It is very common to "self medicate" sadness, worry, or boredom with food or shopping. While popping a few M&Ms or buying a new handbag might feel good at the time, the effect is only temporary at best. If done consistently to cope with uncomfortable emotions, serious financial and weight problems can develop.
The first step in breaking this pattern is to be mindful of it. That is, to not try to fight it, but to be an impartial observer of your behavior. Keep a log of the dates and times you eat or shop, what you bought or ate and what your mood was like right before. This will help you identify planned meals or shopping trips from unplanned emotional eating and spending.
As you become more accustomed to the charting process, begin to log your thoughts just prior to shopping or eating. Were you thinking about a recent breakup? The upcoming deadline at work? Chances are these thoughts triggered uncomfortable feelings of sadness or worry. Eating or shopping served to comfort, numb or distract you from these feelings, but for how long? How did you feel afterward? Guilty about the extra credit card debt? Angry with yourself over the unwanted calories?
The next step is the action phase. Create a list of alternative ways to deal with boredom or sadness. Think about the things that normally make you feel good without backfiring on you later, like calling a friend, going for a walk, listening to music, or reading a book. As you begin to feel the urge to shop or eat, stop for a moment to take an inventory of your thoughts and feelings. Did you plan to eat or shop at this time? If not, what were you just thinking about and what is your mood like? If you are indeed feeling upset or simply bored, take a glance at your list of alternative behaviors and pick one that you can do right away.
With a bit of practice, you can create a new pattern of behavior that will help you more effectively cope with stressors.