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An NYC Therapist Explores the Emotional Triggers for Debt and Overspending

Updated: Jun 29

Person holding a stack of money

In the US, financial overwhelm and stress is a serious issue, with 64% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck and 50% of the population carrying credit card debt. The pressures of living in an expensive city, managing household responsibilities, and meeting bills regularly can lead to a chronic state of stress and dysregulation. One way people cope with this stress, although seemingly counterproductive, is by overspending. Understanding the "why" behind overspending habits is just as important as figuring out the "how" the "what" and the "when". If we can flesh out the root triggers of these behaviors, we can truly cure the habit, rather than put a bandaid over it.

Stress and Anxiety

For a lot of folks, especially those bearing the weight of financial responsibility in the household or those that are overwhelmed with household responsibilities - stress and anxiety become chronic, latent emotions. Often driving most behaviors and actions. The momentary relief through the dopamine rush that comes with shopping and making purchases feels like an escape from one's every day worries.

The biochemical hit of dopamine that comes from purchasing or buying something offers individuals a sense of momentary respite from their day-to-day worries. What this often results in is a cyclical craving for another hit of dopamine. Creating a sense of dependency on overspending habits, despite the recognition of negative consequences. The emotional relief and dopamine spike overrides the discomfort that comes from these negative consequences.

Low Self-Esteem

A poor sense of self, or low-self esteem may also be a huge driver for overspending habits. This may show itself as status-chasing, and a common defense mechanism called overcompensation. "For what I feel I lack in myself, I may showcase in what I own or have"

2 happy managers smiling at the camera

Social Pressure

Social pressure often feeds on those with low self-esteem. Leaving folks easily influenced by what "others are doing". Individuals that succumbed to this often live by the narrative of "If I blend in, and am just like the others, maybe they will notice me" or "If I blend in, maybe they won't notice how I am different".

Strategies to Overcome Emotional Triggers for Debt and Overspending

Mindfulness and Emotional Awareness

The first step to interrupting overspending habits, is building emotional and self-awareness. To end something, we must recognize that it exists. So truly ask yourself, am I living beyond my literal means? If the answer is yes, ask yourself why. You may come up with a 100 answers, all holding truth and validity. The important next step is breaking the biochemical automotive cycle of overspending. For this, we must begin to develop mindfulness. This is active self-awareness, and an intention to interrupt automatic actions and behaviors. The next time you have an urge to by something, name your behavior out loud. This builds self-awareness. Next, channel that urge into a bodily sensation. Clench your firsts and tighten your jaw, hold for 3 seconds and then completely release. If nothing else, you have proven to yourself that you can delay your need for instant gratification. Practice this daily.

Overspending habits require addressing the emotional undercurrents that drive this cycle such as - stress, anxiety, low self-esteem and social pressure. Practices that increase mindfulness and emotional fluency are crucial to truly remedying this issue. Through some awareness building, mindfulness techniques, and accountability, you can take back ownership over your money and, potentially, your life.

Prerna Menon smiling at the camera | Co-founder of Boundless therapy

Author Bio Prerna Menon, LCSW

Prerna is the Co-founder of Boundless, a progressive mental health practice in NYC serving the South Asian and LGBTQ+ community. She is a queer immigrant of color that entered the mental health field in 2011 with a desire to be the representation she desired in the space as a child. With a deep passion for social justice and writing, she is often featured on the Boundless blog.

Discover the transformative power of therapy today! Explore therapy services tailored to your needs and find culturally sensitive support. Connect with South Asian therapists at Boundless and experience the benefits of the right cultural fit. Enhance your mental wellness with holistic and integrative therapy techniques designed for the South Asian community. Begin today.


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