Compulsive shopping disorder – also known as oniomania – is a way of changing or avoiding emotions.
And while some of those who were prone to compulsive shopping in the past will have spotted their urges during lockdown, others won’t have been so lucky. Isolation and access to online stores, apps and home delivery will have exacerbated them.
And as the UAE continues to come out of lockdown and a sense of normality returns, the initial euphoria and excitement associated with shopping ‘in the flesh’ again may prove too much for those with a shopping addiction, according to a leading UAE behavioural therapist.
“Following any form of restriction, reverting to a previous ‘norm’ may take some time,” says Mandeep Jassal from Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai. “While many may have experienced a decline in their shopping habits during the pandemic – aided by the need for additional security measures and queuing systems – those with a pre-existing shopping addiction, such as oniomania, may have been simply storing up their cravings.”
Those individuals are more likely to rebel by spending even more than usual, as they crave the feel-good factor from endorphins and dopamine which are naturally released when shopping, she said.
For many of us, nothing beats the lure and buzz of shops and the gratification of instantly ‘having’, says Jassal.
And like all addictions, compulsive shopping is a way of dealing with negative emotions that often mask mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and low self-esteem.
While the ritual of shopping may provide some temporary relief, it is often quickly followed by feelings of guilt and shame and so the cycle of addiction continues.
Over time it can affect the individual’s entire life and result in serious repercussions for relationships, family-life, work and finances. Shopping addiction or compulsive buying disorder can lead to serious debt and dysfunction.
As with other addictions, attempting to stop shopping can result in physiological withdrawal symptoms. While more subtle than physical withdrawals from, for example, substance abuse, they can be equally overwhelming and often result in feelings of irritability and depression.
Recovery from any kind of addiction is going to be hard, but it is possible. It requires a complete and proactive change in thinking and attitude which will take time and require professional support. For those who find themselves struggling, Mandeep provides the following advice:
It’s impossible for someone addicted to shopping to stop shopping completely, and hoarding and deprivation are simply the other extreme. So, recovery involves starting to pay attention to finances. Refrain from using your credit card and devise a financial plan with someone you trust or a professional who will understand without judgement. Look at incomings and outgoings and keep in mind a budget for each category that is realistic. Review this regularly, for example, every 3 months. Being completely open and honest is key to making this work.
Pay attention to your relationship with money. Sometimes this is intertwined with generational financial legacies, attitudes and experiences with money that are passed through the family line. Identifying patterns of behaviour and beliefs won’t cure the addiction but it can help in understanding some of the potential underlying monetary matters.
Consider how you handled money in childhood and the financial circumstances of the family. How was money regarded and managed? What were the influences toward money from grandparents or older generations?
Be familiar with your values. Ask yourself, what is important to you and what is not? How can you work toward being the person you want to be? What do you need to stop or start doing more of? For example, if family is important to you but you end up spending hours online shopping, why not set yourself an experiment to have 15 minutes of mindful time with your family each day instead, undertaking a short activity together. Then build on this to move forward.
Remove all shopping apps, unsubscribe and block companies if necessary so that the stressors are reduced, making you less likely to log on to such websites. While any ‘good addict’ knows these can simply be downloaded again, it will make it that little bit harder.
Being able to see a tangible ‘reward’ for your efforts can help to provide extra motivation. Put money for any purchases you would typically make in a glass jar where you can see it regularly. This money is a visual reminder of how much you are saving and can go toward paying bills or a family holiday.
At the mall, be mindful and ask yourself whether you really need the item you want and take time to consider the negative consequences of buying it. Focus your attention on your behaviour toward each aspect of the shopping process – noticing the item, touching it, holding it, taking it to the counter, taking out your cash/card to pay for it. These are all individual choices you’re making and can chose to move away from with discipline and the right support.
Recognise when shopping addiction has taken control of you and seek professional support. There are professionals who are trained experts that want to help, but they can’t unless you put yourself first and recognize that you need help.