Shopping no salve for P-T-S-D sufferers

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 17th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Sometimes a little retail therapy or a few laps around the mall is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to mental health. Buying yourself a little treat can help soothe the sting of a breakup or a bad day at work. But in the case of a traumatic event, put the wallet down … a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences found that shopping can actually make matters worse.

Researchers at Michigan State University turned to one of the most turbulent and traumatic places in the world to test their theory: Israel. They compared people from two towns — one that had suffered constant rocket fire attacks for six months, and one that had not. Those who identified as materialistic showed elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and lower self-esteem. They were also more likely to shop compulsively as a coping mechanism. But shelling out green only intensifies the effects of P-T-S-D by increasing buyer’s remorse and stress over debt. Studies show that sad shoppers are unable to spot a bargain and will pay up to 300 percent more for an item compared with happy people.

Scientists say the reward is in the hunt versus the buy, since anticipation of a reward boosts feel-good dopamine production. But as soon as the product is purchased, the positive feelings end. Shopping quickly turns from an occasional hobby to a true addiction, with the addict needing more hunting to get high.

But if you’re one of the 5.8 percent of Americans considered a shopaholic, you can curb your addiction. Keep window shopping to extend the anticipation. Try distracting yourself with a timeout before you buy something — a phone call, a few laps around the store or a few deep breaths. Channel your need for a high with a healthy activity, like running, rock climbing or board games. And if all else fails, cut up the credit card.