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Holiday Depression
By Carol LeBeau
12/17/2015 10:15:00 AM


A newspaper advertisement recently caught my eye--an ad for a local shopping mall.   According to the tag line, the mall was a place “where all your holiday dreams come true.”  

Really?!  Will the mall end my sister’s chronic pain? Repair my friend’s broken marriage? Pay off the mortgage? Give me a trip to the Great Barrier Reef? (Never hurts to dream BIG!) Of course not! And that holiday ad is just one of countless examples of the unrealistic media messages and promises that can set us up for disappointment and pain during the holidays.

It’s no wonder millions of Americans suffer from depression during the holiday season. While the holidays can be a time full of joy, cheer, parties and family gatherings, for many of us, it’s a time of loneliness, family strife, reflecting on past failures and anxiety about an uncertain future. 

Stress, fatigue, over-commercialization, financial constraints, inability to be with family and friends (or the dread of being with other family and friends!) are just some of the factors that turn holiday bliss into the holiday “blues.”

The demands of shopping, parties, family events and houseguests can cause tension that may result in headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating and difficulty sleeping.   It’s crazy-making!  

I’ve always loved Christmas! Decorating the tree, arranging the figures of Jesus, Mary and the shepherds in the crèche and finding just the right gifts for my family and close friends.  It’s the rest of the holiday madness that wore me out and stole my holiday peace and joy.

 So I made some changes. I make gift-giving simple, send Christmas cards every-other-year and buy my holiday turkey already cooked at Whole Foods! I no longer decorate every corner of my home. The tree, the crèche and a wreath on the front door are sufficient. I keep shopping, parties and bounteous buffets to a minimum and make time for exercise, sleep, church events and volunteering.

Oh, I still fight becoming overwhelmed by all the holiday hoopla. I long for the Hallmark card family that will never be. But I take control where I can. And so can you!

If you’re bothered by the “blues” as the holidays approach, here’s a list of ways to cope from Mental Health America, one of the best resources I know when it comes to issues of mental health. Check it out. All your holiday dreams may not come true, but you may just be able to relax in reality and enjoy the reason for the season!

Coping with Stress and Depression during the Holidays:

  • Keep expectations manageable. Try to set realistic goals for yourself. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list and prioritize the important activities.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Don’t put the entire focus on just one day (i.e., Thanksgiving Day.) Remember it’s a “season,” and activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.
  • It’s ok to feel sad or lonely. You don’t have to ignore feelings just because it’s the holiday season.
  • Leave “yesteryear” in the past and look toward the future.  Life brings changes. Don’t set yourself up by comparing today with the “good ole days.”
  • Do something for someone else. Try volunteering some of your time to help others.
  • Enjoy activities that are free. Take a drive to look at holiday decorations, go window-shopping or make a snowman with children. (Try making an angel in the sand if you live near the beach!)
  • Be aware that excessive drinking will only increase feelings of depression.
Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people (avoid toxic family members and friends.)  Reach out and make new friends or contact someone you haven’t heard from in awhile.
  • Save time for yourself! Recharge your batteries (Go for a walk. Watch a funny movie.)
  • Let others share in the responsibility of planning activities.

Finally, if you need help, get it! I’ve been there. With the correct diagnosis and treatment, you CAN feel better.  

Menacing Menopause
By Carol LeBeau
10/27/2015 3:18:42 PM


I had my first hot flash nearly 20 years ago. It was as though summer had erupted at the very core of my being--culminating in a flushed face, moist scalp, and  the beginning of a rivulet of sweat making its way toward the small of my back.

A hysterectomy at 42 forced the issue--allowing me to skip peri-menopause altogether, while dumping me into the middle of full-blown menopause. Bleh! 

Thankfully, hormone therapy, in the form of a trans-dermal, bio-identical cream brought years of blessed relief from those wretched bursts of heat, dryness and volatile emotions.

In my late 50s, I was forced to give up hormone therapy—cold tukey-- when breast cancer invaded my life. The miserable symptoms of menopause returned with a vengeance. To make matters worse, following a double mastectomy, my oncologist put me on the anti-estrogen medication, Tamoxifen--a pharmacologic estrogen-seeking missile designed to destroy any trace of the hormone that could possibly feed any rogue cancer cells.

Left with no option but to find natural methods to manage my menopausal symptoms, I discovered several strategies to help ease my hot flashes, mood swings and headaches. 

Check and see whether these tips could help you balance your moods, find your keys and sweat less!

First, those not-so-hot HOT FLASHES! The bad news? There’s no way to avoid them altogether. My doctor recommended I keep track when the heat waves hit, then avoid the triggers that bring them on.

When I connected the dots, it became clear caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods could trigger a hot flash. So were stress, tight clothing and heat (duh!). I also found meditation or prayer (“Please Lord, help me stay calm and not sweat bullets in the middle of this meeting!!) and deep breathing--especially at the onset—can stop a flash in its tracks.

Next hurdle—NIGHT SWEATS-- hot flashes on steroids! If you haven’t had a night sweat, think of it as a hot flash over-achiever!  A good night sweat can soak you from your PJ’s to your sheets. Arrrggghhh!

But a cool bedroom, wicking pajamas (same material as your workout shirts) and a fan really help slow the sweats. With a floor fan right next to my bedside, I whip off the blanket when I wake with the warmies—usually cooling down in minutes. I haven’t tried one, but many women swear by their chill pillows. I’m limited because of my cancer history, but some find success with herbs and supplements, such as black cohosh. Just check with your doctor first.

Finally, when I keep my body alkaline by drinking lemon water throughout the day, I just seem to do better. No science here, just trial and error.

As for MOOD SWINGS, FATIGUE, HAIR LOSS and MEMORY LOSS? It may sound simplistic, but exercise and a healthy diet can do a long way toward mitigating those miserable menopausal symptoms. Make sure you get plenty of vitamin B-12 from fish, lean meats and eggs. Avoid added sugars, chemicals, preservatives and the other bogey-men of a “crappy” diet. Stress, as well as lack of sleep and exercise just make things worse. I’ve been there. It’s not worth it.

Ditto for LOSS OF LIBIDO, HEADACHES and the “Where did-my-abs-go?” WEIGHT CREEP? (Sorry—no magic bullets.)

Bottom line? Be proactive! Taking care of yourself will put you at lower risk of all kinds of health-related conditions, including the symptoms of menopause.

Oh no! I think I just felt the furnace in my low back kick on!  “Please, Lord…”

Stand Up for Health
By Carol LeBeau
10/5/2015 4:53:04 PM


Have you heard? When it comes to your health, sitting may be the new smoking! While the analogy may seem far-fetched, many scientists and medical experts are convinced prolonged sitting is bad for your health.

Perhaps we should know this intuitively. After a long road trip or plane flight, doesn’t it feel good to get up and stretch?  Now there’s solid science that proves it’s more than a feeling.  A leading science and sports association recently released the results of a study that found time spent on our backsides is linked to higher rates of death and disease.

Think about it. Even if we carve out time for exercise and leisure time activities, most of us still sit for long stretches working at a desk, sitting in class, riding in a car, working at a computer, watching TV or playing video games. Sadly, all that fanny time may be killing us.

Long bouts on our bums can cause serious physiological responses related to chronic disease and a shortened life span. The University of Queensland found that people who stood up frequently had lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker for blood fat).  They also had smaller waistlines. And in a crucial finding, it was the frequency of standing, not the duration that counted.

One study found that a woman’s risk of developing metabolic syndrome increased 26% for every extra hour of sitting. Long periods of sitting in an upright position can also strain your back, causing chronic pain. Blood clots are another risk of being inactive.  

Standing more often throughout the day can improve circulation, muscle tone and vitality. It can also help keep blood flowing freely to your head and that’s good for keeping your brain sharp.  

Bottom line…too much bottom time is bad for your health. More and more studies are coming to the same conclusion: when you sit, your body pretty much stops working. So consider spending more of your day upright:

  • - Take more short breaks to stand and stretch (or walk) How ‘bout setting a timer?
  • - Hold meetings standing up (you’ll save lots of time on this one!)
  • - Stand up when talking on the phone. (This really works for me and studies show you’ll be perceived as having a better attitude, to boot!).
  • - Consider a standing desk (or just raise your old one).
  • - Set up your office so things aren’t within arm’s reach.
  • - Read standing up. Studies show you’ll actually remember more!

Want more motivation? Standing for just two hours during an average workday can burn an extra 280 calories. 
Folks, we have to intentionally move. Our daily activities not longer require it. So, bottoms up! Let’s all get up off our duffs. (If you’ll please excuse me, I have to stand up and return a phone call.)  

Sweet Dreams: How to Sleep Like a Baby
By Carol LeBeau
8/27/2015 2:57:40 PM


Last night I slept nine hours. And tonight, if I can, I’ll sleep nine more! I used to apologize for getting so many zzz’s. No more. Over time I’ve learned that’s how much sleep I need each night and always have. When I try to get by on less (and I have tried!) I feel lousy. I’m less productive, irritable and cranky.

I wish I were like many of my friends and colleagues who seem to do just fine on five or six hours in the sack. Feeling guilty about “wasting” so much time snoozing, I’ve tried to sleep less, but then found myself wasting the entire next day feeling zonked and out-of-it.

Talk about misplaced guilt! There is no reason to feel bad about getting a good night’s sleep. In fact, medical research has proven a lack of sleep can be deadly!  When people get less than 6 or 7 hours of sleep each night, their risk of developing a variety of diseases increases. Studies prove it. If laboratory rats are regularly deprived of sleep, they live only 5 weeks of their 2 to 3 year life expectancy!

You may recall former President Bill Clinton’s health scare several years ago. He had two stents placed due to a couple of blocked coronary arteries. In a televised interview following his recovery, Mr. Clinton, known for his ability to perform on four or five hours’ of sleep, admitted trying to snooze a little more these days. Under doctor’s orders, the former president now turns out the lights a little earlier, getting at least 7 hours of shut-eye.

Need another reason to snuggle under the comforter a while longer? How about 9 more? In addition to keeping your heart healthy, the “Archives of Internal Medicine” lists several more health benefits:

  1. Sleep May Prevent Cancer. Late shift workers are at higher risk for breast and colon cancer. It’s believed light exposure at night reduces melatonin levels…a hormone that both makes us sleepy and may protect against cancer.
  2. Sleep Reduces Stress. When your body is deprived of sleep, it goes into a state of stress, increasing blood pressure and the production of stress hormones.
  3. Sleep Reduces Inflammation. Stress hormones raise the level of inflammation in your body…creating the risk for a variety of disease conditions.
  4. Sleep Makes You More Alert. Duh!
  5. Sleep Bolsters Your Memory. Dream-time and deep sleep are important for the brain to make memories and links.
  6. Sleep May Help You Lose Weight. It’s believed lack of sleep impacts the balance of hormones in the body that affect appetite.
  7. Naps Make You Smarter. Napping improves memory, cognitive function and mood.
  8. Sleep May Reduce Your Risk for Depression. Sleep impacts the brain’s mood-elevating chemical, serotonin.
  9. Sleep Helps the Body Make Repairs. Sleep is a time for your body to repair damage caused by stress, ultra-violet rays and other harmful exposures.

Not to mention,a good night’s sleep just makes you feel good! Sweet dreams!

Be sure and watch this blog. Coming soon: expert advice (and a couple of personal tips) to help you get a great night’s sleep! 

Stress Busters
By Carol LeBeau
7/30/2015 10:17:09 AM


I’ve been stressed out all week. The reasons why aren’t really important. It’s just life. I’m sure you can relate.

So, what are we going to do about it? Is there anything we can do about it?

I did a little research and came up with 10 ways to stop stress. Several are my own ideas. The others come from a variety of health experts. So the next time you’re at the end of your rope, try some of these simple tips to help lower your heart rate and ease tension:

1. Break Out the Bubble Gum! I’m totally serious! I’ve used this strategy for years. Sometimes it just helps to stop and unwrap a stick of gum. Studies show chewing gum lowers anxiety and eases stress. Some researchers think the rhythmic act of chewing may improve blood flow and improve blood flow to your brain. Others believe the smell and taste help you relax. (As a matter of fact, I’m chomping on a “Double Bubble” right now!)
2. Get Outside. I think most would agree spending time outdoors, even close to home, leads to better well-being. You’re in a natural setting, usually doing something active like walking or hiking. I’ve found even a few minutes can make a difference in how I feel.
3. Smile Like You Mean It. During times of tension, keeping a smile on your face, especially a genuine smile that’s formed by the muscles around your eyes as well as your mouth, reduces your body’s stress responses, even if you don’t feel happy. Smiling also help lower heart rates faster, once your stressful situation ends. 
4. Sniff Some Lavender. Honestly, this doesn’t do much for me…but for some, certain scents like lavender can soothe. In one study, nurses who pinned small vials of lavender essential oil to their clothes felt their stress ease, while nurses who did not felt more stress. There are a number of essential oils that have been proven to help combat stress.
5. Tune In. This one’s a no-brainer. Music can absolutely help you calm down. In one study, people had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol when they listened to a recording of Latin Choral music before doing something stressful, such as doing math out loud or giving a speech, than when they listened to a recording of rippling water. (I don’t know about Latin Choral music, but a bit of Bach might help!)
6. Reboot Your Breath. When stressed, many of us literally forget to breathe! Focusing on your breath curbs your body’s “fight or flight” reaction to pressure or fear. It also pulls your attention away from negative thoughts. So sit comfortably in a quiet place. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your chest and lower belly rise and your abdomen expand. Breathe out just as slowly, repeating a word or phrase that helps you relax. For the most benefit, repeat for at least 10 minutes.  (This really works.)
7. Be Kind to Yourself. Staying positive and using compassionate self-talk will help you calm down and get a better grip on the situation. Talk to yourself in the same, gentle, encouraging way you’d help a friend in need. “Everything will be ok,” for instance, or “I’ll figure out how to handle this.”
8. Write Your Stress Away. Jotting down your thoughts can be a great emotional outlet. Once they’re on paper, according to most therapists, your can start making a plan to resolve them. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer pen and notebook, a phone app or file on your laptop. The important thing is that you’re honest about your feelings.
9. Tell a Friend. This is my personal favorite. While writing down my thoughts and feelings may be helpful, if I’m feeling overwhelmed, there’s nothing better than talking to a close friend or loved one. For me, it’s like letting the air out of a balloon! And if that friend is dealing with the same worries as you? Even more reason to open up. You’ll both feel less alone.
10. Get Moving! Without a doubt, working up a sweat improves your mood, clears your head and allows you to take a break from whatever is stressing you out. I’ve literally cried, prayed and made major decisions during my morning runs over the years. Whether you like a nice walk or an intense workout at the gym, you’ll feel uplifted afterward.

I’m sure there are more than 10 ways to calm down. Feel free to add to the list.
The main thing is having that place or activity to go to decompress and regroup during stressful times.

Altogether now, let’s take a deep, cleansing breath….

Cinema Under the Stars
By Carol LeBeau
7/9/2015 4:18:36 PM


Got any plans this weekend? How about a movie? Better yet, how about a movie under the stars?   

Surprise someone you care about and head to Mission Hills and the Cinema Under the Stars, San Diego’s unique open-air movie theater. Tom and I have been enjoying this unique cinema experience for years. We want you to know about one of San Diego’s best-kept entertainment secrets. 

The summer heat is on…but even if it’s cool, you won’t care. The intimate outdoor venue…tucked away in Mission Hills…has a fantastic heating system and cozy throws to keep you warm.  But watch out! You may just drift off during the opening cartoon in your super-comfy zero-gravity recliner. 

The theater specializes in movie classics from “Casablanca” and “Sabrina” to “Rear Window” and “From Here to Eternity.” But owner, Doug Yeagley also features contemporary classics and new releases such as “Avatar” and “Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” 

At the Cinema Under the Stars, movies are projected digitally onto a 20-foot screen in the charming and intimate patio theater just behind “TOPS” Hair Salon on Goldfinch in Mission Hills.”

It’s so fun!  Surrounded by tiny “twinkle” lights and no more than 60 fellow moviegoers…the venue is perfect for viewing your favorite movie classics.  Show time is 8:30, but you may want to start earlier with dinner nearby at any of a number of popular eateries. (Some offer deals with movie tickets!)  I highly recommend The Patio, just a few doors down from the theater on Goldfinch.

I’m marking my calendar for “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe. Always fun to see the Hotel Del on the big screen. That’s the weekend of August 15. My other August picks?  For sure “The Wizard of Oz.” I’m sure I’ve seen it 20 times!  I guess that’s why they call it a classic! 

“Pretty Woman,” with Julia Roberts, one of my all time faves is playing the weekend of August 22.  “Casablanca” and “The Princess Bride” heads up the September schedule…appointment viewing for me!

Why not pick a favorite film of your own?  The schedule is available online at topspresents.com. Take a break from crowded (freezing!!) indoor theaters. San Diego’s “endless summer” is just getting started and the stars are out! Recline and relax at the Cinema Under The Stars. 

By the way, the popcorn’s great!

The Nasal Spray That Could Help You Lose Weight!
By Carol LeBeau
4/10/2015 3:09:24 PM


Two women near and dear to me face a daily battle with their weight. It breaks my heart to watch as they valiantly fight their lifelong enemy…food.

Medically speaking, Sara and Michelle (not their real names) are obese. And while many label those who overeat as lazy and undisciplined, I’m convinced my friends are neither. I don’t think it’s their fault. 

You see, for some of us, it’s no problem. When I’m full, I stop eating. Beyond that, it’s uncomfortable. But for some people, that feeling of satiety never comes. My friends have confided they never feel full, constantly think about food and are hungry all the time.

So I’m encouraged by news of a ray of hope for folks like Michelle and Sara.  According to a new study, a single dose of nasal spray containing the hormone oxytocin may help people eat less.

These findings, reported by the Endocrine Society, confirm those in animal studies showing oxytocin reduced food intake. It sounds too good to be true!  That’s why further studies are needed, but study investigators believe the hormone is a promising treatment for obesity and its health implications.

Oxytocin is widely referred to as the “love hormone,” because it’s associated with parts of the brain that control emotional, cognitive and social behaviors. The nasal spray form is available in Europe, but for now, can only be used in clinical trials in the U.S.

I found the study…involving twenty-five men...fascinating. Thirteen of the men had a healthy weight. Twelve were either overweight or obese. After fasting, they were randomly assigned either the spray with oxytocin or a placebo.

One hour after inhaling the nasal spray, the men had breakfast, which they chose from the menu. Each meal came with double portions. The researchers then counted how many calories each man ate.

Then men returned at a later date and the experiment was repeated…with each man receiving the opposite treatment. On average, the men who took the nasal spray ate 122 fewer calories and nine grams less fat.  Even more encouraging, the oxytocin spray appeared to increase the use of body fat as a fuel for energy.

For decades, medical scientists have tried diets, pills and shots… in search of the “magic bullet” that will end obesity for good.  Is there “magic” in oxytocin Probably not. But if it could develop into an effective weapon in the battle against weight, perhaps my friends and millions like them could eventually win the war against weight.

Stay tuned...

Fighting the Flu with Food!
By Carol LeBeau
2/12/2015 11:51:27 AM


For the record, I have never been overly concerned about germs.   

Disgusting door knobs on public restrooms? No biggie. Sticky handrails on escalators? Couldn’t care less. And I almost never observe the “five-second” rule when an errant bite of food falls to the floor. 

As I child, my Dad assured me germs were good. Germs, he told me, help build a healthy immune system.

But there I was last week, onboard a plane bound for the east coast, meticulously wiping down my tray table, seat belt buckle and overhead lighting button with anti-bacterial wipes before taking off. 

You see, as much as I fear being labeled a crazy germ-phobe by my seat-mate, the prospect of picking up the flu bug in the 747’s crowded cabin really freaks me out!  

Dire warnings from health experts nationwide have gotten my undivided attention! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn this year’s flu spread could reach epidemic levels.  In January, flu-related hospitalizations were more than double that of January 2014.  

For young children and those sixty-five and older or immune-compromised, the flu can cause serious complications that can even turn fatal. But even if you’re not at risk of dying from the flu, who wants to put up with the misery and lost weeks recovering from the nasty virus?  

So, I got a flu shot and take reasonable precautions to avoid getting slammed with a case of the flu. I wash my hands often, try not to touch my eyes, nose and mouth and  avoid close contact with someone who’s sick.

But with another flight to the East Coast in my near future, I’m going to do more. Did you know you can bump up your immune system by eating more flu-fighting foods?

In addition to eating a variety of colorful fruits and veggies and drinking 10 glasses of water a day…check out how these “power” foods can help keep your immune system on guard:

The live cultures in yogurt are healthy bacteria that keep the gut and intestinal tract free of disease-causing germs. Oats and barley contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities.

Garlic, the potent onion relative, contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights infection and bacteria. I recently learned that shellfish - oysters, lobsters, crabs and clams - contain selenium.  It helps white blood cells produce cytokines - proteins that help clear flu viruses out of the body. (BTW - salmon, mackerel and herring are rich in omega-3 fats, which reduce inflammation, increasing airflow and protecting lungs from respiratory infections.)

And don’t forget chicken soup! You know it makes you feel good, but your favorite soup also blocks the migration of inflammatory white cells that gather in the bronchial tubes when you’re sick.

An amino acid called L-theanine is an immune-booster found in both black and green tea. (Plus it feels so good going down!) And if you’re low in zinc, you could be at increased risk of infection. So now and then, have a bit of beef to shore up your zinc stores.

Keep your skin (first line of defense against bacteria!) strong with the Vitamin A found in sweet potatoes give your immune system another boost by increasing the activity of white blood cells with mushrooms. Add a handful pasta sauce, sauté with a little oil and add to eggs or just pile a bunch of ‘rooms atop a frozen pizza.

Oh, I’ll keep using Purell like crazy while sneezing into my elbow. But with these superfoods on my side, I’m not giving in to the flu without a fight!  

How ‘bout you?!

Some Like It Cold! Finding joy in a cold, dark winter!
By Carol LeBeau
1/6/2015 1:05:27 PM


The shorter the days, the happier I am. Call me crazy, but I actually look forward to rolling back the clock to end daylight-saving time.  And I’m not alone!

While many people get the blues as winter sets in, some of us prefer colder temperatures and shorter days…experiencing a sense of peace and well-being during the cold, dark winter.

It’s good to know my “condition” has a name. Recent research has discovered people with “summer seasonal affective disorder” suffer symptoms of depression or “blues” from May to September, but report happier feelings as the temperature drops.   

It appears I’m not crazy after all!

A small, quiet minority of people actually cheer up and draw energy from the long, dark days of winter.  For me, it’s the “cozy” feeling that comes from being home reading a good book with a fleece throw and my kitty, “Bing” warming my lap. It’s like going into hibernation for a few months! (Maybe the colder, darker days just give me “permission” to dial it back a bit?!)

One study found so-called “summer-haters” are miserable and restless from late spring to early fall, while everyone else is overjoyed to be getting outside. Fortunately, recent research is shedding light on the reasons some folks prefer winter.  Nine out of 10 people notice seasonal changes of mood and behavior to some degree. In a study of 416 Maryland residents, a tiny minority have seasonal disruptive swings that go beyond feeling uncomfortable on hot, summer days.

Psychiatrists and psychologists can diagnose seasonal mood syndrome based on whether someone becomes depressed, experiences changes in mood, energy, sleep patterns, appetite and socializing during the same months each year.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of Winter Blues says about five percent of us suffer the winter version of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Summer SAD affects a mere 0.7 percent of the population.

If you’re among those who rejoice in winter, (I think Christmas has a lot to do with it!) enjoy—this is your time!   

But there’s really no need to let any season get you down. Whether shorter days and colder temps or long, hot summer days…if they cause anxiety, insomnia, weight loss and depression, there is help. A mental health professional can recommend a variety of treatments, including talk therapy, light therapy or antidepressants.

There is a way to turn that seasonal frown upside down! 

Shop ‘Till You Drop? How to Stop!
By Carol LeBeau
12/10/2014 3:24:47 PM


I really need to update my wardrobe. Nothing much…just a pair of updated jeans, boots and a couple of shirts and sweaters. I’ve been putting it off for months because I hate to shop.   

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy having nice things. It’s just that shopping is such a hassle and takes so much time. I get overwhelmed by the choices and often walk away with nothing because I can’t make a decision. I admire women who can scan a rack of clothes…zero in on exactly what they want…and make their purchase without second-guessing.

That said, I realize some women love to shop so much, it becomes an addiction. (Don’t worry, I have other problems!)  And it’s no wonder…especially during the holidays. Temptation is all around us--daily door-buster deals, friends and family discounts and free shipping if you spend over $150!   

Sadly, for an estimated 6% of Americans with compulsive buying tendencies, this is a tough time of year.

“The whole culture conspires against us during the holiday season,” says April Lane Benson, a New York psychologist who has treated compulsive shoppers for 15 years. Besides tempting sales, pressure to top last year’s gifts and the urge to shop for oneself, she says, “the holidays bring up a lot of unfulfilled longing for some people…and that’s one reason why they shop…as a salve for disappointment.”

While the stereotypical compulsive shopper is a woman in her 30’s, experts say the ease and speed of Internet shopping is luring more men and young people.

According to the director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford University School of Medicine, the Internet is dangerous for compulsive buyers in two ways. 

“Transactions move so quickly, it’s hard to pause to reassess the buying urge,” says psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude.  He says The Internet also lets people disassociate from reality and assume a grandiose alter ego fueled by virtual cash.

“Online, money is no longer anchored to reality, so what do we do?  We spend more,” Dr. Aboujaoude says.

While buying a book on amazon.com recently, another title caught my eye. With one click, I impulsively bought the second book. Makes me wonder whether we’re all at risk. When does “retail therapy” cross the line into compulsive shopping? 

Experts says purchasing turns pathological when people continue to do it, even though it causes financial problems, disrupts work, family or social life.  If shopping involves deceit, such as hiding bills and packages…that’s another red flag.

Some facts about compulsive spending from the Wall Street Health Journal: 
*Most compulsive shoppers earn less than $50,000 a year.
*Compulsive shopping typically starts in the late teens or early 20’s.
*People typically overspend for several decades before seeking help.
*Many compulsive shopper also suffer from depression, anxiety, substance-abuse or eating disorders
*About half of compulsive shoppers also hoard.

While there is no specific treatment for compulsive shopping, experts agree changes in behavior can have a huge impact on breaking shopping addiction:

1. Admit you are a compulsive spender.  That’s half the battle.
2. Get rid of checkbooks and credit cards. They just fuel the problem.
3. Don’t shop by yourself.  If you are with someone else, you are much less likely to spend.
4. Find other meaningful ways to spend time.  

And keep in mind that while behavior change is crucial to recovery, so is reaching out for help. I recommend the Department of Behavioral Health at Palomar Health. Highly-trained professionals there can help you or a loved one shop ‘till you stop!