Managing your mental health around Black Friday

Messages can be very powerful, and your email inbox and targeted ads on social media over the coming weeks are going to be awash with one in particular: you must spend money in the upcoming Black Friday sales.


What is Black Friday?

A sale that originated in the USA (as it always falls on the Friday after their Thanksgiving holiday) has now become a worldwide opportunity for retailers to encourage our spending habits. Particularly in the UK, with Black Friday’s proximity to popular gift-giving holidays like Christmas and Chanukah, many adverts target 'getting ahead' of the holiday rush as a reason for us to spend.

Our relationship with money – it’s personal 

Each of us will have quite a unique viewpoint when it comes to money. This is often influenced heavily by the messages we received growing up about spending and how money was handled or talked about in our families. For some, they may find that they have no problem being mindful with spending and keeping inside a healthy budget. But for others, this will be much harder, and you may find you tend to overspend.

If you have a mental health condition that results in periods of hypomania or mania such as bipolar, you may experience impulsive financial decisions. People with ADHD also talk about impulsive spending being a symptom that they notice in themselves.

Impulsivity can cause us to buy now and think later, which can result in negative consequences like post-spending regret, shame, and increased debt.

If you have a history of a lack of money, the ‘bargains’ offered in sales can feel almost too good to pass up, like you would be foolish to miss out. This can actually increase the anxiety that you are doing something wrong when you then try to be mindful and considerate with your spending.

When we have a scarcity mindset, we are more susceptible to fear-based marketing tactics such as ‘one day only sale’ as they literally trigger our fear that things will run out or there will not be enough to go around. Big brands unfortunately are well aware that this powerful internal response gets us to act as consumers and go out and spend our money.

Tips for managing spending and anxiety this Black Friday 

1. Don’t save card details on websites

Anything that causes us to stop or slow down the stages of spending money can help us to engage with critical thinking. In these moments and prior to any purchasing it can be really useful to tune into ourselves to ask questions like:

  • How do I feel right now?
  • What is causing me to react this way?
  • Why do I feel the need to buy this?
  • Do I really need it?
  • How will I feel after I buy it?
  • How will I feel when I have to pay for it?

2. Make a list of things you would like to get – don’t deviate from the list

Using the sales as a chance to get your holiday shopping sorted isn’t a bad thing. It can help though to have a list of items that you specifically want to get when the sale starts so that you don’t buy additional things.

3. Create a budget

This is a simple but effective defence against irrational or destructive financial decisions. Sticking to a budget is the most effective way of avoiding spending beyond our means and can help to restore a sense of personal agency.

4. Don’t believe everything you see on social media – try to avoid comparison

Plenty of brand ambassadors and influencers will also be part of encouraging you to spend on Black Friday deals. Although it is considered good practice to state in videos when something is an AD or PR, it isn’t always easy to tell and so it might seem like people around you have lots of money to spend when they are actually showing you goods they got for free.

5. Mute email notifications or unsubscribe – avoid temptation

If you know yourself to be tempted by emails from your favourite retailers, why not unsubscribe from their mailing lists? You can always re-subscribe later when the frenzy dies down.

Anxiety around Black Friday

Those of us who live with anxiety have a sensitive flight or fight response that can be easily triggered. As well as the online anxiety aspect of Black Friday, going to the shops in-person during the sales may be a challenging time. Aspects like large crowds, being in proximity with others (especially after isolating for periods during the pandemic) and unpredictable behaviour can all cause anxiety to spike.

To help manage this, you can try:

  • Going to the shops at quieter times.
  • Plan a place to visit for a breather and a break (perhaps a coffee shop).
  • Structure the order of shops you will visit (having a plan can help).
  • Consider making necessary purchases online instead.
  • If you work in retail, think about asking your manager for breaks from the shop floor if you tend to experience overwhelm ahead of the sales.

Childhood trauma and money management 

Many of us may believe that, when it comes to finances, we simply lack discipline, and need more money or better financial management tools.

However, if growing up you were exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), there is very likely to be more going on that you could benefit from exploring. Working with a professional counsellor can help you to identify and work through what financial decisions you make as a reaction to trauma.

Perhaps you shop to self-soothe or to help you to feel more in control when you are triggered. Spending can provide us with a distraction from hard-to-experience emotions. But, while spending may provide relief from the emotional injury of trauma, if it becomes a repeated pattern, it can also cause spiralling debt. The burden of which, eventually reinforces negative beliefs that the spending temporarily improved, causing a vicious cycle.

Emotional instability and financial instability are often linked. But, working with a counsellor can help you to learn how to regulate your emotions and identify vulnerability points for yourself. It can also help you to better understand how coping mechanisms that once helped you to survive your difficult early life experiences may now be causing you problems in adulthood.

There can be a great deal of shame that comes with having difficulties with money which understandably causes people to hide. But shame tends to fester when left in the dark. Working with a therapist who can hold space for you to talk about the hard things, can help bring things to light so that you can be better supported and make changes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W9 & NW3
Written by Billie Dunlevy, MBACP (Accred) Online and In Person Therapy
London W9 & NW3

I'm a London based qualified Integrative Counsellor currently working both in person and online with clients across the UK. I can help you to reach a deeper understanding of your issues allowing you to make changes and move forward. My approach is direct and supportive. I’m here to gently challenge and guide you to realisations and clarity.

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