Busting the Impulse-Buying Addiction

Let’s face it, as much as we look forward to the excitement of celebrating the holidays  with our friends and family, for many of us the holiday season also brings its fair share of stress and angst over all the decisions that have to be made and the time constraints in which to do so.

In fact, it’s not only the stress of the holidays that causes us to act upon our compulsion to engage in impulse buying when we shop.  Studies have shown that the general stresses of life are quite enough to provoke us to fall in to this mode of behavior.

One example cited is a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, as explained by its authors:

"In our research, we show that exposure to body cues (i.e., shapes) can have unintended consequences on seemingly unrelated behavior, such as spending," write authors Marisabel Romero (Colorado State University) and Adam W. Craig (University of Kentucky).

The authors found that reminders of the thin-body ideal can stress overweight consumers by causing them to feel worse about their own abilities, including being less capable of managing their spending impulses.

In his book, Hijacked by Your Brain, Julian Ford, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, tells us that the power of brain science will enable us to enjoy shopping more than ever before, a way to feel genuinely satisfied and only buy a fraction of all the things our stressed out holiday brain tells us that we must buy.  He further explains,

First, take just a moment and picture your brain. Deep inside there is an alarm center, the amygdala, which can keep us safe and alert. But it also can get into the habit of driving us to do anything, almost anything, to give us relief when we start to get stressed out.  Now picture that alarm going from a mild and soft wake-up call to a blaring emergency siren when stresses start to pile up. You are already feeling overwhelmed by the change in weather, the parties, the end of year deadlines, the pressure to get just the right present for the seventeen people you want to buy for, and all the usual stresses (smart phones binging, longer work weeks, endless commutes, and the eternal challenges of children and family). Can you feel your stress rising?

Your first step – and this is crucial - is to recognize that your brain is automatically driving you to relieve the stress you feel through buying on impulse.  Dr. Ford suggests,

Instead of being driven by the alarm in your brain to give up control and buy on impulse, step back and regain your focus on what's most important. 

Dr. Ford refers to this technique as SOS.  It’s a very simple process and you can practice it whenever you feel the need.  His instructions are the following:

First, step back. To step back is to clear your mind, to let go of trying to figure out or solve every problem in the world. Step back for just a few seconds. This could involve taking a break, taking a few slow pleasant breaths, relaxing tense areas in your body, getting up and stretching - whatever enables you to sweep your mind clear for just a few seconds. This begins to reset the alarm.

Once you’ve cleared your mind of the compulsion to buy something that is not really important to you, you may then focus on tasks or purchases that are meaningful.


    • Jacqueline Russo, RN, DDS
      Jacqueline Russo, RN, DDS

      Good advice Joan!  With the holidays coming up I try to make a shopping list and STICK to it.  Even better, I can now do most of my shopping online and avoid the impulse buying at the store....


    The 12 Habits of Highly Healthy People

    The 12 Habits of Highly Healthy People

    This group is an adjunct to our "12 Habits" program for MyAHE members. Although this group is open to all, only MyAHE members are eligible to utilize our 24alife personalized health app.

    Latest comments