way that avoids your triggers, then that’s amazing, but we all know that sometimes it’s near impossible. With that in consideration, it only makes sense that you create a little contingency plan to remedy yourself quickly, even if it’s just taking a deep breath and remembering that you’ve been catapulted into an emotional space which isn’t natural for you.
I know it’s hard to initiate change so quickly. No-one is telling you to stand in the middle of your thoughts like a demented ringmaster and whip-crack everyone into submission. Completely eliminating the bad thoughts is impossible, but we can slowly try to change our approach. This is an invitation to be thoughtful and gentle. Go window-shopping, consider your purchases, and only invest in what brings you joy.