I’ve met many women who shop too much by their own estimation who say they want to find something that replaces shopping not only in their behaviour but in the hearts and minds as well.
They are looking for the high that shopping brings. They’re seeking to get the sizzle, the spice, the excitement, the thrill that shopping can bring (despite the fact that it never lasts, those Big Feelings) – from something other than shopping.
I understand this.
When I first started on my journey of healing from an overshopping problem, I, too, wanted to find something that replaced shopping in every (or at least many key) ways – my time, my attention, my imagination.
And here’s what I’ve learned: nothing has replaced shopping for me. Not in that heart-gripping, mind-absorbing way that shopping at its height was for me.
And you know what? I now realise that it’s not only okay but the way it has to be.
It’s like a drug
You see, when something has effectively been a drug, a narcotic, to you, like shopping has been for those of us who have compulsively and impulsively shopped, then finding something else that packs that kind of punch is nigh on impossible.
And it has to do with how the brain works when something gives us pleasure.
You don’t have to be a brain scientist to appreciate that any kind of compulsive, impulsive or addictive behaviour involves our brains. Here’s what happens: We have naturally occurring chemicals in our brains called endorphins and dopamine, these are our “feel good” chemicals. And they get switched on when a person with a proclivity for overshopping (that’s me and quite a few people who read this blog) engages in shopping behaviour.
As a result of these “feel good” chemicals being switched on, and I mean really on, the woman engaged in shopping feels good, great even!
Even the thought of going to a store to browse or buy something can trigger a release of dopamine. Dopamine is the craving part of the brain – it makes us want something and gives us a chemical spike when we get it. So thinking about going shopping activates it – the brain anticipates the future pleasure that will come from shopping and voila! dopamine levels in our brain are spiked.
Many people, not just overshoppers, feel a spike in their energy levels when they shop.
What’s different for overshoppers is how big that spike is.
It really is like the high that someone who is addicted to sugar gets when they eat a chocolate bar or a cupcake, and is similar to the high that drug users feel after a hit, a problem drinker gets after their first drink of the day, or a smoker from their first smoke of the day.
The vicious overbuying cycle
Those of us who compulsively and impulsively overshop continue to engage in this kind of unhealthy-for-us shopping behaviour despite how bad it is for us. Despite the negative consequences we experience in our lives, our wallets and our hearts and minds. Despite the fact we know it isn’t right for us.
Why do we do this?
Because our shopping behaviour offers us a reward, it makes us feel good and it gives us a sense of satisfaction, however transient. And of course, this good-feeling-spike is exactly what causes us to shop even more!
And this is how the overshopping vicious cycle is perpetuated – you shop and you get that spike in how good you feel, so you want to keep doing it, or do it again very soon, so you can get that naturally occurring high, sometimes referred to as the ‘buy high’.
So you keep shopping, with each shopping expedition producing less dopamine and endorphins as you become habituated to it. Which is why you need to keep shopping, over and over, buying more and even more, sometimes escalating your shopping behaviour – all to get the same ‘buy high’.
And so the vicious cycle is perpetuated.
Can’t replace that drug
And this is also why finding something else to give you that kick, that spike in naturally occurring endorphins and dopamine, is so very difficult. When something packs that kind of punch, finding a replacement for it, something that packs an equal punch (but is healthy for you) is really hard. Perhaps impossible.
We know the impact that compulsive behaviour and addictions have on the brain (in short, they hijack it). And this is good news! Why? Because knowing our brains are involved in our shopping behaviour helps us to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we are shopping so much and so often.
It also gives us some clear clues as to ways to move forward and away from a problem that is causing us harm.
Unless you actively develop another impulsive or compulsive addictive behaviour (which is naturally not recommended!) then where are you going to find something with that same ability to kick off those good-feeling chemicals in your brain?
Even healthy behaviours such as exercising often need to be overdone to produce the kind of chemical reaction that compulsive overshopping provided.
What can you do?
If this sounds like a gloomy outlook for those of us who have overshopped, fear not. It isn’t.
Let me share with you three (3) strategies — actions and attitudes — that you can use as a jumping off point for starting or continuing your healing journey from overshopping.
These are not prescriptions but suggestions. They are not directions but invitations. I encourage you to use these as ideas to inspire your own experiments. Your journey may differ from mine, and I encourage you to follow your own path.
Nobody knows better than you what you need, and at some point, tuning in and actioning the input from your inner guidance system (rather than the advice of a guru) is the best way to move forward to a place you want to go.
1. Let go
I found this strategy to be incredibly useful in my journey of healing. It’s an attitude shift more than anything else.
Let go of the notion that Something Is Out There that will give you the same feeling, will capture your imagination and fill your time, like shopping does.
For me, this is an important part of my healing journey because it recognises that my shopping issue will likely always be with me, in some form or another.
And that’s okay.
As a result of this shift in my attitude, I’m not looking to eradicate shopping from my life.
I’m looking to manage it with some grace and dignity.
I’m seeking to keep my shopping in its rightful place in my life.
I’m seeking to widen the aperture through which I look at and experience my life. Which brings me to the next strategy.
2. Get interested
This is an attitude and an action, so it requires a shift in thinking and feeling as well as the taking of action and changing of behaviour.
Recognise all the many interesting things there are to do and see and be involved in and experience in this amazing world. Expand your interests from just shopping – there are innumerable things to try out – you are limited only by your imagination.
And when I say try out, I mean that in a whole-hearted and whole-bodied way. Too often we take a limp half-hearted approach to trying new things, which often forms a self-fulfilling prophecy: we didn’t put much into it – it didn’t turn out so great (we weren’t excited etc) – we tell ourselves it’s because the new thing was so lame.
When the reality is if we’d really taken them on and given them our all, we would have gotten a much better result.
I encourage women who overshop to start a “love to do (apart from shopping) list”. Even if you start with only two or three items on it, that’s okay – it’s a start. Add to that list as you give other activities and attitudes a try.
And if you are looking for ideas to inspire your life apart from shopping, give the Shop Less And Live More 365 daily e-postcards a look.
So there really is no excuse for a shortage of ideas to get you moving in other directions apart from shopping.
3. Relax and allow
This is both an action and an attitude. Sometimes we become so habituated to being wound up and stressed, it can start to feel normal. And when we have something Big in our lives we consider a problem, like a compulsion to overshop, we can become even more tense. Which only makes things worse.
Relax about it. When our bodies, minds and souls are in a state of tension, change doesn’t flow so easily or readily.
And that’s what we’re aiming for here – change.
It’s not just any change, though – we’re going for lasting change, and change as close to pain-free as it’s possible to get.
The more you can be a low-stress frame of mind, the more flow you will experience.
I’ve found that when I’m in a low-stress state of allowing and flow, then I am more able to see possibilities which I previously may have been blind to. I also get more ideas in this state – they seem to land on me like butterflies, who knows where they come from?! This makes me more creative, resourceful and receptive to opportunities, including new ways of thinking and feeling.
Find ways to de-stress – a dedicated self-care practice is one great way to do this. And the more you practice operating in a stress-less, self-care kind of way, the more it becomes the new normal.
I’ve learned that it’s okay that I have this tendency to overshop. It doesn’t make me wrong or awful or unacceptable. It makes me human.
To recognise the problem and not do anything about it would be wrong and unacceptable, and also an act of extreme self harm. I now believe that acknowledging but to continue to live with, and do nothing about, an overshopping problem is living dishonourably. You are dishonouring yourself if you know you have a problem, but you do nothing to address the problem.
So it’s important to move on from acknowledgement to action, and to begin your journey of healing. It’s important move off the stuck position, and to take that life changing small step into the future.
But once you’re on your way, you’re on your way! The journey may never end – I certainly don’t feel any end in sight in my own healing journey. But maybe that’s okay.
I’ve made it okay for me. It gives me a great sense of peace, and empowerment, to honour that part of myself that overshops, my inner shopper.
I wish for you a life that is full and rich, and lived on your own terms. I wish for you a life where shopping is in its rightful place in your life, and you live (and shop) in a state of grace, whatever that means in practical terms to you.
I wish for you a life well and beautifully lived.
For more inspiration and ideas on living, not spending your life, check out the daily postcards at Shop Less And Live More.