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Stressed Out? 'Tis the Season for Self-Care

A man in a festive jumper sits with an unhappy look on his face and holds a glass.
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If you’re feeling especially busy this holiday season, new research shows now is the time to take a moment for yourself.

The study from Indiana University Kelley School of Business shows that when consumers are the most stressed, is when they benefit the most from taking the time to “self-gift.”

“Self-gifting,” or the process of engaging with a product or experience with the primary goal of boosting one’s emotional well-being, does not have to be overindulgent. It can be anything from drinking tea, to listening to music, to watching a relaxing YouTube video: anything you can do with a focus on yourself.

“There are so many ads reminding us to take a moment for ourselves, for self-care, but we find that people are least likely to engage in this kind of behavior when they need it most,” said Kelley Gullo Wight, assistant professor of marketing at the Kelley School. “There’s this moment of self-sabotage. People who feel the most constrained or stressed aren’t taking advantage of these self-gifts. You might think, I’ll be too distracted, or I won’t be able to have a mindful moment to benefit, but our research shows this belief is wrong. People are able to benefit and focus even if they’re stressed. In fact, that exactly when you need it the most. Taking the time to ‘self-gift’ will lead you to feel less stressed in the long run.”

Wight and her co-authors, Jacqueline R. Rifkin, assistant professor at the Samuel Curtis Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, and Keisha M. Cutright, associate professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, used behavioral experiments to consider why people wouldn’t take advantage of “self-gifting” experiences, and when it would most benefit them.

They found people who felt pressed for time were least likely to engage in self-gifting, but they were the ones who experienced the most significant boosts in how happy and relaxed they felt afterwards.

For marketers, researchers suggest they encourage consumers to “self-gift” by framing the product or experience as beneficial especially during stressful times.

“This holiday season, if you’re focusing on everyone else, you’ve got people coming into town, and absolutely no time for yourself, take two minutes,” said Wight. “You may tend to want to wait for self-care until the stressor is over, but our research shows you’ll benefit most by taking a minute for yourself anyways. That’s when you should be looking out for you.”

Reference: Rifkin JR, Wight KG, Cutright KM. No bandwidth to self-gift: How feeling constrained discourages self-gifting. J. Consum. Res. 2022:ucac053. doi: 10.1093/jcr/ucac053

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