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November 25, 2017
by Tracey Block

The Dark Side of Black Friday

November 25, 2017 01:05 by Tracey Block  [About the Author]

Black Friday--the beginning of the holiday shopping season has officially begun! But do you anticipate the day of spending with excitement and elation or dread and trepidation? Some people are buoyed by the lineups, the bargains, the noise, and the crowds! Others are repelled by the same crowds and noise; by the stress, the indecision, and the regret.

For people struggling year-round with challenges to their mental health, the highs and lows of Black Friday can be detrimental--triggering panic attacks, anxiety and depression.

In a New York Times article published this week, writer Hilary Stout explained the history of the much-anticipated event. According to executive producer Ben Zimmer, the use of the term ‘Black Friday’ can be traced back to the 1960s where it was first used in Philadelphia to represent the day of shopping immediately following U.S. Thanksgiving. Based on Zimmer’s research, Stout wrote that, back in the ‘60s, the reference was a surprisingly negative one.

“The local police took to calling the day Black Friday because they had to deal with bad traffic and other miseries connected to the throngs of shoppers heading for the stores,” Stout explained.

It was years later that a more positive association adhered to the labeled day—as one where retailers began to turn a profit and stay in the ‘black’ instead of the ‘red’.

This holy grail of annual days became so popular in the psyche of shoppers and retailers worldwide that Black Friday has, in recent years, been adopted by Canada, England, Ireland, and parts of South Africa.

For those who prime themselves all year for the physical and emotional rally that is Black Friday, the event is akin to the Olympics, requiring preparation and a desire to win—to nab the all-important, half-priced item scouted in the sales advertisements filling newspapers and television commercials weeks earlier.

Summer Beretsky, in her article for, described the dichotomy between the kinds of shoppers who view the event as a challenge compared to the people who view it as a challenge to their mental health.

“Die-hard consumers line up well before stores open. They camp out in tents. They chug coffee to get pumped up,” Beretsky wrote. “They stand in line, store circulars at the ready, and prepare to sprint toward their loot when the doors open.”

Beretsky contrasts those competitors to her own group: the anxious, panicky people. “The kind of people who have to fight our hardest on a normal day at the store . . . to ward off the fight-or-flight sensation. And to calm our breathing. And to slow our heart rate down.”

Watching televised news reports of shoppers pepper spraying fellow shoppers when fighting over reduced price merchandise and seeing footage of others “pushing, shoving, grabbing, crowding, yelling, throwing, rushing, and screaming”, over something as trivial as towels, helps Beretsky feel better about avoiding the Black Friday scene altogether. 

In addition, thanks to the principle of contrast, Beretsky wrote, these videos are helpful to her mental wellness and, she hopes, perhaps helpful to others with similar anxieties and agoraphobia. “[They] make a standard day of non-Black Friday shopping seem like a cakewalk,” she wrote. “Acknowledging the worst-case shopping scenarios puts a normal, everyday trip to a supercenter like Walmart or Target into a better light.”

Beretsky reasons that by visualizing a “worst-case scenario” (here an outrageous shopping event)—where the anxiety sufferer cannot manage to participate, one can then bring a more realistic perspective to an everyday shopping trip. As such, the anxious shopper may be able to face the calmer store experience, knowing it will be more manageable than the outlandish Black Friday scenes shown in the newscasts.

For those who , unlike Beretsky, want to give Black Friday shopping a try, Jacquelyn Hart of Fox News this week published a list of self-care tips to use before and during the event. Her suggestions include: 

  1. Choose store locations carefully—It may be less stressful to visit a store or mall in a more remote area, where parking is easier and crowds are smaller.
  1. Visit the store ahead of time—Rather than waiting until Black Friday to visit a store for the very first time, Hart suggests checking it out a week ahead to acclimatize to its setup.
  1. Know a store’s hours—Double check a store’s holiday hours before you plan to go. Think about shopping during less busy hours--close to closing time or at the dinner hour.
  1. Go shopping with someone—If you know you are nervous in crowds, take a friend or family member with you. They can act as a distraction and help monitor your anxiety. 
  1. Plan ahead--Be well rested. Eat before you go to the mall. Carry water to keep you hydrated.
  1. If the store and crowd is too overwhelming, do not force yourself to stay.
  1. Respect your overall wellness.



Beretsky, S., (November 27, 2011). Black Friday, Anxiety, and the Contrast Principle.

Hart, J., (Retrieved November 22, 2017). Fox News. 7 Black Friday survival tips for a successful shopping spree.

Stout, H., (November 23, 2017). New York Times. Why is ‘Black Friday’ Called ‘Black Friday’?


About the Author

Tracey Block
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