This is the season of overdoing it. Food and drink are not the only things you could be consuming to excess - shopping can get out of control too. You don't need to wait for next month's credit card statements to know if you're hitting the plastic too hard this Christmas.
Shopping till you make yourself ill has been recognised as a medical condition for almost a century. A German psychiatrist labelled it as an addiction called 'oniomania' and recent US studies have linked it to clinical depression.
As many as one in four Westerners admit they sometimes seek to salve stress by spending on purchases they don't need or even want. In the States alone there are an estimated 15 million compulsive shoppers, with another 40 million in the danger zone.
Incredibly, up to 90 per cent of oniomaniacs are women. As with any addiction, the flimsiest of excuses is enough for a binge. With the festive celebrations posing an outsize headache for everyone with a family to organise, and the tradition of buying extravagant gifts for everyone, especially children, tempting us all beyond our credit limits, it's easy to kid yourself that you can spend your way out of trouble.
Researchers at Stanford University, California, are testing a drug which could beat the addiction. Acting rather like Prozac, the popular anti-depressant, this pill - not yet commercially available boosts levels of serotonin, the brain's natural feelgood substance.The trial is in its early stages, with just 24 volunteers, all shopaholics, taking the cure. If you're panicking about your cashflow, you don't have to wait for a drug.
The power to heal yourself is built into your head. Recognise there's a problem, and be bold. Put away your credit cards and chequebook, and set a spending limit. Draw out this amount in cash, and use this as your shopping fund. When it's gone, it's gone.
Plan alternative activities to shopping - invite neighbours for coffee and cake one morning, or offer to lend a hand at the local day centre. There are better ways of giving than simply buying more toys and giftwrap.
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